How to Beat Back Pain
by Lucy Miller
A Fitness and Nutrition Expert
Your back is killing you. You've gone to your GP. You've got a diagnosis and possibly some medication but it still hurts. You're ready to try just about anything – but the last thing you’ve thought about is hitting the gym! Yes that’s right - plenty of research suggests that moving more can be the best medicine as well as following a structured program of exercises to get you back on your feet. I’m not saying, go out and run a marathon but exercise, such as yoga and Pilates and light resistance work can help to keep the spine, and all the muscles and soft tissues around it, supple and strong. Here are some of my recommendations. Give it a go – you have nothing to lose. Just keep an eye on your form and work to your own level – only you can monitor your pain, so don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone.
A recent study found that stretching is just as effective as yoga at reducing back pain, because stretching of any kind, whether static (you hold the pose) or dynamic (you move through a complete range of motion), can help improve flexibility and decrease back-pain risk and symptoms. Try a yoga class like Glow Yoga at Good Vibes (Goodvibesfitness.co.uk/glow-yoga/classes) or Virgin Active’s stretching class (virginactive.co.uk). Also take a nice deep stretch as soon as you wake up. Experts suggest the greatest incidence of slipped discs occur within 30-60-minutes after we wake up because the position you sleep in can put added stress on your back, so start the morning with a quick lower back stretch by lying on your back and bringing both knees to your chest and then holding them with both hands. Pull your knees down to your chest and relax.
Two recently published studies found that people who practiced yoga had less pain and more mobility than those who simply followed a self-care book on back-pain relief. This is because yoga combines stretching with strength and balance poses, which help shore up weak muscles and release tight ones. It's also a stress reliever; tension can lead to a tight back.
If you haven’t got the time or love for yoga – then try incorporating the child’s pose into your gym sessions – either at the end of each session or between exercises to stretch the back and improve relaxation. To do this, sit on your heels with your knees hip-distance apart. Exhale and lower torso between thighs. Reach arms forward. Hold for about 30 to 60 seconds.
Physical therapists have long advocated doing traditional resistance training (using body weight only, bands, dumbbells, or machines) to improve strength and regain function, especially for everyday activities. This is because it stabilizes and strengthens your entire body. Why not try a body pump class or ask a personal trainer to show you some key strength moves like the squat to help strengthen your entire lower body, lower back and core.
A small Canadian study found that patients with nonspecific lower-back pain who did a Pilates workout for four and a half hours a week reported significantly less pain and disability 1 year after starting the program than those who simply followed a doctor's care. Pilates strengthens the core muscles that support the spine, decreasing your risk of injury. It also boosts flexibility, making it easier to move without pain. Look for a registered Pilate's teacher (Pilatesfoundation.com) or find a local class. The key to Pilates is getting your technique spot on, which will help relieve pain caused by imbalances in the body and a weak core.
Luckily, enough I've never experience back pain because I tend to keep my core very strong and my body supple but if I did, I would be straight down that physio's clinic, I'm not good with pain! Good luck and take care out there.
Lucy MillerLucy Miller is a fitness and nutrition advisor, and Fitness Editor at Health & Fitness Magazine (www.womensfitness.co.uk). She holds fitness qualifications from NASM Training and Premier Training International.
Read her biography