Saturday, November 28, 2009

Back Pain

Back pain, chronic or acute, is one of the most common and most expensive conditions. It affects as many as 80% of us and by us I mean people, not necessarily only Americans. In other words, it is very likely that at some point your back is going to hurt. Hopefully it will be an acute incident that lasts days to weeks and never returns.

I first noticed that I had back pain some years ago and it was a significant acute episode that did last over six weeks, which means, it became what it is referred to as sub acute. I was damned though if I was going to have chronic back pain. I did follow the physical therapist's back strengthening program, which was all stretching and such, but no resistance training. I did it for a long time and it did ease off the pain. For medicine, I used ICE and ice is a very safe and effective anti inflammatory agent.

I learned from research some years ago that the idea of treating back pain with rest and pain killers was antiquated and detrimental. Unfortunately, sufferers of back pain continue to seek medication and usually back off all activity at the sign of a flare up. This is wrong. Here is one of many articles to debunk the bedrest advice.

I am a health educator, which means, I read other people's research and recommendations, vet them for source accuracy and then share them with others. This information is NOT my opinion, but science. In ACSMs Certified News this month, a physician from the US Sport and Spine Foundation, Dr. T Dreisinger, iterates the "keep moving" message but he adds more.

He contends that resistance training will improve back health and that not working the back is going to lead to atrophy and that leads to more pain and less function and less function leads to less use which leads to more atrophy or what they call sarcopenia. That is a Greek word that means, and I quote the ACSM article here, "poverty of flesh."

Ironically, I have my personal experience to further support this contention. You see, I did stay active when that back pain originally started and I would run even when my back hurt significantly throughout the day, and I would be amazed at how the next day the pain would not be worse but be GONE. Still, it seemed to recur at odd times and I couldn't figure it out so much, except that running didn't cause it. So guess what I stopped doing? Any resistance exercise that would engage my back. I stopped my weight training for my back but the issue never went away. Indeed, I have suffered from intermittent but chronic back pain probably because my back has gotten weaker for lack of specific training.

Recently, my physician told me I needed to spend more time lifting weights and I have for the last month or two. This included doing all the back exercises I used to do in the 90s and guess what... it is NOT getting worse. My back is stronger and the pain is much less and so I do believe that it is important to work a body part that is giving you trouble. In fact, in the ACSM article it is noted that increased blood flow to the area is what enhances the body's ability to heal itself.

Specific conditions should be discussed with an exercise or physical therapy specialist however.

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