Revolutionizing Spine Care…Changing Lives

Ouch! Avoiding the Pain and Grabbing the Gain of Working Out

With the dawning of a new year, a large number of overweight and previously sedentary men and women decide it’s time to lose a few pounds. They attempt to accomplish this worthwhile goal by changing their diets and by committing to a more rigorous exercise regime.

Unfortunately, most of these exercise programs are undertaken without consulting a qualified physical trainer or other expert and inevitably, problems arise. As a result, the waiting rooms at Texas Back Institute start filling with people whose newly-found enthusiasm for physical fitness has led to injuries. While most of these injuries are muscle strains and other temporary conditions, a few are serious and require rehabilitation or more aggressive procedures.

Some of the trends in the types of exercise Americans are pursuing represent cautionary tales for those who are out of shape and are seeking a quick fix. Several spine specialists at Texas Back Institute were asked to comment on some recently published research on the types of exercise Americans are undertaking.

Warning: Some of these exercise trends are painful for physicians who treat back injuries to watch!  


MyFitnessPal Users Weigh in With Their Favorite Exercises

If the recently completed Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is any indication, fitness, particularly wearable fitness gadgets and smartphone apps, is one of the hottest product categories in the world. One of the most successful fitness websites and smartphone app is MyFitnessPal. The company boasts more than 47 million U.S. users who use the service to track fitness activities, calories and food intake.

Recently, MyFitnessPal compiled the most popular fitness activities of their users and released a report of these exercise options.  Some of these “favorite” exercise options, such as walking and running, are understandable because they require little or no equipment or facilities. Some of these, such as ballet-style, barre classes and CrossFit, are relatively new and benefit from the novelty of the activities. And some, as the spine specialists at Texas Back Institute will caution, are dangerous when improperly supervised.

Walking and Running


To the surprise of no one, walking and running are still the most popular exercise options for most Americans. When wearable technology is added to the mix, simplifying the tracking and compilation of these activities, almost anyone of any age or fitness level can participate.

“Regular walking is one of the most effective and safe exercises anyone can undertake,” noted Dr. Andrew Simpson, a spine specialist at Texas Back Institute. “It offers many physical, physiological and emotional benefits.”

“Walking activates the lumbar paraspinal muscles (multifidus and erector spinae) and changing the pace and incline of your walking activates different muscles throughout the mid and low back,” he said.

“Several studies have demonstrated that walking as part of a structured exercise regimen can effectively decrease low back pain in patients who suffer from chronic low back pain. Also, walking and other weight bearing exercises can increase bone mineral density of the spine and hips, which is important for preventing osteoporotic fractures.”



Millions of men and women climb on either a stationary or traditional bike every day and receive the cardio benefits. This exercise is always one of the most popular among Americans, according to MyFitnesPal users. In 2014, a new biking activity entered the company’s radar. It’s called Soul Cycle and is one of the hottest, new venues for indoor, stationary cycling.

“Whether it’s done inside or outside, biking is an excellent and safe physical activity,” said Dr. Richard Guyer one of the back specialists at Texas Back Institute. “The only caution involves the proper setting of the seat. It should be high enough to allow for the knee to be slightly flexed but not fully extended but not so high where the back is strained over a long ride or workout,” he noted.

Zumba and Barre


The popularity of the group dancing activity Zumba, while declining somewhat in 2014, is still among the top physicial acitivities of MyFitnesPal users. The latin-inspired, highly syncopated music and dance moves are challenging but the activity is so infectious, participants forget they are working out.

The Barre exercises are inspired by ballet. According an article in Fitness Magazine featuring Sadie Lincoln, the founder of barre3fitness, “”Most barre-based classes use a combination of postures inspired by ballet and other disciplines like yoga and Pilates. The barre is used as a prop to balance while doing exercises that focus on isometric strength training (holding your body still while you contract a specific set of muscles) combined with high reps of small range-of-motion movements.”

“While I have examined patients for injuries sustained from Zumba, both of these dance exercises are excellent ways to build core strength and cardio capacity,” said Dr. Jessica Shellock, “The only caution is to make sure there is proper stretching before the activity and trained supervison during the exercise.”

CrossFit and Tabata


Two of the most popular exercises, especially among younger (20 – 30 year olds) participants are CrossFit training and Tabata. These are also the most dangerous as far as back safety.

CrossFit combines high-intensity running, jumping and weight-lifting. According to the website CrossFitdefined, “The CrossFit Program was developed to enhance an individuals competency at all physical tasks. Our athletes are trained to perform successfully at multiple, diverse, and randomized physical challenges. This fitness is demanded of military and police personnel, firefighters, and many sports requiring total or complete physical prowess.”

For an exerciser who is in a hurry and doesn’t mind ultra-high intensity workouts, Tabata might be just the ticket. It is high-intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.) workout and it last for four minutes! According to Active.com, the Tabata training program, discovered by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata, has this structure: (1) Work out hard for 20-seconds, (2) Rest for 10 seconds (3) Complete eight rounds!

“While CrossFit and Tabata are extremely popular among younger participants, there have been many accidents, including a spinal cord injury of a participant when a weight was inadvertently dropped on his back while he was involved in CrossFit training,” noted Dr. Michael Hisey.

“Of course, these risks are not unique to CrossFit or Tababta, high intensity workouts such as these, especially when they involve sudden jerking of weights or constant jumping, can wreak havoc on the spine. It is absolutely critical for a participant of these activities to get a professional physical evaluation before undertaking them. Proper supervision by a trained leader is also important,” he cautioned.

Before making good on that New Year’s resolution to get fit, you might want to check with the spine specialists at Texas Back Institute. Just CLICK HERE to arrange for an appointment.


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