By: Shelagh McNally for Back1
The traditional advice of “taking it easy” when experiencing back pain may be the worst thing for a bad back.
|Safe Exercise Tips from the AAOS|
1) Use proper gear – footwear, clothing as well as safety equipment
2) Warm up to raise your heart rate and get blood flowing
3) Stretch muscles completely
4) Take your time and pay attention to your body’s signals
5) Drink water to prevent dehydration
6) Be sure to take the time to cool down
7) Rest – scheduling time away from exercise is also important
The back is a marvelously complicated structure built around 24 vertebrae that make up the spinal column. Vertebrae are connected to one another by discs at the front and facet joints at the back and held together with ligaments and tendons. Usually all these elements work together to allow the spinal column to remain flexible and move. But injuries including sprains, strains and slipped discs can be brought on by lifting a heavy load or sudden blows. At some point in life, 80 percent of Americans will experience some kind of back pain. It is a leading cause of missed work and costs 80 billion dollars a year in related expenses.
Our first instinct when we have back pain is to stop moving. Often we worry that more movement may cause further damage. Traditionally doctors prescribed prolonged bed rest for most back injuries. But research suggests that inactivity may actually be a contributing factor for back pain. Lying in bed after a back injury actually worsens the problem because the muscles start to waste away and become weak. Inactivity makes tendons and ligament adhere to each other reducing flexibility and resilience and can result in re-injury. A vicious cycle starts with an acute condition developing into a chronic problem. People suffering from chronic back problems often become depressed, withdrawing from life and their activities.
The 1999 Mannion and Muntener clinical study took 148 patients with lower back pain and divided them into three groups: Active physiotherapy, muscle conditioning and low-impact aerobics. Each subject followed their particular regime twice a week for 12 weeks and tested at the end of the training for pain and mobility. All three groups had the same level of pain relief and ability to perform daily tasks. Each group maintained their healthy back for up to nine months afterwards. From 1992 – 1995, Lindstrom, Ohlund and Eek conducted a randomized clinical study on patients with acute and sub-acute back pain and reached the same conclusions: Exercise helps with recovering from back pain. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons is now recommending a regime of stretching, strengthening and low-impact aerobic conditioning for back pain.
Stretching exercises should focus on achieving flexibility and elasticity in the disc, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Also be sure to include exercises for the leg muscles. Strengthening exercises are based on the principle of flexion/extension and play an important role in both recovery and maintenance of the back. Specific training equipment is often used for this kind of exercise. Low-impact aerobics include swimming, walking at a sustained pace or riding a stationery bike. Before starting any exercise program, consult your doctor who may refer you to a licensed physical therapist, occupational therapist or chiropractor. They can help you develop and maintain an appropriate rehabilitation program designed to get you back on your feet.
Links to AAOS back pain exercises