Sufferers of severe back pain understand how debilitating this condition can be. Sharp pain that stops you in your tracks whilst trying to stand up. Muscle spasm that grips you when you try to lift anything. Sciatic pain that runs down your leg like an electric shock. Regardless of age, occupation or activity levels, we get the massive impact that severe back pain can have on your life.
The great news is that now more than ever, science is revealing the best way to treat acute back pain. So while back pain will impact 80% of people at some stage in their life, there’s now hope that those affected will now not only recover quicker, but have less risk of it returning. And as Physiotherapists treating people suffering debilitating back pain day in, day out, we’re now seeing dramatic improvements in how quickly our clients recover with the right advice, and the right treatment.
So, what do we know?
1. Movement is GOOD
Based on the latest studies and evidence we have for back pain, the first and most important point is that bedrest is not advised. We understand the most tempting thing to do during an episode of back pain can often be to lie in bed until the pain goes away. However, while this might bring some short term relief, it becomes far more difficult to move when you’ve been lying down for awhile and have to get up, which will actually slow down your recovery.
There’s now over a decade of research that confirms the best thing to do is to avoid complete rest, but to instead go about your normal day-to-day activities as much as you can. Yes, you’ll have to avoid certain movements such as bending over, repetitive and awkward lifting, and prolonged periods of sitting for the first few days. And yes, you’ll start off feeling stiff and in pain. However, we find that as people warm up, they start to feel better the more they move.
Other important tips include changing positions every 30 minutes. This includes alternating between sitting and standing if you work at a desk, alternating jobs if you work on a factory floor or in a warehouse, and perhaps avoiding sitting in the car all day if your on the road as a sales rep – spend the day making customer calls whilst walking around the office instead.
We also encourage everyone to go for multiple short walks throughout the day. And it doesn’t have to be a 1 hr hike. Just 15-20 min walks every couple of hours works best to keep the stiff and sore joints, muscles and discs in your back moving.
2. Massage, mobilisation is good BUT not by itself
Hands-on treatment techniques such as massage, mobilisation, or manipulation can be brilliant to reduce your pain and help you get moving better. However, research tells us that the benefits of manual therapy such as massage is only short term. Not only that, but in some cases people can actually become dependant, or reliant on manual treatments but never achieve a full recovery.
However when manual therapy is combined with the right exercise, along with the right advice, this holistic treatment approach becomes a whole lot more powerful. Massage and manipulation can facilitate a reduction in apprehension and tissue resistance, allowing the exercises to be performed better and more effectively.
3. Exercise is BEST, but what kind?
Research has proven, beyond a shadow of doubt, that exercise is the best way to recover from back pain. However, we know that it can be hard to know what type of exercise you should do. Particularly with so many options available today – pilates, yoga, gym, bootcamp, boxing, interval training – just to name a few.
At this stage there is still no concrete evidence that any one form of exercise is better than another when it comes to recovery from back pain. And the reason is that everyone is different, and every case of back pain is slightly different.
However, what we do know is that for exercise to help you and your back, it must be tailored to you. This means understanding what is causing your pain, what structures are involved, and how your body is trying to protect you from the pain. As well as knowing what activities your body needs to perform at work and at home. And what your previous fitness level and health was like.
A good physio will always want to know as much about YOU as they can, before being able to prescribe the best exercises for your body. So the next time you’re suffering from back pain, don’t wait around. Go see your local physio to get the best advice, the best exercise and the best treatment.