- Written by Dr. Kirstie Griffiths Dr. Kirstie Griffiths
More than 80% of adults suffer from back pain at some point in their lives.
It’s the leading cause of disability worldwide and a condition further aggravated during the coronavirus pandemic as people experience increased stress, have transitioned to working from home in spaces lacking proper ergonomics, and face reduced access to healthcare and fitness.
Today we are moving less and stressing more, and this creates a perfect storm in the development of back pain. We know that exercise can be extremely effective for back pain, but sifting through information online can be challenging, and many people find themselves unsure of whether movement will be helpful or make things worse.
Below are six tips for safely approaching exercise with back pain, supported by the latest research.
There are many myths and misconceptions floating around on how to manage back pain.
The problem for most people is that they are attempting to treat it the wrong way. Did you know that bedrest after a back injury actually delays healing and makes things feel worse?
If you saw your doctor 20 years ago with back pain, bedrest would have been recommended, but we now know this is one of the worst things you can do — the longer you stay in bed, the more muscle mass you lose, and the harder it is to recover.
Now we recommend that people begin movement right away, first in an effort to control pain, then with the purpose of increasing strength and stability, and finally with the intention of improving mobility
This movement should be gradual, progressive, and specific, as there are some exercises, such as sit-ups, that can make back pain worse.
3. Make it a Priority
With full schedules and busy lives, it is easy to put the needs of others before yourself and to place your own well-being on the backburner. Health is created by the choices we make day in and day out, and if yours is consistently being placed last, you will begin to feel the toll it takes on your life.
Sometimes this requires a mindset shift that involves treating your health like any other commitment; it can be helpful to schedule a fitness class or meal prep into your calendar and work your other events around it.
This takes some practice, but instead of canceling your fitness class because it interferes with dinner plans, communicate your intentions to take the class and ask if it is possible to change the timing on dinner so that you can uphold the commitment you have made to yourself and to your health.
4. Create a Movement Space at Home
The changes related to the pandemic have made it more difficult to access our usual spaces designed for fitness. Creating a space designated for movement within your home can be a motivator to get you moving.
You can also incorporate household items in place of gym equipment, reaching for food items in the cupboard as handheld weights or using a belt or towel in place of a yoga strap.
5. Listen to Your Body
You know your body best. Before you listen to the suggestions provided by a fitness instructor, check in with what feels right for you and your body.
Know that it is OK to reduce the number of repetitions, the speed at which you perform a movement, and the length of time you hold it, even if it puts you off-pace with the instruction.
Do movements that feel good, and don’t do movements that don’t feel good. If something is painful, try backing out of the position slightly first to see if that relieves the sensation, and if it does not, come to a place of rest.
Finding joy in movement and choosing activities that feel good for your body will allow exercise to be something you look forward to, rather than another chore on your to-do list.
Most of us lead high-stress lives that are focused on task completion and to-do lists. We are living in a state of chronic stress, and the over-activity in that part of the nervous system is strongly linked to a wide range of health conditions, including back pain.
Meditation and mindfulness practices are incredible tools for shifting the nervous system into a state of rest and relaxation and are used effectively in the management of back pain.
If you have questions on whether an exercise program might be a good fit for you, always consult a healthcare provider — they will be able to provide specific recommendations and guidance as you transition into a movement practice that supports your overall health.
Dr. Kirstie Griffiths is a Canadian chiropractor and yoga instructor who helps people manage back pain using a holistic, heart-centered, mind-body approach. She is the founder of Yoga for Back Pain (programs.yogachiropractor.com/yoga-for-back-pain), a specialized online program that combines education, movement, and meditation designed specifically for people with back pain.