High Or Low Impact Exercise: What’s Best With Back Pain


High Or Low Impact Exercise: What’s Best With Back Pain

When you’re in pain, it’s easy to let any exercise come to a screeching halt. This is especially true when it comes to back pain. It’s an understandable reaction—  pain typically doesn’t encourage us to keep moving.

Did you know, pain is a protective mechanism built into our bodies to prevent further damage from being done? And most of the time, that’s a great system.

However, back pain doesn’t need to be a reason to stop all activity or workouts. In fact, movement can even be beneficial for your overall back health. The trick is finding the right activities that don’t aggravate your pain, while still letting you get a workout in. Just what are your best options?

In today’s post, we’re breaking down how to best approach working out while managing your back pain.

Working Out With Back Pain

Completely halting movement – in many cases – could actually make back pain worse as immobility is a big culprit of back pain. The less you move, the easier it becomes for your back muscles to stiffen up. This, subsequently, can also make it easier to injure this area in general. Don’t stop working out because of your back pain, as the right activities could actually lead to better overall back health.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can operate fast and loose with your workouts. When you’re managing back pain and looking to break a good sweat, you'll need to be a bit more selective about the type of activities you choose. Namely, this means discerning between high-impact and low-impact activities and then evaluating the risk factors between the two.

Low-Impact Workouts For Better Back Health

If you’re managing back pain, low-impact workouts are a much safer way to go when you want to break a sweat without making your pain worse. So, what exactly classifies an activity as “low-impact?”

Low-impact activities are movements that do not put much force through the body while they’re being performed. They give your joints and ligaments a little more cushion while focusing a bit more on strength in general. In short, these are great activities to bring into your workout rotation to keep yourself moving, without risking exacerbating your back pain. If you’re looking for some low-impact activities that will still provide you with some physical challenge, here are a few options to get you started.

Yoga And Mobility

Yoga is a great low-impact activity that has therapeutic benefits attached to it as well. The active stretching and mobility that this exercise delivers can help your flexibility, balance, and strength simultaneously. Plus, better flexibility and balance could actually help your back pain improve over time.

As you move through a yoga session, remember to still practice at your own pace, and stay keenly aware of any movement that causes a spike in pain. The great aspect of this activity is that the movements can be done to differing degrees of difficulty; use discomfort as a guide while you move through a given session. Whether you opt for an in-person class or an online series, the options for differing varieties of yoga are vast.

Walking And Hiking

For many, workouts are a great excuse to soak up some quality time outdoors. Walking and hiking can help you get out in the open air, while also allowing your legs to strengthen and tone muscle. Because you control how long or swiftly you move, the intensity is completely up to you.

Bonus: if you really want to get your muscles burning, pick a hilly segment or trail! We’re willing to bet that the view from the top will be a nice added perk.


Swimming is an excellent activity that’s easy on your joints but still provides a great workout. This is another activity that completely puts you in the driver’s seat in terms of how taxing it can be, and one that can be performed safely as you age. Whether you’re looking for a light flush or a blood-pumping session, swimming can deliver.

To keep things fresh in the pool (or open water), try varying the number of strokes you use between breaths. You can also work in kickboards or pull buoys to break up the monotony.

Elliptical Workouts

If you have access to an elliptical, this is a great machine to get in low-impact, high-cardio work. Injured runners in particular love ellipticals for their ability to get their heart rate up quickly without the damaging pounding on the body.

You can vary the types of workouts that you do on this machine, as well. If you’re looking for more resistance and to get your glutes and thighs burning, kick the incline and resistance up a couple of notches. Alternately, if you’re looking for a quicker calorie-burn, keep the incline controlled, the resistance moderate, and your cadence nice and snappy. And bring a towel— just watch the pool of sweat gather on the floor!

Light Bike Rides

This is an exercise that falls a bit in between the low and high impact categories. Though cycling itself is low impact to the ground, the crouched position over the handlebars can impact your back directly. If you’d like to incorporate cycling into your routine, start with a lighter, slower ride, and gradually ramp up the intensity. As always: use pain as your guide and don’t be afraid to back off a bit should your discomfort increase.

Use Caution: High-Impact Activities While Managing Back Pain

High-impact activities include sprinting, running long distances, jumping, and Crossfit, to name a few of the more popular ones. The harder, more consistent impact from these activities puts more strain on your joints, muscles, and tendons. In general, high-impact workouts deliver faster fitness results but are harder on the body. That last part is especially important to heed when you’re managing back pain. If you’re already predisposed to issues with your back, you should approach any of the workouts that fall within this bucket with extreme caution.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate any high-impact activities into your routine, both immediately or in the future. The truth is that high-impact activities do have great health benefits that would be a shame to completely skip. From help with weight loss to contributions to better bone density, these activities are ones that are good to keep in your routine. However, because they can exacerbate back pain more easily, you’ll need to start slow when re-introducing them into your workout regimen. Begin by implementing small segments of what you would normally do and slowly work up from there, always using pain as a guide.

How Chiropractic Can Help Keep You Active – Even With Back Pain

Another way that you can support your body while managing back pain is to seek out consistent chiropractic care. As you increase your activity level, the adjustments of the spine performed by a chiropractor can help realign your body to keep the nervous and immune systems functioning properly while addressing any pre-existing injury to the area.

Not to mention, as you look to move more with less pain, these adjustments could actually help treat the root of your pain. Oftentimes, individuals unknowingly have a misalignment of the spine that can cause a myriad of pain patterns – which chiropractic care and adjustments can help to alleviate.

What it boils down to is this: chiropractic adjustments could help provide the relief needed to keep you consistently active, which is key for your overall health.

If back pain is holding you back from getting the workouts you want, it’s time to get help.

Prioritize your health. Schedule an appointment online or call (814) 835-5054.

This article is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for in-person advice or care from a medical professional.