What Are the Best Summer Activities if You Have Back Pain?

With the arrival of sun and hot weather comes the resurgence of many beloved summertime outdoor activities. But which of your favorite active pastimes will be easiest on your back??

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You know this feeling. The days start to get long and beautifully sunny. The temperatures rise and rise with no end in sight. Suddenly the days you wanted to spend laying around at home in the rain or cold are over and all you can think about is getting outside. Summertime is iconic in its association with a wide range of outdoorsy activities, many of them physically strenuous or requiring plenty of movement.

Fishing without back painMost people can fish without too much back pain.

Perhaps you love to spend days relaxing and picnicking in the park or reading on their deck. But perhaps summer days have you thinking more of hiking, swimming, water sports, tennis, golf, gardening, camping, or something else altogether. If you’re also someone who has chronic back or neck pain, or you happen to experience a short-term flare-up this summer, some of those athletic or movement-based activities you love may start to seem a little more daunting.

If that’s the case, don’t worry. There are few hard and fast restrictions, and with some planning, strain reduction, or modifications, most things should still be manageable. Still, avoiding worsening your pain is the best possible solution so you can enjoy the summer as much as possible, so keeping these recommendations in mind is a great place to start as you plan summer adventures.

The 5 Best Summer Pastimes for Your Back

First off, if you do have back pain, whether from an injury, herniated disc, muscle strain, arthritis, osteoporosis, or another cause altogether, that shouldn’t mean you don’t get to enjoy any favorite outdoor activities. Jessica Jameson, MD, an interventional pain physician at Axis Spine Center in Idaho, stressed that the approach should be, “everything in moderation and being able to modify things as needed.”

Swimming

Perhaps the best summer activity for your back is swimming, or for that matter any movement in the water. “Typically swimming is one of the things I recommend the most for people with pain of any sort, and there’s good evidence for chronic spine pain relief from swimming,” says Dr. Jameson. Plus, the warm weather makes it the easiest time to get in some water, whether it’s a pool, river, or lake.

Even if you’re not one for traditional strokes, or they put strain on your pain points, Dr. Jameson says doing any simple stretches, exercises, or walking movements in water is an amazing thing for chronic back and neck pain relief, as the weight of your body is lessened and therefore the pressure on the spine is too.

Walking

If you like the simple act of getting outside every day and running does cause too much strain, “walking has generally been shown over many years to be extremely safe and effective. Taking it slow and building up the ability to do longer walks is the key,” notes Dr. Jameson.

There are a few exceptions, like those that have spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), who might find that walking does substantially increase pain. If this is you, start small and modify as much as needed. If the only thing you can do without pain is walk half a block, do that, do some other movement that doesn’t cause pain, and then walk another half block. Taking things slow is often key.

Hiking

If you’d rather hike than walk, it’s probably not out of the question, but Dr. Jameson does caution that hiking adds some elements that can amplify risk to injuries or conditions if you aren’t modifying or careful. Because many hikes involve lots of hills, elevation changes, climbs, or uneven surfaces, be more prepared and choose your hike wisely. Especially important if you’re flexion-intolerant, or feel most of your pain when you bend or lean forward over the hips, things like hiking up and down hills are likely to cause pain flare-ups. Instead, seek out hikes that may have less elevation changes and are perhaps just longer if you want to still get that solid exercise in.

Camping

Love camping? For some people with back pain, this may be a good thing. For some people, with particular conditions or types of pain, sleeping on a firm surface actually helps the back and they wake up with less pain. Dr. Jameson says, “those people should camp all the time if they want to, and enjoy it.” However, many others with back pain will struggle to sleep away from their comfortable mattress. If you love to camp and don’t want to miss out, a simple modification is investing in a sleeping mat or pad that can make the experience much less painful.

Fishing

Another of Dr. Jameson’s favorite summer pastimes to recommend to those with back and neck pain is fishing. She says it’s one of the best choices because of how relaxed it is and how easy it is to modify. You can sit in a supportive chair on your deck and fish; you can stand up in a boat and go fly fishing. You don’t have to do lots of uncomfortable bending and leaning, and most everything is totally open to modifications, while you still get the vitamin D, outdoors time, and even the social element if you choose.

Everything with Moderation or Modification

But most important, with any activity you enjoy, is simply finding an adjustment that will make it more manageable for you and your pain. Dr. Jameson added, “If you have back pain, you usually know what will hurt, which makes it easier to modify a motion.” So if you know the activity you love will have you laid up in bed with a pain flare-up the next day, do your body a favor and find a way to do it that won’t have such an extreme result.

Dr. Jameson notes, “The first way you can modify is by time. For instance, instead of spending six hours gardening, spend an hour here and there and break it up.”

“Modifying by actual functional components is the second way. Instead of bending over and picking out every weed, sit on a stool in the garden.” This method goes for any activity. Find a movement modification, or simply do it for brief periods, or infrequently. This should mean you don’t have to entirely give up the things you love about summer, but you don’t have to suffer through months of worsened pain either.

Updated on: 07/06/21
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