‘Ask Claire’ Advice Column – Exercise and Persistent Lower Back Pain

Hi, and welcome to ‘Ask Claire’ 

Claire Hawes | osteopath expert

Claire has been an osteopath for several years but her career in healthcare including specialist roles in mental health began almost twenty years ago.

By utilizing the vast amount of experience and knowledge that she has accumulated as a health professional, Claire has launched the series: ‘Ask Claire’ In which people can have their health and wellbeing questions answered. 

Claire has been an osteopath for several years but her career in healthcare including specialist roles in mental health began almost twenty years ago.

By utilizing the vast amount of experience and knowledge that she has accumulated as a health professional, Claire has launched the series: ‘Ask Claire’ In which people can have their health and wellbeing questions answered. 

The solutions that Claire offers in this blog are not intended as a replacement to ‘hands on’ therapy from a trained professionals such as an osteopath or physiotherapist, but can act as a useful resource for people in pain who are looking for an answer or an effective coping strategy.

Feel free to sign up to our mailing list (at the foot of the page) to receive real time updates on posts and exclusive offers from Osteopathy and Therapy. Questions and comments are also welcome.

This week:

Q. Hi Claire, I have been suffering with persistent lower back pain and I am worried about my weight. If I don’t exercise, then I’m going to get bigger but if I do, I’m scared I’ll put my back out.

John, South Shields.

Claire says,

Hi John,

I’m sorry that you have been suffering with lower back pain. 

My initial advice of course, without seeing you in person, is for you to seek advice from a trained professional who can take a detailed medical history including relevant details of your health as well as the presenting condition, then offer you professional and personalised help.

Weight gain is a massive issue and one that impacts many people (both physically and mentally) in the North East of England (and beyond) and there are several considerations to be aware of:

Lower Back Pain, Causes and Solutions

Lower Back Pain

As an osteopath I have helped many men and women cope with, reduce the symptoms of, manage and certainly eliminate lower back pain altogether. 

You say that your pain is persistent and ongoing which leads me to believe that you may have already tried certain avenues already and probably seen your GP who may have prescribed pain relief and referral to physio services.  However, a lot of the people I see have already been through this avenue and the problems are ongoing.

Back pain can be the result of either a postural strain or over exertion injury.  For example, with poor posture, muscles and ligaments become weaker meaning that eventually they no longer support the spine, and disc or facet joint problems occur.  However, with an over strain then you may see muscle, ligament or disc type strains and sprains.  Either of these types of injuries cause muscle spasm and may include nerve impingement.

When you see a professional about your back pain, they should be ruling out any red flags such as cancer, infection or other condition not related to the musculoskeletal system.

Provided it is safe to do so try to stay active. 

The old view was that back pain is best cured with bed rest. However, most people who remain active recover faster.

Light activity is generally recognised as being particularly important as it keeps your muscles strong and your joints healthy. 

You may find that as far as your levels of back pain go, you will have good and bad days. On the good days you will engage in more activities, catching up on all the things you couldn’t do on the bad days. 

Osteopaths call that pacing – setting up small but achievable goals and dividing tasks into smaller elements. 

One of the most important things you can do is to keep moving and continue with your normal activities as much as possible as long as it is safe to do so.

The NHS advises that if you’re off work then returning to work may help keep you active and distract from the pain and generally, we would agree with that.

Eat the Right Food.

Dietary requirements are different for each person depending upon many factors, including food allergies, medical requirements and of course preference. Having said that, if you are looking to control your weight, then consuming excessive amounts of sugar, carbs and processed foods will serve only to add to your calorie count, as well as putting an unnecessary strain on your back and heart. This in turn can have a direct impact on your mental wellbeing, influencing your lifestyle and outlook on life.

Consultation with a dietician will aid in formulating an optimal diet plan that will help you achieve your weight loss goals.  Speak to us if you would like to talk to someone about your diet and getting on track with it, we can point you in the right direction.

Exercise 

Medical advice should be sought before embarking upon any exercise program and will be largely dependent upon how used you are to exercise and what pre-existing conditions you may have.

You don’t need to go to the gym to do simple back exercises and stretches. These can be done at home and can significantly help to reduce your back pain.

I usually recommend Pilates, and this is a popular and effective choice as it provides muscle flexibility, strength, corrects your posture and improves core stability essential for back pain relief.  Yoga is also helpful, but I feel can sometimes be too much if the right class is not sought.

… and before you guys say: ‘Pilates doesn’t do anything!’ Pilates works from the inside out. When Bruce Lee broke his back, he used Pilates to build the muscles around his back to become the kung fu powerhouse that we all remember, and many sports teams include Pilates as part of their training.

Swimming is a good choice as it is low impact and it’s a good form of resistance. So, you can work on your strength and conditioning without undue pressure on your back.  Otherwise walking regularly at a brisk pace (if you can manage that) is ideal.

An osteopath or physiotherapist may be able to provide information about specific back exercises if you’re unsure what to try. 

Heat and Ice Packs

A common question in the clinic – ‘which should I use?’.   

This is important and you can make a condition worse by using the wrong type of compress because you create big physiological changes in the tissues using both pain-relieving techniques.

The general rule of thumb here is that if you have an acute onset of injury i.e. pain comes after a certain movement or lifting something for example, then use cold – this helps to reduce inflammation.

Heat on the other hand is great for postural or more chronic muscular pain as it increases blood flow to the area and relaxes muscles.  I will write more about this in another blog to come!

Osteopathy

Osteopathy can significantly reduce back pain. 

This type of holistic therapy is non-invasive and does not include the use of drugs. Treatments vary according to the specific needs of the individual but as you have lower back pain, your treatment may include your practitioner using their hands to mobilise, massage and apply careful adjustments to the muscles and joints in and around your spine.

There is an incredible amount of patient satisfaction with osteopathic treatment due to the time taken to fully understand what is going on for the individual patient and the safe and effective use of hands on therapy to alleviate pain.  

We use evidence-based treatments and are a regulated profession – safeguarding the quality of training and the calibre of treatments for patients. 

I hope this information has helped you John and you, the reader – if you suffer from lower back pain).

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