Clients and friends often ask me, “what do I do when I throw my back out?” Well my friends, there is no one-size-fits-all for back pain, so please don’t ask me to diagnose and treat you based on these few words! There are however a few simple tips I can give you based on research evidence and clinical experience. (watch the video for a few exercises that are safe for almost ANYONE with back pain.)
First, we know that back pain is extremely common. Nearly two thirds of Americans experience low back pain (click here for more back pain statistics), yet many of those do not seek treatment. I daresay moms are among the worst culprits for ignoring pain, since someone else’s problem always takes precedence over our own.
Second, we know that prolonged inactivity makes back pain worse, not better. While rest and ice are important in the acute phase after an injury, prolonged inactivity creates stiffness in the muscles and joints, promoting inflammation, atrophy, and unhealthy movement patterns. It is very important to start moving, at least a little, as soon as possible after a back injury. (click here for the NIH summary on back pain) Your best option to learn the right exercises to do after injury is to see a physical therapist. A good therapist will give you a plan of action that you can use in case of future re-injury.
Third, we know that each episode of back pain interferes with the function of important spinal muscles called multifidi, effectively shutting them off and causing them to atrophy. Over time these underused muscles actually grow fatty deposits, which make them even less effective and harder to train – this may be one of the reasons we see episodes of back pain get more frequent and intense as the years go by in individuals who do not get effective physical therapy treatment.
If you have back pain that “comes and goes”, chances are it will eventually come and NOT go. It would be wise to see a PT now to help you prevent worsening of your condition over time. If you have back pain that does not resolve after a few days of ice and gentle stretching (see the above video) it will not do your any good to wait it out! Get some good PT and get back in the game.