For nearly any type of back pain, exercise will be recommended as part of a treatment program. However, resolving your issue will entail more than hitting the gym. Here are 3 ways to stop back pain.
Before you begin exercising with back pain, there are measures that must be taken to ensure that 1) the type of exercise you do will actually help to resolve your problem and 2) you do not make matters worse. The following three steps, then, are part of a normal treatment plan:
1. Identify Imbalances
2. Manage Pain
3. Exercise and stretch
One precautionary measure that must be taken to be sure you don’t exacerbate your back pain is to find out if you have any muscle imbalances before exercising. Muscle imbalances could either be the cause of your pain to begin with or a potential supplement to the cause.
Muscle imbalance exists when one muscle is more developed than a muscle or group of muscles it is meant to work with. The stronger of the set compensates for the weaker one, and is chronically tense. This tightness leads to an actual shortening of the muscle’s length, and this shortening acts as a pulling force on the structures around the muscle – tendons, ligaments, bones and other muscles. The less developed muscle or muscles of the imbalances group become overstretched due to the pull exerted on them, causing them to be chronically strained and lax.
If you are not aware of an existing imbalance, then you could make it worse by strengthening the tight muscle and neglecting the lax one. Improper exercise is one of the main causes of muscle imbalances, along with occupational overuse and bad posture. A physical therapist trained to identify imbalances is best qualified to do this job. If you are unable to consult a physical therapist, consider trying out five self-tests and corrective exercises recommended by a physical therapist in a Men’s Health article found at MensHealth.com.
The importance of this step should not be underestimated. Muscle imbalances can lead to severe problems like sciatica. The sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back to the foot on each side of the body, can become impinged in a number of ways, the most common being a herniated disc. It can also be caused by a muscle imbalance deep within the buttocks.
Mostly due to sitting for prolonged periods of time, the gluteus muscles in the buttocks can become weak. These muscles are known as hip extensors; they are used any time you move your leg behind your body, such as when walking or running. When the extensors are weak, the hip flexors compensate for them. The piriformis muscle, located deep within the buttocks, often compensates for weak glutes. This muscle is situated very close to the sciatic nerve, and its inflammation can result in impingement of the nerve. If you had this imbalance and did not know about it, then exercise that failed to build up the glutes would likely exacerbate your pain. This is merely one example of the dangers of improper exercise.
Any thorough treatment plan should focus on resolving the cause and not merely the symptom of pain. However, pain management is a necessary part of treatment, since exercise may be impossible to perform without addressing discomfort.
Your body should be allowed to rest and recover between exercise sessions, however not for too long. Rest of more than one or two days can be detrimental to your recovery, since the body loses muscle and cardiovascular strength relatively quickly while inactive.
Ice can be used during rest periods, particularly right after exercise. This will reduce inflammation that may occur. When you build muscle, you actually create small tears in the tissue that should heal quickly. This small injury can lead to the immune response of inflammation that causes pain. Ice will restrict the blood vessels, keeping the inflammatory materials at bay. Sore, strained muscles can benefit from the application of heat, which increases blood flow to the area and loosens the muscle.
Exercise and Stretch
Once you know of any imbalances you may have and know how to manage your pain, you will be able to pursue an exercise regimen. Start slowly and increase the intensity of your workout as your muscles become conditioned and flexible.
Stretching tight, overdeveloped muscles should be the first step you take. A physical therapist can guide you in finding the best stretches for your particular situation. If you do not have this resource, you may refer to Body-Mind-Strength.com for a list of stretches for specific muscles accompanied by pictures.
Once your tight muscles are loosened, they are in a position to cease compensating for weaker muscles. These weaker muscles can now be built up. The core muscle group, consisting of the hip, abdominal and lower back muscles, is the focus of back pain exercise plans. This group helps to support the spine and bears the weight of the upper body. Refer to the Mayo Clinic’s slideshow at Mayoclinic.com for a balanced core workout plan.
Keep in mind the importance of warming up before and cooling down after exercise. A warm up consisting of light stretches will get the blood flowing to muscles, literally warming them and preparing them for a workout. After exercise, the cool down period, consisting of more stretching, will keep blood flowing to the muscles that were exercised. Exercise creates a buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, which can pool and create soreness if not flushed out. The cool down period serves the purpose of removing lactic acid and supplying muscles with fresh nutrients and oxygen.
Any type of exercise program for back pain should consist of pain management and identification of muscle imbalances. Equipped with the tools of information and motivation, you will be in a position to resolve your back pain.