A common (and harmful) misconception is that exercise should be avoided when a patient is experiencing back pain. Understandably, many patients are reluctant to exercise out of the fear that any exercises or stretching will aggravate their existing back pain. This may make them rely too heavily on medical treatments and underemphasize the importance of exercise for healing and long term back pain relief.
For most back problems, exercise and movement are the natural stimuli for the healing process. Controlled, gradual and progressive exercise, rather than inactivity and bed rest, most often provides the best long-term solution for reducing back pain and preventing (or lessening) future episodes of pain.
Most experts recommend no more than one or two days rest at the onset of most episodes of back pain. Prolonged inactivity can actually increase back pain as the back becomes stiff, weak, and deconditioned. As the pain increases, many patients reduce their activity and exercise levels, resulting in even more back pain and aggravating the cycle of inactivity and back pain recurrence.
Exercise plays the dual role of both treating back pain and helping prevent future episodes of pain.
- By nourishing and repairing spinal structures, exercise helps alleviate existing back problems.
- Movement and exercise keep the anatomy of the back healthy, flexible and strong in order to reduce the chances of further injury and back pain.
It is always advisable for patients to first consult with a health professional before beginning any exercise or fitness program. Working with a physician or experienced spine specialist will ensure that patients' activities are safe for their back and for their overall health. With back pain, it's particularly important to get an accurate diagnosis for the cause of the patient's pain from a physician or chiropractor in order to rule out possible types of back pain that may be aggravated by exercise (such as spinal instability).