‘I’ve been experiencing severe back pain, what can I do?’

Oct 19, 2020
One Starts at 60 reader is experiencing severe back pain. Source: Getty.

Q: I’ve been experiencing severe pain coming from my spine when standing up and when using my arms and hands to perform activities such as prepping in the kitchen. The pain extends outward in my tissues across my back and around my rib cage in front. Are there any exercises I can do to help with this? Or your suggestions on a fix would be appreciated. I find that stopping what I’m doing and resting is what I have to do to get relief. I am 72.

A: Any chest or upper back pain should be investigated to ensure that it’s not a heart issue. If in doubt, see your doctor or an allied health professional such as a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist.

From the description in your question, the pain you describe sounds like it’s possibly nerve-related; pain that radiates around your tissues following a nerve distribution area. If it is nerve pain, the likely explanation is that something is pressing on a nerve where it exits the spine. This is called nerve compression, nerve impingement, or a pinched nerve. An X-ray or MRI may show the place where this is happening. 

The usual culprit in nerve compression is one of the vertebral discs. These are the discs that sit between your vertebrae to give cushioning and allow movement of the spine. As we age the discs lose some of their cushioning ability and can bulge and/or reduce in thickness. In some people, this results in the gap between the vertebra narrowing to the point where there is pressure on the nerve either from the disc itself or the vertebra.

Without knowing if this is in fact the cause of your pain, it’s not possible  — or safe — to prescribe specific exercises for you to do.  I can however give some general guidelines as to the sort of things that might be beneficial. Activities that stretch out your spine such as swimming or hanging exercises apply traction to your spine and can take the pressure off the nerve. In addition, if your spine is not in alignment, due to weak muscles, strengthening the muscles that hold your back in its natural position would be recommended.

I trust these general guidelines are helpful, however, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of finding out specifically what is causing your pain. Only then can the right exercises or treatment be prescribed. 

A mechanic can’t fix your car until they know why it isn’t running properly. The same goes for your body, although your body is much more important than your car!

If you have a question for Starts at 60’s health experts, email it to [email protected].

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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