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If You Have Back Pain, a Stability Ball Might Belong in Your Workout Routine

When lower-back pain takes its toll, the motivation to get up and move can be hard to come by. But your at-home workout routine can play a major role in relief. On top of flowing through a soothing yoga sequence or practicing Pilates, spending some time with your stability ball could help you manage and prevent the awful aches.

"Stability balls can definitely be a tool used to help people who struggle with back pain," said Nicola Banger, MScPT, a physical therapist at HSS. "Not only can they be used to help manage an acute flare-up of pain, but to also supplement a regular exercise program for prevention of back pain or in rehabilitation for existing pain."

When you think of using a stability ball, ab exercises might immediately come to mind. Banger confirmed that targeting the core with a stability ball is incredibly common - and there's a reason for that. Core training, Banger explained, can help reduce lower-back pain, improve function in daily activities, and reduce the risk of injury. The stability ball captures all the aspects of core training - improving the core muscles' strength, timing, coordination, and endurance.

Banger added that stability balls can be used to "improve balance, proprioception (your sense of where your body is in space), stability, and awareness and control of a 'neutral' spine position," as well as "improve bending and lifting techniques, all of which can help people who experience back pain."

If you're interested in adding a stability ball to your workout routine to help prevent back pain, Banger said you'll want to first ensure you own the correct size ball: "When you sit on it, your hips should be approximately the same level as your knees, or a bit higher."

While Banger said stability balls can be used safely by most, if you have a history of recent trauma, balance issues, or falls, be especially careful: "the ball is inherently unstable, and safety is the prime concern." You can create more stability by placing the ball in a corner so it can't roll away or placing it by a support base.

On top of using the tool in your regular training, you can use it to manage pain in acute flare-ups. "They can be used for positions of relief, to get some gentle spinal motion, and to encourage light activity in a period of pain," Banger said.

Some pain-relieving positions include:

  • Lying on your back, legs up on the ball.
  • Lying with your belly on the ball, and relaxing forward over it.
  • Lying with your back on the ball, allowing your back to relax and arch back.
  • Kneeling with your hands on the ball in front of you, to get a stretch in your upper back.

Before beginning any new exercise program - especially when dealing with pain - it's always best (and safest!) to chat with a medical professional for personalized advice.

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