We all know that back pain is one of the most frequent pain complaints in western societies, if not across the world. However, for most people back pain is well manageable and should not be the cause for giving up activity or feeling greatly negative about the future. Regular physical exercise is known to improve muscle strength and endurance and may protect against future episodes which are the overwhelmingly typical pattern for back pain to follow. Your physiotherapist can design an exercise programme for you to go with your treatment and if you stick with it you will see the benefits.
When we say exercise we mean training the body in a number of ways which includes cardiovascular or aerobic fitness, muscle strength, muscle endurance, balance and coordination, flexibility and overall functional ability. It is important to have a review with a trained professional before starting exercise to make sure there are no reasons why you should take things carefully or avoid particular activities.
Aerobic exercise is best achieved by swimming, cycling or walking as running is usually too jarring and causes pain, but if not it too can be used. Choose the type of exercise you like most as this makes it more likely you will stick to the programme and keep your fitness improving. Direct strengthening exercises for the lower back and abdominal muscles can be useful, with core stability work a common and helpful approach to improving functional back strength. Your physio will advise you on starting the exercise programme gently and steadily to avoid pain worsening and a tendency to give up because of this.
Moving away from more specific work there is good evidence that a general exercise regime such as performed in a gym can have good effects on overall functional ability and perhaps reduce pain episodes. This can be performed in groups such as classes or incorporated in yoga or tai chi regimes with care about the positioning in case of aggravation by particular postures. Overall the amount of exercise required to make a real difference is quite high, with the suggested participation of three to four times a week for up to 60 minutes.
Once your regime is established you can add stretching to any tight muscles in particular, balance and coordination exercises and increase your endurance work. The overall aim should be to achieve a balance of the factors known to be important in fitness.
Author: Jonathan Blood-Smyth