Almost everyone experiences back pain. When it affects you, stay active, get good rest and manage stress to find relief.
by Annie Lehn on Thursday, January 3, 2019
Back pain is one of the most common conditions we see in physical therapy. When you’re dealing with back pain, it can mean years of treatments, fluctuating symptoms and limiting activities. Over time, your back pain can become chronic and your function worsens.
Nerves and muscles can become “hypersensitive” to pain, making it difficult to perform even regular daily tasks. Physical therapy can get you out of this chronic cycle of pain. Through graded exercises, stretching and interventions targeted at your irritated tissues, physical therapy teaches you strategies to lower your back pain.
Exercise reduces back pain.
Our bodies lay down new tissue every 72 hours, and regular exercise facilitates healthy tissue remodeling, so it’s an excellent way to lower your pain levels. Set a goal for regular exercise — 20 to 30 minutes a day, about four to fives times per week.
Sometimes exercising with back pain may be uncomfortable or make you feel sore. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the exercise or activity is causing harm. It means that your body is reacting to the exercise and developing strength in your back muscles.
Rest and relaxation help you recover.
Your body needs time to recover, so rest and relaxation are also important aspects in reducing back pain. Getting restful sleep is a necessity for healing. Aim to get seven hours of sleep every night.
While awake, breathing techniques can help you relax. Diaphragmatic breathing calms the nervous system, which is sending the pain signals. It also helps your muscles relax and avoid becoming strained or stiff.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a focused exercise that coordinates all the muscles in your inner core muscles. You can practice it by taking a slow, gentle breath in through your nose, then breathing out through your mouth. As you breathe in, focus on expanding your lower ribcage and abdomen to take a deep breath. Exhale completely so that your abs and ribcage draw in.
Stress management reduces tension.
Mood and stress play a large role in pain and nerve irritability. They can make your pre-existing back pain feel even worse. Prolonged stress can lead to muscle tension and stiffness. So stress management is very important in dealing with chronic back pain.
It’s also important to stay active. Exercise and regular physical activity help you relieve stress and reduce muscle tension. When your mind is occupied, it has less capacity to focus on the pain. When you’re feeling stressed, go for a short walk, do some yoga or do something else you enjoy to unwind and boost your mood.
Oftentimes, people worry about an abnormal finding on an X-ray or MRI. But research shows that by age 50, 80 percent of people who otherwise have no back pain show disc degenerative changes on an MRI of their back.
These changes are a part of normal aging. But back pain isn’t. It’s possible to live without back pain, even if an MRI or X-ray shows an abnormal finding. If back pain is preventing you from doing everyday things, visit a physical therapist to learn the tools to keep your pain under control.