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Breaking The Back Pain Cycle: The Science Behind Exercise And The Role Of Physical Therapy

Breaking The Back Pain Cycle: The Science Behind Exercise And The Role Of Physical Therapy

by Brian Chapman DPT, OCS, CSCS, CF-L1Leave a Comment

Back pain is a common ailment affecting millions worldwide, impacting their daily lives and overall well-being. It is the single largest cause of disability worldwide. One frequently asked question is whether exercise can relieve this persistent discomfort. In this blog post, we’ll explore the relationship between exercise and back pain, shedding light on how physical activity can be a powerful tool in managing and preventing this prevalent issue. Additionally, we’ll delve into the crucial role that physical therapists play in guiding individuals toward the right exercises for effective back pain relief.

The Science Behind Exercise And Back Pain

Recent studies have demonstrated the positive impact of exercise on back pain relief. One such study found that a structured exercise program can significantly reduce the intensity and frequency of back pain episodes3. Exercise contributes to improved muscle strength, flexibility, and overall spine stability, addressing key factors that often contribute to back pain.

Engaging in regular physical activity also helps alleviate inflammation and promotes the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. According to the American College of Physicians, exercise is recommended as a first-line treatment for chronic lower back pain2.

The Role Of Physical Therapists In Exercise Prescription

While the benefits of exercise for back pain are evident, the key lies in selecting the right exercises tailored to an individual’s specific condition. This is where the expertise of a physical therapist becomes invaluable. A systematic review highlighted the effectiveness of physical therapy interventions, including exercise prescription, in reducing pain and improving function in individuals with chronic low back pain1.

Physical therapists conduct thorough assessments to identify the root causes of back pain, considering factors such as muscle imbalances, postural issues, and movement patterns. Armed with this information, they design personalized exercise programs that address each patient’s unique needs. This personalized approach not only ensures the effectiveness of the exercises but also minimizes the risk of further worsening the condition.

Finding The Right Exercise Regimen

The optimal exercise regimen for back pain relief varies depending on the specific characteristics of the pain and the individual’s overall health. However, certain types of exercises have shown consistent success in addressing back pain:

1. Core Strengthening Exercises

Core muscles provide essential support to the spine. Physical therapists often prescribe exercises that target the core, such as planks and bridges to enhance stability and reduce strain on the lower back.

2. Flexibility and Stretching

Incorporating stretching exercises into a routine helps improve flexibility and alleviate tight muscles. Physical therapists can assess your flexibility, assign appropriate stretching exercises, and guide you in achieving the proper performance.

3. Low-Impact Aerobic Exercise

Walking, swimming, or cycling contribute to cardiovascular fitness without placing excessive strain on the spine. These exercises also promote blood flow, aiding in the healing process. Although you may desire to rest when you have back pain, exercising and increasing your heart rate in a way that does not aggravate the back can be very beneficial.

4. Posture Correction Exercises

Poor posture can contribute to back pain. Physical therapists guide individuals in performing exercises that target posture-related issues, promoting better alignment and reducing strain on the spine. A physical therapist can also advise on how to set up your workspace to improve the ergonomics of your work environment.

So, does exercise relieve back pain? The resounding evidence suggests that it does! Engaging in a structured and personalized exercise program has been shown to alleviate back pain, improve function, and enhance overall well-being.

However, success greatly depends on the guidance of a qualified professional. Physical therapists, with their expertise in musculoskeletal health, play a pivotal role in prescribing the right exercises tailored to an individual’s specific needs. By working collaboratively with a physical therapist, individuals can break the cycle of back pain, fostering long-term relief and a return to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Get started by connecting with a team near you today to learn how to overcome back pain and get back to a pain-free life!

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*Per federal guidelines, beneficiaries of plans such as Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, VHA and other federally funded plans are not eligible for free assessments.

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Delitto, A., George, S. Z., Van Dillen, L., Whitman, J. M., Sowa, G., Shekelle, P., … & Godges, J. J. (2019). Low back pain. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 49(8), CPG1-CPG102.
2. Qaseem, A., Wilt, T. J., McLean, R. M., & Forciea, M. A. (2017). Noninvasive treatments for acute, subacute, and chronic low back pain: a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine, 166(7), 514-530.
3. Steffens, D., Maher, C. G., Pereira, L. S., Stevens, M. L., Oliveira, V. C., Chapple, M., … & Hancock, M. J. (2016). Prevention of low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 46(6), 1-29.
4. Traeger, Adrian C et al. “Care for low back pain: can health systems deliver?.” Bulletin of the World Health Organization vol. 97,6 (2019): 423-433. doi:10.2471/BLT.18.226050

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