Back pain and exercise: How fitness can help
Your back (spine) is made up of vertebrae (bones) that make up 5 spinal regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacrum, and the coccyx. Between each vertebrae sits a shock-absorbing disc that allows movement and provides flexibility.
The purpose of your spine is to protect your spinal cord. Nerves from the spinal cord pass through the intervertebral foramen to the body, allowing messages to be transmitted to and from the brain and the periphery (e.g., your limbs).
The spine is supported by ligaments such as the anterior longitudinal ligament, the posterior longitudinal ligament, and the ligament flavum, and the core muscles such as the transversus abdominis and the multifidus. The unique and complex structure of spine allows humans to move with great freedom, but also requires coordinated interactions between vertebrae, vertebral discs, ligaments, and supporting musculature in order to achieve healthy function.
The back pain:
Back pain can be acute, resolving within 1-6 weeks, or chronic where pain persists for longer than 3 months (even if adequate recovery has occurred to the initial injury). There are many different types of back pain including muscle strains or spasms, arthritis in the spine, degeneration of the discs, herniated / bulging discs, sciatica, coccyx pain, spinal canal stenosis, scoliosis, spondylolithesis, and many more. In Australia, 80% of people will experience back pain in their lifetime.
Exercising with chronic back pain:
Clients often report that their back pain has stopped them from being as physically active as they were or as active as they would like, in sports and in everyday life. Whether you have discogenic back pain, sciatica, arthritis, spinal stenosis, or any other type of back pain, it is important to schedule in regular exercise into your routine. Completing a regular exercise program focused on treating musculature imbalances, building core stability through functional movements, and improving the functional mobility of your spine, can lead to sustained improvements in chronic back pain.
It is a common concern for people living with back pain that exercise will increase their pain levels. For this reason, it is important that you seek advice from Exercise Physiologists or Corrective Exercise Practitioners. These highly-trained professionals in exercise prescription will individually tailor your exercise program to the nature of your back pain, its source, and the limitations it places on your current movement levels. An individually-tailored program will aim to increase your functional mobility and the strength of your core musculature, which will improve how loads are absorbed by your vertebrae, providing a stable base to support your daily activities of living.
In response to exercise, a slight increase in pain may occur due to prior de-conditioning of the surrounding musculature. However, pain levels should not be sustained post-exercise, and should not be significantly increased during exercise. If pain levels increase during exercise, do not push yourself into experiencing stronger pain - discuss your pain levels with your exercise professional and seek further advice.
1. Consult your local Exercise Physiologist about safe exercises for your condition.
2. Ensure you start at low intensities and go slowly upon starting a new exercise program.
3. Don’t push into stronger pain - seek further assistance from your exercise professional.