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Exercise and Back Pain

When your back hurts,  the last thing you want to do is exercise.  And that is usually a mistake.  Traditionally,  our grandparents were advised to lie in bed, and not move when experiencing back pain.  More and more evidence suggests prolonged bedrest has adverse effects, and  consequences of more prolonged pain,  and even disability.

Exercise and back pain is a common topic to many patients.   To review,  for the vast majority of the population,  back pain results from a soft tissue sprain/strain of the muscles or ligaments of the lower spine.  Or,  back pain can be the result of irritation of the developing arthritic joints of the spine, called the facet joint.   At any rate,  as long as the back pain is tolerable or not causing nerve irritation,  usually it will resolve, or improve for most people.  Exercise has the potential to decrease the duration of back pain,  or increase the intervals between episodes of back pain.

Regarding exercise and back pain,  my most common advise is to walk.  When you are in extreme pain,  you may not think that is possible.  But I advise patients to just take as many or as few steps for at least 10 minutes twice a day for the first few days of the back pain.  The act of walking does wonders for the body.  It requires you to get up from a seated or lying position.  It requires you to balance and coordinate all your muscles.  And, from the mental standpoint,  it demonstrates your ability to control some aspect of your pain.

While walking,  you must recruit muscles from your abdomen,  your back , and your large muscle of the legs.  If you place your hand on your back muscles while walking,  you can feel the muscles contract and relax with each step.  While you may have back pain,  the act of recruiting those back muscles help maintain the muscle tone and orientation.

If you are feeling better, and can walk at a faster pace,  usually you will find yourself swinging your arms.  Again,  more muscles are recruited.  You can increase your aerobic activities,  and help exercise your heart, and burn a few calories.  Overtime,  the exercise of walking is a low impact,  aerobic activity,  that burns calories, and for the most part does not cost you anything other than time.  And,  it helps restore your core muscles, including your abdomen and your back.

In reference to exercise and back pain,  I also encourage stretching exercises.  At  exercises are provided and can also be downloaded to your cell phone from the Android or iPhone app store.  I find these exercises and stretches are helpful for patients recovering from back and neck pain.

And finally,  in reference to exercise and back pain,  I encourage everyone to be as active as possible.  Yoga,  Pilates,  low impact aerobics, swimming and upright bicycling are excellent other activities.

When experiencing back pain,  I usually recommend against vigorous tennis,  golf, or heavy weight lifting.  Unfortunately,  these activities are associated with more injuries to the back.

Exercise and back pain are good topics of discussion you should have with your doctor.  Stay active,  stay low impact, and use common sense. Move!

Hi, I'm Dr. John Shim, and today I want to talk about one of the few things people can do to help their spine - and that's exercise. I know - boring! It's responsible - it takes effort. It means you have to do something to help yourself. What a concept. Despite all our technology, we are getting less fit. I will argue because of all our technology we are less fit. I don't want to sound like an old person, but it's true that jobs in the past meant a much larger percentage of our workforce actually did manual labor. Farmers did not have million-dollar combine machines processing hundreds of acres at a time. There are no robots riveting, sorting, and delivering. People actually needed to cut, manufacture, build, and create - not machines. Technology has made us more sedentary. Technology has made us more dependent. That also goes for health care. There's an expectation that a pill will take care of everything. The truth is we have some responsibilities for our own health. This is not what most want to hear. It's certainly not what the politicians promise. It is also the truth. As a society we must encourage folks to take control of what they can. We can't control our genetics, but we can control habits that affect our health. That's why we must also exercise, build our core, stretch our joints, and maintain our muscles. The scientific data is not perfect, but most conclude exercise, stretching, and maintaining ideal body weight will decrease your spine pains. We all know how important this is, but because I also know that so many are dependent on technology - I created a free smartphone application both for Android and iPhones called Shim Spine Exercises. I have the recommended neck and back exercises conveniently accessible on your phone or tablet. It's my way to encourage you all to take control of your health by stretching and exercises. If you have serious health conditions or artificial joints in your body please consult your personal physician before doing any of these stretches. If you have no medical restrictions, these exercises will be one of the ways you start controlling your own health care. Unintentionally, the medical community has created a society dependent on doctors and medical technology. I say we must encourage people to get back to the basics: eat right, exercise, don't smoke, moderate drinking, reduce stress, good relationships, get regular sleep. All these boring things are what mother told you, and they're true. This is Dr. John Shim, encouraging you to exercise and stretch. I'm not telling you what to do. I'm telling you to take control of what you can control. Thanks for listening.

Last modified: May 29, 2019

6 thoughts on “Exercise and Back Pain

  1. It’s so interesting that exercise can actually decrease the duration of back pain! When you get hurt, your first thought is to lay down and wait for it to pass. Now I know that’s the opposite of what you should do! Thank you for sharing this information.

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