Almost every Sunday morning, I wake up early so I can turn on CBS Sunday Morning, which airs informative stories that often last for 6-7 minutes (as opposed to the snapshot you get from watching the evening news). During yesterday’s show, CBS correspondent Martha Teichner reported that eight out of 10 Americans will have debilitating back pain during their lifetime, causing them to have difficulty walking, bending over or even lying down.
This back pain often is called by problems with the disc. One possibility is that the disc is worn out and arthritic; however some people experience a herniated disc, which means the fluid between the discs is squeezed out, thus placing pressure on nerves. "You need to make sure the patient doesn't have tumor or infection, but once you rule those out, you can be confident that you're not going to harm the patient by saying, 'OK, give yourself four to six weeks.'" Harvard Medical School Professor Augustus White told Teichner. The story noted that 90 percent of disc injuries will heal themselves after a few weeks, especially if the person who is afflicted also participates in physical therapy.
That information just surprised me! So I decided to do a little research about back problems and exercise. It turns out that back pain often starts due to incorrect movement or long-term high impact exercises that put undue stress on the lower back or require sudden twisting movements (think of golf or football).
Experts often recommend physical therapy with a trained professional is especially useful if back pain still remains after 3-4 weeks. “Exercise does not help acute back pain. In fact, overexertion may cause further harm,” the New York Times reports. “Beginning after 4 - 8 weeks of pain, however, a rehabilitation program may benefit the patient.”
During the session, the therapist often trains the person with back pain on how to correctly move and offers exercises so that the spine can remain in a correct position throughout the day. “Specific and regular exercise under the guidance of a trained professional is important for reducing pain and improving function, although patients often find it difficult to maintain therapy,” the Times stated. A person with back pain may engage in exercises such as walking, stationary biking and swimming (but not jogging) within two weeks of symptoms. However, during this period you should avoid exercises that put pressure on the lower back, such as straight leg sit-ups, leg curls using exercise equipment, or leg lifts while you’re lying on your stomach.
Exercise should continue once you are able to do so. Experts recommend a combination of flexibility, endurance and strength exercises. “Exercise should be considered as part of a broader program to return to normal home, work, and social activities,” the New York Times reports. “In this way, the positive benefits of exercise not only affect strength and flexibility but also alter and improve patients' attitudes toward their disability and pain.”