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How to exercise with back pain?

5th February 2018

How to exercise with back pain?
Let's be clear from the outset, I am not a medical professional, I teach movement. However, 20 years of working with people with back pain or other joint issues alongside some amazing health professionals have given all of us at Northants Pilates considerable insight into how to help these unlucky souls. Which is why we see so many of their patients, they know we will continue the recovery process they start. 

BUT we can be our own worst enemy with our behaviour and beliefs about back pain and some of these are holding many people back from significant improvement not only in their pain but their daily life as well.   Below are some of the common reasons or beliefs held by many that can stop you from getting better.  If some of these resonate with you or someone you know..great, if it gets you thinking about changing your mindset on back pain and what you can then this is a worthwhile first step to gaining control of your life again.  

WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT BACK PAIN TRUE OR FALSE?
MOVING WILL MAKE MY BACK PAIN WORSE
It's normal to be fearful of moving.  But not moving can actually increase your problem. Your back needs to move to stay healthy and strong. Start small and gradually increase how much you do and keep it moving. A good Pilates class will explain what is the ideal alignment and then take you through some simple essential exercises that will give you confidence that you can move freely and easily. 
 
PAIN MEANS DAMAGE
Not necessarily, again, this is where a good health professional comes in, to help diagnose and treat the problem. For some people managing pain levels will be necessary. But it doesn’t mean you are doing more damage or making it worse. We must keep moving to ensure the muscles that support your spine are strong and improve our core muscles as these are essential to good spinal health, that includes your pelvic floor too.

ONLY AN MRI SCAN WILL TELL ME WHAT'S WRONG WITH MY BACK
Now, this is where a skilled health professional is essential (I know I am banging on about this, but honestly it's that important!) They will take a detailed case history with your symptoms and that’s how they make the diagnosis. Asking the right questions, building up a picture with that data bank of knowledge they have acquired after years of being in practice.
Sometimes a scan might be required, just to confirm what they suspect and ensure there is nothing else, often it’s not needed. 
It’s like getting an X-ray to confirm a break or fracture. They already have a good idea something is broken; the picture just gives them confirmation. However an MRI scan is more expensive than an X-ray and in many cases, as I said before, it's not needed  

A scan just gives you a picture of the structures, it doesn’t ever give you a picture of pain. What 10 on the pain scale for one person, could be 4 for another person. That’s why a good health professional is worth seeing because they have the knowledge to sift through the information you give, backed up with years of experience. 
 
I SHOULDN'T TAKE PAINKILLERS BEFORE I EXERCISE, I MIGHT DO TOO MUCH AND MAKE IT WORSE THAN EVER.
If you have been prescribed painkillers and cleared for exercise, then it’s perfectly acceptable to exercise. As a Pilates teacher, I obviously have no qualifications to tell anyone to take any drugs, prescription or otherwise. However, an eminent Spinal Specialist and Orthopaedic Surgeon we work closely with uses drugs to help patients exercise so they can strengthen and condition their backs. Paracetamol is an excellent painkiller and combined with anti-inflammatory drugs can really help someone with pain and inflammation get their spine moving again and considerably improve low back pain. We see it on many occasions in our classes and it’s great to give someone an exercise toolbox to get control of their back pain and enjoy life again.
 
I AVOID THINGS LIKE DOING THE HOUSEWORK OR MOVING THE LAWN, PLAYING WITH THE KIDS IN CASE I BRING THE PAIN ON AGAIN
The real fear of your back pain rearing its ugly head is very normal. However, taking sensible steps to continue with normal everyday life is the way forward. You don't want to put your life on hold IN CASE it might hurt.  Again, the lack of movement is only going to add to your problem, not help it. 

A Pilates class will encourage you to move your spine with control and precision and build up the muscles that support your usual daily activities so that you can get back to being able to do the housework or mow the lawn,  play football or run around with your children, grandchildren without fear of reprisals.
 
I DID THE EXERCISES AND MY BACK GOT BETTER, SO I STOPPED.  BUT IT'S COME BACK AGAIN. 
YUP!  So, you did the exercises and it improved.  Then you stopped. Clearly, the answer is, exercise works!  It’s drug free and keeps many people pain free.  That’s a great result!  Honestly, 10 or 15 minutes of exercise a day correctly targeted is a VERY small price to pay for a healthy back and for some people that will be the case for perhaps the rest of their life.   All our classes are geared to good movement patterns with attention to alignment and posture. That is what a good Pilates class can give you..the knowledge to move safely and well. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  
Karen Grinter - Studio Director, Northants Pilates