As a new year dawns many of us consider making changes in our lives. For some it may be to get healthier, lose weight and get more exercise. Over the next few weeks across social media and beyond, we will be bombarded with advertising and messages from fitness professionals and gyms promoting their own methods of helping you achieve the changes you may desire. Most people will be able to achieve those goals with hard work and consistency.
For people with persistent chronic back pain the thought of joining a gym or starting an exercise program to get healthier may a distance dream. Most people in these situations may feel exercise could cause more damage to their back because it has hurt in the past. But, one thing we know for sure is exercise is the number 1 proven treatment for persistent low back pain. Our beliefs and poor education around low back pain may be holding you back from getting better.
I am writing this article with an aim to show people who suffer from persistent pain that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am not just exclusively talking about back pain either, I am talking about anyone who has persistent musculoskeletal pain even after surgery anywhere in the body, such as shoulder pain, neck pain, hip pain etc. and especially if it is restricting you in everyday life. Many people would love to be able to walk of run regularly, play with their grand kids or do some gardening. Unfortunately, a lot of the time our belief system around exercise and back pain can be skewed.
A study in 2014 by Darlow et al. of over 600 people (87% of which had experienced back pain at some point in their lives) over the age of 18 showed the following:
-60% thought the risk of exercise outweighed the benefit.
-69% thought they should 'take it easy'.
-94% thought lifting without bending their knees was not sake for their back.
-59% thought that any pain with activity should be avoided in the future.
-35% thought bed rest was the main treatment.
So lets delve into these beliefs a bit more. Firstly, as stated earlier, exercise is proven in thousands of studies to be the best form of treatment for somebody with persistent long term back pain. It is safe when prescribed by a physiotherapist or healthcare professional who knows your background and has assessed your situation. So we know you need to move, taking it easy will NOT help you long term. Your lower back is the strongest joint in have in your body, it is designed to bend not to stay straight all the time. So you should bend it, you don't always have to bend your knees. Staying in bed is by far the worse thing you can do if you are going through bout of low back pain. As we know the vast majority of back pain is muscle related, not using those muscles will not allow them to relax long term. Getting them moving will, because muscles want to move, that's what they were designed to do. Many of you may have tried exercising and it my have made the situation worse. That does not mean it is the wrong thing to do, all it means it may not have been the ideal type of exercise for you to do at the time. You may have also done too little for it to make a difference or too much that the muscles got tired and try to guard the area. There is a fine line between both, that is why it is very important to got to a relevant healthcare professional like a physiotherapist who can guide you in what type of exercise you should do and the amount you should do. Many of you reading this article may have already given up hope of ever getting better. I am here to tell you their is always hope but it will take hard work and consistency. The first thing you will have to change is your belief system around your back pain. Secondly get a full assessment and find out what form of exercise will work for you and whats driving it. If you can do this much initially you will see a difference long term. Remember, your beliefs can strongly influence your back pain both positively and negatively. Be positive in 2020. With the right advice, exercise prescription and advice you could be pain free by the end of it!