When you are in pain – particularly if it’s low back pain – your initial reaction may be to stop all activity and rest. In fact, however, the opposite is often true.

Let’s stop for a moment and not get ahead of ourselves. If you have back problems, you should first see a medical professional for diagnosis and guidance before following any treatment protocols. But after you do, your doctor will often recommend that you work to move and stay active, despite the pain.

a woman participates in gentle exercise with others
A woman participates with others in gentle exercise to increase flexibility and strength and improve cardiovascular fitness

Lower Back Pain Is Often Persistent

When you have an acute musculoskeletal injury, it’s important to get pain, swelling, and inflammation under control as soon as possible. One recommended treatment approach to do so is RICE:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

However, this kind of “take it easy” approach is normally only recommended for a period of 48 to 72 hours. If your pain persists after that, you should be seeing a doctor to find out why.

Low back pain is often chronic. However, it can come and go on an ongoing basis at different levels of severity. ICE, heat and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may help – but you need to do more to help yourself for the long term. You need to move.

Mechanical Pain

80% of all back problems are mechanical in nature. This means that these problems will respond best if you keep moving – even if your pain is persistent.

Your spine is made up of a series of joints. Mechanical pain occurs when anything happens that restricts the movement of one or more of those joints. This is why back pain is also accompanied by stiffness. A bulging disk, ligament issue, or forms of arthritis can create obstructions within the structure of your spine.

If you move the right way as your medical professional has recommended to you, you can release those obstructions. And as they are released, stiffness is reduced, and you usually will experience less pain.

Sitting Too Long and the Pain-Spasm-Pain Cycle

Most of us know that sitting too long can be bad for our health. However, it also can be a cause of back pain. When you sit too long, your joints aren’t being used. The area of your low back is a nerve-dense location, and with the immobility of sitting too much, it can start what’s known as the pain-spasm-pain cycle – where a skeletal muscle spasm causes pain in your spine.

The pain-spasm-pain cycle can first be triggered from an underlying condition such as a herniated disc, arthritic joint or bulging disc. When that happens, usually without warning, one of these conditions suddenly triggers a muscle spasm in your spine.

In turn, the triggered muscle spasm causes ischemia, which is a lack of blood flow in and around the muscle.  The ischemia then causes pain. The muscle sees that pain as a threat to the spine – and reacts in an effort to protect it with another new spasm.

As a result, you can get locked into a never-ending back pain-spasm-pain cycle.

The good news is that your medical professional can help you break this cycle with therapies that will release and reset the affected muscle.

Diagram illustration of how a trigger can start an ongoing pain-spasm-pain cycle
A muscle spasm triggered by an underlying back condition can start a never-ending pain-spasm-pain cycle.

Get Moving!

One of the most important things that people with low back pain can do is to stay as physically active as possible in daily life and exercise regularly. Not moving enough can weaken your core muscles, make the pain worse over the long term, and lead to other health problems. It’s a fact that regular physical exercise has been shown to reduce pain – but do it after reviewing your plans with your doctor.

If you have low back pain, it’s a good idea to go about your daily life as normally as possible, and not to let the pain limit your activities too much. Don’t isolate yourself but get out and do the things you enjoy. This will make it easier for you to cope with your back pain.

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