Recently I reported my personal story on back pain in my eNewsletter on Your Wellness I – “Should I skip my Workout because of my back pain?“
Nothing kills the momentum of fitness routine greater than a sore back. Trust me, I am not only speaking from past experience, but also from a chronic case of “I feel your Pain”. It is just a fact of life and proof that every glove that knocked you down along the way, may hurt you more later than you first thought. I believe it is fear of pain that is the greatest motivator. I think it was the comedian Richard who said, pain is a great motivator. In his case I think it was actually the of fire, but for most of us, back pain is a great de-motivator. To workout, exercise or for some, it effects their ability to just move. So, as a health coach, I had no choice this week, but do the research to find out how not only, could I keep moving, but maybe help a few of my followers as well. Here is what I searched and found, that I hope will help…
Back Pain is a Common Enemy Faced by almost everyone
The first thing I learned is that reports suggest there could be more than 3 million cases per year in the U.S. alone. You can find stories suggesting it “does not usually require immediate medical intervention to acute phase syndromes due to inflammation, lasting weeks or even months.” [Click here to review the full NIH Fast Facts on back pain.]
“Back pain strikes just about everyone at some point in their lives, but it doesn’t have to debilitate you. In fact, the right kind of movement can be therapeutic, bringing fresh oxygenated blood to sore areas that promotes healing. You don’t even have to forego working out.” -Linda Malone, Prevention Magazine.
Given that I am not a doctor, I am not going to bore you with all the anatomy, physiology, and treatment plans. My goal is to help you stay active and engaged in the fitness (“be more active”) portion of your wellness & health plan. So, here is the number one question I faced, after my back began to ache this week. Can I still exercise? In summary here is general answer from a qualified professional.
“Essentially, it’s safe to exercise with low-back or mid-back pain,” says David Hanscom, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Swedish Neuroscience Specialists in Seattle. “Back pain is only a symptom; 99% of the time the pain results from ligaments and muscles around the spine.”
However, “there are some instances when it’s smarter to head for the doctor’s office rather than the gym.”
These include: “If the pain worsens at night and while lying flat, if it persists for six weeks or more, if it’s associated with weight loss and fever, or if you’ve recently fallen or have osteoporosis. Other signs you should get checked out: shooting pain down one or both legs, suddenly crooked posture, an inability to stand up straight, or holding your breath when changing position”, says Scott Weiss, a New York physical therapist and athletic trainer. [emphasis added]
Although you may think it is too late for you, I feel your pain, it is likely more important to learn how to prevent or avoid back pain. So how do you do that? Here is what I found…
Top Ways to Prevent Back Pain
…By adjusting your regular fitness routine with a more “back friendly” alternative:
Try the “Supported Hamstring Stretch“, as an alternative to the…Toe Touch hamstring stretch, or the;
“Side-lying Quadriceps Stretch“, as an alternative to the…Hurdler’s stretch;
the “Reverse Curl-up“, as an alternative to the…Leg raise;
“Walking“, as an alternative to…Jogging, or running;
“Swimming“, as an alternative to the…High-impact aerobic class;
“Planking“, as an alternative to…Crunches;
the “Lateral Raise“, as an alternative to the…Overhead shoulder press; or
“Hot Yoga“, as an alternative to…Regular yoga.
And if you have access to equipment, try the “Stair Machine“, as an alternative to the…Treadmill.
To name a few!
In addition, I found some additional tips to inspire you to live with a better back.
It has been a lifelong journey, but if you want to be in a position to continue to stay fit and workout regularly over your entire lifetime, think about your posture first. Something as simple as adjusting how you stand, may help you correct, or avoid a lot of pain later.
How to Adjust your Posture?
It all starts when you stand in front of the mirror. Like you do everyone morning or night as you brush your teeth. Review how your hold your head. Remember, the key is all about centering your head over your body, while you stand, sit, walk and even run. I have even read the suggestion to have someone record you as you move. And why not? Athletic coaches do this to correct the form of their athletes, and with recorders on everyone’s smart phone these days, I recommend you try this yourself.
Once you are self-aware of your posture, you can make it a new habit and learn how to self-correct your own form. Of course, once you realize you may not be using the correct form, (posture) in your daily life, then it is time to learn how to improve your form. That most likely will require some outside help. Typically, with the help of a coach and the personal commitment to learning. This is why I include a bonus segment in my (health coaching) workshops on learning how to stand smart, sit smart, lift smart, carry smart, stoop smart and even sleep smart.
