Back Injuries & Exercise
Updated: Dec 20, 2021
"I hurt my back! Should I stop exercising? What should I do?"
As chiropractors, we get questions like this all the time. You may have even asked this yourself at some point. ** Before we get into specifics, let's be clear that we're discussing what applies to most patients, most of the time. Always discuss your specific plan with one of our chiropractors! **
So back to the question at hand...every person wants to know what type of exercise/activities they should or should not be doing after a back injury. The honest answer to this question is, "it depends." Well, what does it depend on then?
As a general rule, we like to see our patients continue with their exercise routine (running, walking, lifting, etc) as much as possible after an injury or flare-up. Many health professionals will drastically restrict their patients' physical activity after a back issue, and in our experience, this can often backfire. For the majority of people, movement and exercise are extremely helpful with reducing the inflammation, stiffness, spasm, and swelling that can occur with back problems. We most often advise patients to continue their regular routine with the following advice...
"Only do what your body tells you it can do"
What does this mean? If it causes you pain, don't do it, but if the activity doesn't cause you pain, go for it! (Even a small level of "discomfort" is acceptable in many cases) We want you to find the sweet spot between being active and remaining pain free. We believe this "sweet spot" is completely individual and this is why you may find that we leave things a little bit open-ended when it comes to exercise guidelines. We don't do this because we're unsure, but because we know that each person's tolerance for activity and pain will be different. The most important thing is to continue doing as much as you're capable of doing, without being in pain and without creating a set-back.
Lets give an example...
"Ashley" is a big time runner. She comes to our office with a low back injury that flares-up every time she tries to go run. We want her to continue being physically active, but she can't run because it causes her back to flare up. So now what?
Instead of running, Ashley can start with a short walk. Beginning at 5-10 minutes, then 15-20, then 30-45, etc, slowly increasing as her pain levels allow. Once she proves to herself that a long walk doesn't cause any issues, she might start adding some jogging intervals into her walks. Then once those jogging intervals become easy, she may try her first short run. Sooner than later, if she follows this progression, Ashley will be back running again pain free again!
What this example demonstrates is the proper way to stay active while simultaneously recovering and returning to normal "pre-injury" activity levels. Had she just sat on the couch for weeks, it would've been extremely difficult to get back into running and it likely would've slowed her recovery from a chiropractic perspective as well. Not only does appropriate physical activity help alleviate symptoms, but it can serve as an active part of recovery, supporting the chiropractic care you receive along the way!
Our goal for you would be the same "Ashley's" experience in the example above. We want you to remain as active as possible, within the confines of your symptoms. Physical activity is such an important part of our physical health and it's value cannot be understated. As Dr. Keadle says, "We wouldn't have 2 legs if we weren't meant to be physically active." If you have questions about returning to activity or need help figuring out what type of exercise would be best for you, just ask one of our great docs! We'd be happy to help.