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Real Life Fitness Questions Answered

Kelly Marshall
Fitness Consultant

Posted 03 Jul 07

How can I prevent weight gain with my back injury?

I used to work out at the gym 2 or 3 times a week and walked everywhere because I do not drive. Unfortunately this has all had to stop as I have developed a back problem which affects my legs and my mobility is very bad. How can I compensate for this and not gain inches round my middle area?

Our expert says...


Ok, so there are two elements here we need to consider:

1) How treatable/avoidable is the back problem? ? If it is an issue to do with muscle balance and subsequent sciatica, for example, it can be rectified, in which case you wouldn?t need to consider alternatives or at least you could reduce the amount of time for which you need to compensate for a potential drop in activity.

2) In the meantime or if the back problem is a more long-term issue, what activities are going to be appropriate and not exacerbate your back and help prevent weight gain?

I apologise in advance for possibly stating the obvious but if you haven?t seen a specialist for your back?i.e. corrective exercise specialist, physiotherapist or osteopath to diagnose the problem then make sure you do. I see it all the time at my clinic where people have had pain and put up with it / ignored it for months/years without getting a real diagnosis or treatment. An anti-inflammatory or pain killer from a doctor doesn?t count because you are only treating the symptoms and not actually addressing the cause! Don?t accept pain because often you don?t have to.

Ok, so let?s say it is treatable and you know what changes to your lifestyle or exercises you need to do to address the issue in the long-term. Great! Let?s consider number 2. You are going to have to take a trial and error approach to see what activities (if any) are possible without aggravating your back problem. If it is in a state of muscle spasm then gentle mobility (i.e. walking/moving around in small doses) may be your only option in the short term.

If walking in small bursts is possible, then make the most of that but remember to listen to your body and don?t push the pain threshold that's there for a reason. Try to approach all movements while activating your transverse abdominals (TVA = deep stomach muscles). Do this by:

- taking a deep breath in and as you do, drawing your belly button in towards your spine.

-You should feel a tension develop in your midrift (like you have put a belt on!). As you breath out, keep your belly button drawn towards your spine, then breath normally.

- Hold the tension for as long as you remember, although it wont be long to start with. The more you practice this manouvre the more automatic it will become.

-By strengthening your TVA and retraining it to automatically activate and stay where it should, you can visibly reduce the size of your waist as well as protecting your lumbar spine in the long-term.

Do it as often as you remember, no one will even know when your doing it!

If swimming is a managable option then great, again listen to your body. Moving burns calories so work on the principle of just moving more if specific exercise/your usual volume of walking and gym isn't possible.

The other option here that will determine the likelhood of weight gain or not, is how you adjust your calorie intake. You will need to reduce your intake to maintain a balance with the reduced calorie outgoings from your potentially reduced physcial activity (walking). If you get the balance right you won't gain weight and should be able to maintain a constant weight until your back issue is resolved and you return to your usual level of activity.

I hope this helps and I wish you a speed recovery and return to exercise.


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