Back pain is one of those ailments that can really get in the way of life’s little pleasures, whether it’s missing out on running around with the grandkids, enjoying your favourite hobbies or just being able to lie comfortably on your bed.
Add to that the fact it can be tricky to pin down the cause of back pain and that back pain can be exacerbated by so many everyday activities, and it sometimes feels you’re stuck with a debilitating condition forever.
But scientists are working hard to find ways to improve the lives of people with back pain, particularly through exercises that can be done at home. Of course, though, before embarking on a new exercise regime, it’s important to check with your health professional to ensure it won’t worsen your condition.
Back pain treatment doesn’t have to involve specialised exercise therapy regimes.
According to research published in the Clinical Rehabilitation Journal, walking two to three times a week for 20-40 minutes was just as effective as muscle-strengthening programs for alleviating lower back pain when done over a six-week period.
The researchers noted that walking not only had the benefit of being easier to fit into daily life than special trips to an exercise treatment centre, but gave people with back pain more control over their own treatment.
The study participants used the video game console to exercise for 60 minutes, three times a week, and in two months had achieved the comparable improvements as people who’d spend the same amount of time doing exercise under the supervision of a physiotherapist.
Exercise that’s beneficial for back pain doesn’t have to involve working up a sweat.
A study by the non-profit Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute found yoga and stretching improved symptoms of back pain in just three months. The institute’s trial required more than 200 people with back pain to do weekly, 75-minute classes of either yoga or stretching exercises, as well as practising the movements for 20 minutes each day between classes.
The yoga used in the trial was viniyoga, which can be tailored to people with physical limitations, while the stretching classes required the stretch positions to be held for a longer period than is usual in stretching classes. The researchers found both types of exercises resulted in the participants enjoying better movement and less pain after just 12 weeks; even six months after the trial, they were still using less pain medication than they did before the trial.
An Australian researcher says that many people with back pain are wrongly told to rest their back or sent for doctors for too many unnecessary tests, when in fact they should just keep moving.
“The best advice … is to keep trying to move normally, remain active and at work,” Professor Rachelle Buchbinder of Monash University says. “Another misconception is that imaging is needed to identify the cause of back pain and to guide treatment. But even with the most sensitive scans that are available today, we still can’t usually identify a specific cause in most people.”
The professor recommends people with back pain do whatever exercise they enjoy and that their back allows them, with advice from their health professional to help keep them safe.
Researchers at Spain’s CEU Cardenal Herrera University say putting on a pair of unstable shoes with curved solves can help improve back function, which they think may be related to increased activity in the back muscles. Participants in a month-long study who wore these shoes for at least six hours each day while they did normal activities and no other specific exercises reported less disability than participants who wore their regular shoes.
While back pain can make moving around one of the last things you feel like doing, research shows that some painkillers may have more risks than benefits.
Research published in the Annals of Rheumatic Disease found that using common, non- steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen gave only very limited, short-term pain relief from back pain that was barely better than the effect of taking a placebo, and often caused unwanted side effects such as stomach ulcers and bleeding.
Talk to your GP or pharmacist for more advice about using medicines for back pain, and what’s most appropriate for you.