Here is the 411 on Back Pain per the NIH – Fast Facts
Back pain can range from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp pain that makes it hard to move. It can start quickly if you fall or lift something too heavy, or it can get worse slowly.
Who Gets Back Pain?
Anyone can have back pain, but some things that increase your risk are:
· Getting older. Back pain is more common the older you get. You may first have back pain when you are 30 to 40 years old.
· Poor physical fitness. Back pain is more common in people who are not fit.
· Being overweight. A diet high in calories and fat can make you gain weight. Too much weight can stress the back and cause pain.
· Heredity. Some causes of back pain, such as ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that affects the spine, can have a genetic component.
· Other diseases. Some types of arthritis and cancer can cause back pain.
· Your job. If you have to lift, push, or pull while twisting your spine, you may get back pain. If you work at a desk all day and do not sit up straight, you may also get back pain.
· Smoking. Your body may not be able to get enough nutrients to the disks in your back if you smoke. Smoker’s cough may also cause back pain. People who smoke are slow to heal, so back pain may last longer.
Another factor is race. For example, black women are two to three times more likely than white women to have part of the lower spine slip out of place.
What Are the Causes of Back Pain?
There are many causes of back pain. Mechanical problems with the back itself can cause pain. Examples are:
· Disk breakdown
· Tense muscles
· Ruptured disks
Injuries from sprains, fractures, accidents, and falls can result in back pain.
Back pain can also occur with some conditions and diseases, such as:
· Spinal stenosis
· Kidney stones
Other possible causes of back pain are infections, tumors, or stress.
Can Back Pain Be Prevented?
The best things you can do to prevent back pain are:
· Exercise often and keep your back muscles strong.
· Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if you weigh too much. To have strong bones, you need to get enough calcium and vitamin D every day.
· Try to stand up straight and avoid heavy lifting when you can. If you do lift something heavy, bend your legs and keep your back straight.
You should see a doctor if you have:
· Numbness or tingling
· Severe pain that does not improve with rest
· Pain after a fall or an injury
· Pain plus any of these problems:
o Trouble urinating
o Numbness in your legs
o Weight loss when not on a diet.
Treatment for back pain depends on what kind of pain you have. Acute back pain usually gets better without any treatment, but you may want to take acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen to help ease the pain. Exercise and surgery are not usually used to treat acute back pain.
What Is the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain?
Acute pain starts quickly and lasts less than 6 weeks. It is the most common type of back pain. Acute pain may be caused by things like falling, being tackled in football, or lifting something heavy. Chronic pain lasts for more than 3 months and is much less common than acute pain.
Following are some types of treatments for chronic back pain.
· Hot or Cold Packs (or Both)
· Behavior Changes
Alternative Medical Treatments
When back pain becomes chronic or when other treatments do not relieve it, some people try complementary and alternative treatments. The most common of these treatments are:
· Manipulation. Professionals use their hands to adjust or massage the spine or nearby tissues.
· Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). A small box over the painful area sends mild electrical pulses to nerves. Studies have shown that TENS treatments are not always effective for reducing pain.
· Acupuncture. This Chinese practice uses thin needles to relieve pain and restore health. Acupuncture may be effective when used as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan for low back pain.
· Acupressure. A therapist applies pressure to certain places in the body to relieve pain. Acupressure has not been well studied for back pain.
[This section of the publication is not copyrighted and republished from the original NIH Fast Facts page, with my links added to informational sources to help the reader understand the facts. Readers are encouraged to duplicate and distribute as many copies as needed.]
My final thought on my Back Pain
Like so many other conditions, millions of people suffer from each year. The standard healthcare practice, focuses on the symptom, the pain, and not enough on the cause. Because of my six-sigma black-belt training in lean-process management, I believe a focus on avoiding the root cause is best strategy. We spend way too much on treating symptoms of back pain, diabetes, and even cancer. The tumor is a symptom, something within the immune system is the cause.
Source and Inspiration
“What is Back Pain?” -NIH.
“Prime-Time Health” -William Sears, MD.
“9 Exercise Mistakes that Make Back Pain Worse“ -Linda Malone.