An episode of back pain is enough
to make most people crawl into bed and want to stay there until the pain has
While an understandable response,
bed-rest for more than a day or two can delay recovery. Instead, light exercise
is almost always going to accelerate the healing response.
Exercise can distribute needed
nutrients to the disc and soft tissues of the spine. Appropriate exercise can
help prevent stiffness and weakness. It can also prevent future episodes of
lower back pain and reduce the severity of the future episodes.
Each rehabilitation programme will
differ depending on the specific injury, so it is important to see a specialist
who can develop a programme and instruction for each condition.
Generally, a rehabilitation
programme will include stretching, strengthening, and low-impact aerobic
The benefits of stretching are
universal; you don’t have to wait for back pain to start enjoying the advantages
of stretching. The spine and the tissues around it are all designed to move.
It is when we lose mobility that
many of the self-healing mechanisms of the spine are impaired and we can
increase back pain.
Individuals with long-term back
pain may experience a slow improvement with their stretching programme, but
ultimately should enjoy increased mobility and reduced levels of pain.
The muscles that can have the
greatest effect on back pain are the large muscles around the hips that have
such a profound effect on the trunk. These include the gluteus group in the
buttock; the psoas, otherwise known as the “hip flexor” muscle, in the lower
abdomen; piriformis in the deep buttock; and the hamstring muscles in the back
of the leg.
Learn your limits
When it comes to stretching, particularly
when rehabilitating a back injury, learn your limits and take your time.
Stretching should not hurt during
or afterwards. Stretch in a smooth gentle manner; avoid bouncing, which can
cause further injury.
A stretch needs to be held for at
least 20 seconds to be effective, and it is best to repeat the stretch at least
If you are suffering with back or
neck pain, consult your physician before designing a stretching programme.
Aerobic exercise that increases the
heart rate for a prolonged period can further help recover from a back injury.
During aerobic exercise there is an increase in the flow of blood and nutrients
that can improve healing.
Further, the extra activity can
help to improve range of motion and decrease stiffness. The best aerobic
exercises for rehabilitation of a back injury are those that will not jar the
spine, such as pool exercises or other low-impact exercise.
Aerobic exercise is very useful for
both rehabilitation and maintenance of the lower back. People who regularly
undertake aerobic exercise to condition the back will benefit in several ways.
They will experience fewer episodes of low back pain and have less pain when an
episode does occur. They will also be more likely to maintain the ability to
work and have recreational activities, find it easier to control weight and
produce more endorphins.
It is important to remember that
back pain is often a symptom of a larger lifestyle problem.
Since back pain is so much more
prevalent in developed countries, it is a safe assumption that our sedentary
lifestyles are at least somewhat to blame.
Lifestyle changes that include
exercise, stretching, and aerobic activities are an effective means of both
treating and preventing episodes of back pain.
Dr. Jemal Khan is a chiropractor based in the Cayman Islands.