Getting "back" to basics: Exercise to treat lower back pain

Chances are most of us will experience lower back pain (LBP) at some point in our life, with over 3 million Australians suffering at any given time. With a range of treatment options such as massage, acupuncture, pain medication, injections and surgery it is easy to forget that one of the most basic treatments, exercise, can play a massive role, even though the pain may make it the last thing you want to do.

What is causing back pain?
Unfortunately a lot of the back pain that we experience will be put down as “wear and tear” or “non-specific” back pain, commonly occurring after repetitive heavy lifting, excessive force or awkward movement.  Though there are common causes for lower back pain, every person can experience different pain depending on the type and severity of the injury. A trip to your GP is always encouraged to rule out any underlying serious conditions such as fractures, inflammatory arthritis and nerve impingement and to discuss treatment options

How can exercise help?
A basic exercise program consisting of strengthening and stretching is commonly prescribed to patients experiencing lower back pain as strengthening of the muscles can help to support the damaged or affected joints, while stretching can help to maintain and improve mobility.

But my back hurts when I’m moving?
The hardest part of an exercise program is the start point, as our muscles supporting the lower back can be weak while our pain levels are high.  Starting off with small simple exercises and progressing is always important to make this start point as comfortable as possible while setting realistic goals.  While most people would love to be rid of their pain in the shortest time possible, it is important to understand exercise is a long term treatment for lower back pain and it will take consistent effort over a long period of time to start achieving results.

How do I start?
Even though exercise will be beneficial for anyone experiencing lower back pain, there is no one size fits all when it comes to exercise.  Seeing an Accredited Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist will provide you with appropriate testing and a tailored exercise program to suit your specific needs and get you on the road to improving your lower back pain.

Scott Patrick
Exercise Physiologist
360 Health + Community

Manek NJ & MacGregor AJ 2005. Epidemiology of back disorders: prevalence, risk factors, and prognosis. Current Opinion in Rheumatology 17: 134-140
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