Don’t let your pain hold you ‘back’ from exercising this spring

It’s only a matter of time now before the sirens of spring call our names, tempting us to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine in any way we can.  Temperatures have already been on the rise in the Raleigh area, and this will likely only continue as we make our way into spring.

This should come as welcomed news to most people—even if this winter was a bit more on the mild side compared to previous years—but for some, the arrival of spring might bring up a certain sense of anxiety instead.  If you suffer from low back pain and it’s been bothering you for a while, you may be concerned with your ability to actually get outdoors and do the things you love.  Some people with low back pain decide to hold off on any form of exercise or physical activity until their pain subsides, but this can actually make your condition worse.  The truth is, not only is exercise safe, but it can be one of the best things you can do for your back if you choose the right types.

A common problem for many people

Low back pain is one of the most common medical conditions in existence, and unfortunately, your odds of experiencing it at some point are quite high.  In fact, up to 84% of people in the U.S. will deal with low back pain in some form at least once in their lifetime.  Most cases of low back pain are nonspecific, which means that no specific cause can be identified for the development of symptoms.

When low back pain does occur, it is categorized in the following stages:

Acute: most cases of low back pain are acute; this is the first stage of pain, which lasts for up to four weeks and generally improves on its own
Sub-acute: any pain lasting for 4-12 weeks is classified as sub-acute
Chronic: when pain lasts for 12 weeks or longer, it’s called chronic; only about 20% of people who get acute low back pain will go on to develop chronic pain

The importance of exercise for improvement

Although it may be daunting to realize the likelihood of getting low back pain, the good news is that for most patients, the prognosis is actually quite positive and most patients will improve within a few weeks.  Some patients will notice the pain gradually fade away without changing much, while others will experience instant relief from conservative (non-surgical) treatments like ice, heat or pain medications.  Problems usually arise when people either don’t improve at first or when pain returns after a period of improvement.

One of the reasons for this could be failing to exercise or stay active.  You may be tempted to remain stationary during an episode of low back pain so you don’t aggravate your back any further, but exercise and physical activity can actually help improve strength and flexibility in the spine and surrounding areas.  Stronger muscles in this region will mean less stress on the lower back, and in turn, less pain.

What’s important to understand, though, is that some exercises are great for your back, while others can be harmful.  As a rule of thumb, try to stick only with low-impact exercises that are gentle to your spine rather than those with jumping and pounding motions.  Just in time for the warmer weather ahead, Raleigh Neurosurgical offers:

The four best workouts for back pain

1) Brisk walking: running and jogging can be dangerous for a bad back, but walking at a fast pace is generally considered to be a safe alternative; find your favorite trail or park, and be sure to use an upright posture when walking
2) Biking: another great low-impact alternative to running that allows you to embrace the outdoors on two wheels; biking at a high intensity can serve as a great aerobic workout and really get the blood pumping
3) Swimming/aquatic exercise: exercising in water is considered one of the best possible workouts for the back, since the water provides support and resistance, and has a soothing effect on the spine; aquatic workouts can be performed indoors or outdoors, and as the weather keeps warming up, more outdoor options will become available
4) Yoga/Pilates: both of these practices feature gentle motions that will improve strength and flexibility, and reduce back pain in the process; some yoga classes are offered outdoors, and if you’re experienced enough, take your yoga mat to your favorite spot and get into your flow wherever you’d like
As you can see, having low back pain does not have to hold you back from exercising in the warm weather soon to come.  It can actually help you improve, and allow you to become even more active in the process.

For low back that doesn’t improve of gets worse with exercise, you may have an underlying problem that requires additional treatment.  If you’re concerned with your back, contact Raleigh Neurosurgical Clinic at 919-785-3400 for more information or to schedule an appointment.