Have you been spending more time enjoying outdoor activities before the cold temperatures of winter hit? Many people try to take in the last few weeks of comfortable fall weather to get outdoors, play sports and enjoy the change of seasons.

Getting plenty of exercise and playing sports is good for overall health. It also adds pleasure and a sense of well-being. Almost any sport places some stress on your spine. That is why it’s important to keep the muscles and ligaments that support your spine flexible and strong. A healthy spine can help prevent many sports injuries.

Getting these muscles to the point where they support your spine well is called core strengthening. Ask your health care provider or physical therapist about these strengthening exercises.

If you had a back injury, talk with your provider about keeping your back safe when you return to sports.

Bicycling

Although bicycling strengthens the muscles of your legs, it does not do much for the muscles around your spine. Bending your lower spine forward while arching your upper back for long periods can strain your back and neck muscles. Mountain biking on uneven surfaces can cause jarring and sudden compressions (squeezing) on the spine.

Tips to help make bicycling easier on your back include:

  • Avoid mountain biking.
  • Ride a bike that fits you properly. Staff at a good bike shop can help you get fitted.
  • Remember not only to push down on the pedals, but also to pull up on them.
  • Wear biking gloves and use a handlebar cover to reduce jarring in your upper body.
  • Put shock absorbers on the front wheel.
  • A more upright bike can have less pressure on your lower back and neck.
  • Recumbent bikes place less stress on your back and neck.

The muscles that bring your leg up toward your abdomen are called flexors. They are used a lot when you ride a bicycle. Keeping these muscles stretched out is important because it will help keep the proper balance in the muscles around your spine and hips.

Golf

The golf swing requires forceful rotation of your spine, and this puts stress on your spinal muscles, ligaments, joints, and disks.

Tips to take the stress off your back include:

  • Ask your physical therapist about the best posture and technique for your swing.
  • Warm up and stretch your muscles in your back and upper legs before starting a round.
  • Bend with your knees when picking up the golf ball.
  • On the course, use a push cart (trolley) to wheel your golf bag. You can also drive a golf cart.

Running

The disks and the small joints in the back are called facet joints. Running causes repeated jarring and compression on these areas of your lumbar spine.

Tips to help reduce the stress on your spine include:

  • Avoid running on concrete and uneven surfaces. Instead run on a padded track or soft, even grassy surfaces.
  • Wear high-quality running shoes with good cushioning. Replace them when they become worn.
  • Ask your physical therapist about the best running form and motion. Most experts suggest a forward motion, leading with your chest and keeping your head balanced over your chest.
  • Before taking off on a longer run, warm up and stretch the muscles in your legs and lower back. Learn exercises that strengthen the core muscles deep inside your abdomen and pelvis that support your spine.

Tennis

Motions that place stress on your spine while playing tennis include overextending (arching) your back when serving, constant stopping and starting motions, and forceful twisting of your spine when taking shots.

A tennis coach or your physical therapist can show you different techniques that can help reduce the stress on your back. For example:

  • Bend your knees.
  • Keeping your abdominal muscles tighter will reduce stress on your spine. Ask about the best ways to serve to avoid overextending your lower back.

Before playing, always warm up and stretch the muscles in your legs and lower back. Learn exercises that strengthen the core muscles deep inside your abdomen and pelvis, which support your spine.

Skiing

Before skiing again after a back injury, learn exercises that strengthen the core muscles deep inside your spine and pelvis. A physical therapist may also help you to build strength and flexibility in the muscles that you use when you twist and turn while skiing.

Before you start skiing, warm up and stretch the muscles in your legs and lower back. Make sure you only ski down slopes that match your skill level.

This article originally posted on medlineplus.gov.