Causes of Back Pain and the Effects of Exercise
1. Intervertebral Discs
These spinal "shock absorbers" may become injured due to a sudden, unexpected force or from usual wear and tear which occurs over time. Since these discs cannot repair themselves very well, they are a large contribution to recurrent lower back pain. This pain decreases the patient's ability to exercise, thus decreasing disc nutrition. Disc nutrition occurs when the disc swells up with water during physical activity. If physical activity is decreased, the disc will not get proper nutrition and will begin to degenerate. Physical activity will also decrease swelling that will naturally surround an injured disc. Swelling will further irritate nerves surrounding the spinal structures.
2. Muscles, Tendons and Ligaments of the Spine
With decreased physical activity, tendons and ligaments will lose resilience and may tear with a sudden overload. Anxiety can create muscle spasms which leads to muscle wasting and eventually chronic low back pain.
3. Spinal Nerves
When spinal nerves are damaged, pinched or cut, the muscles controlled by the nerves cannot function properly. A bulging disc may press on a nerve exiting the spine, which in turn causes the muscles controlled by that nerve to function improperly.
Acute vs. Chronic Back Pain
Acute pain happens immediately after an injury and when healing occurs, pain goes away. Chronic pain, however, creates a neural memory or pattern in the nervous system. Once the original source of pain is gone, the pain persists. Rehabilitation is an effective solution that distracts the nervous system in a controlled manner. Rehabilitation also creates a physiological environment that allows the injured tissues to heal.
While some muscles are used in everyday life, most do not get adequate exercise from daily activities. They tend to weaken with age unless specifically exercised. A back pain episode lasting more than a couple of weeks should be treated with proper strengthening exercises to prevent future recurring cycles of pain and weakness.
McKenzie exercise – An exercise that uses spinal extension to decrease pain due to collapsed disc space. Extension may help reduce a herniated disc and possibly centralize the pain from the leg to the lower back. Most people find that the back pain is more tolerable than the leg pain.
Lumbar stabilization exercises – These exercises focus on teaching the spine to stay in the neutral position. The neutral position is the position that is most comfortable for the patient. These exercises keep the back well positioned and strong.
Patients who perform aerobic activity on a regular basis will have fewer episodes of low back pain.
Stationary Bike – Riding a bike has minimal impact on the spine, but provides low impact aerobic conditioning that is generally safe and effective. This is a good exercise for patients with an injury that makes it more comfortable to lean forward.
Walking – The “start and stop” type of walking performed when shopping or doing errands is not enough to be considered aerobic conditioning. Instead, set an amount of time or distance and focus your attention on walking with good form.
Exercising in a progressive manner signals the body to heal. Medications and injections may provide pain relief, but don’t stimulate the healing process. The healing process can be stimulated by active exercise. Active exercise means dedication to a comprehensive rehabilitation program
Work With a Professional for Lower Back Pain
The back is a complicated structure. Seeking assistance from a trained professional is highly recommended. They will use a defined protocol to determine a diagnosis and treatment plan. If lower back pain lasts for more than a few weeks, it may be a serious medical condition and it's important to see a doctor. Ultimately, participating in a low back rehabilitation program should help patients heal quicker with less recurrences of lower back pain.
Inactivity often goes hand in hand with stiffness. Although patients with chronic pain
may take weeks or months to see results, stretching the spine and soft tissues creates
increased range of motion and sustained lower back pain relief. Stretching achieves
flexibility in the discs, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Specialized equipment is
available to help identify progress by helping repetitions to be done in the same