I have seen countless patients who have experienced a sudden onset of lower, upper, or middle back pain – or even a stabbing, unexplained pain throughout the region – make the same mistake: directly after experiencing the pain they stagger to the sofa, lay down, and don’t get up for a week or more! Their reasoning… bed rest is the best thing you can do, right? WRONG.
In PT school professors used to drill it into us: “Motion is Lotion”! That’s right. It’s difficult to believe at first, but contrary to popular belief, moving the joints and muscles in your back is the fastest way to recover.
Let’s think about this for a minute. All too often I hear my patient’s say that they’ve tried not to move, but that the pain seems to be increasing by the day. This result really isn’t that surprising. Let me explain...
So many people believe that the least amount of movement might help them get back to health faster, but what happens to our muscles when we don’t move? They become stiff and usually they just become a whole lot more difficult to mobilize later on.
The thing is, we want to believe that motion increases the problem, because moving your back may hurt at first. In reality, our minds trick us into thinking we shouldn’t move our back when in fact the very best thing you could do.
Now I know what you’re thinking… it’s a lot easier said than done. Yes, it may seem that way, but I promise that the benefits of that initial movement well exceed the pitfalls of not doing it. So, let me give you a little incentive to go for that walk.
As you lie on the sofa your muscles begin to get stiff and tighten. As time goes by, the muscles get so stiff that any movement hurts. Many people find themselves stuck here, unable to move because it hurts but the reality is they need to move to get it to hurt less!
Why do you need to move? Because once you start moving again, the muscles stiffness and tightness will go away and the pain will ease. The longer you take to start moving, the longer it will take for the back tightness to go away.
You see, back pain is so often related to not moving: the simple truth is, the more you move the sooner you will experience a pain free life. Getting over the initial fear of movement will ensure that you are able to recover at a much faster rate. Not moving or doing exercise will, eventually, result in prolonged pain and back issues. Remember, MOVING is the key to a healthy back.
So, how can we push through the desire to sit around and get moving? Well, the absolute best thing you can do is see a physical therapist right away. A professional PT will be able to correctly diagnose the problem, give you invaluable advice, and most importantly, get your joints and muscles mobilized again. In this way you will be well on your way to recovering from your injury.
In conjunction with helpful PT advice, hands-on treatment, and stretches tailored to you personally by a PT, you can also embrace the following back-friendly exercises:
Swimming – this is one of the safest and most effective ways of mobilizing a painful back. Doing this 2 – 3 times a week for even 15 minutes will greatly increase your chances of a quick recovery.
Walking – walking isn’t only good for your heart! Every step you take will bring much needed blood-flow to your back. Walking is an excellent way to incorporate a healthy exercise into your daily life. Even just 20 – 30 minutes a day will already give you amazing results.
Stretches and Yoga – after seeing a qualified PT you will have been given a toolbox of invaluable stretches to do at home. Those stretches will loosen your upper and lower back, and pave the way for a pain free life. In addition, though, you can also do some yoga – breathing techniques, resting poses, and core strengthening will all give you a positive result on your journey to recovery.
Lastly, the best thing you can do, alongside visiting a PT and doing the exercises above, is to be mindful of the amount of time you are sitting. Sitting puts a lot of pressure on your back (and not in a good way!) So often we are blind to the amount we spend in a sitting position. Make an effort to keep your body moving at least 5 minutes every hour.
Please remember that back pain should always be taken seriously and, as such, you should always consult a professional PT IMMEDIATELY if you experience any discomfort. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that lying down, sitting, or being immobile for long periods will help solve the issue. The truth is, you are most likely going to make the problem worse – the best thing you can do is to keep mobile. Don’t mask the symptoms thereby making them worse. Get moving TODAY!
Remember this little bit of advice the next time you lay on the sofa in the hope that the pain might disappear: MOVEMENT is your key to a healthy back. Don’t be a statistic. Stop waiting for back pain to go away and make a change, TODAY! Want more info? Download our popular back pain guide here:
"We help active adults and athletes get back to doing the activities they love, without relying on painkillers or injections."
Shaheen Siddiqui, PT
Specialist Physical Therapist