Gentle exercises & physiotherapy recs for a bad back, please!
April 2, 2014 11:58 AM   Subscribe

I suffer from occasional back pain--by that I mean, about twice a year--and would like recommendations to help lessen it happening or if I need more professional help. A light dusting of snowflakes inside.

When my back goes out, it is usually because I have done something idiotic like not properly picking up a heavy object, but today I sneezed--sneezed--and something twinged and now I am in pain. (Stupid getting the olds.) In any case, this usually happens twice a year and after days of rest/heating pad/Icy Hot/painkillers, I'm good as new...until it happens again.

How do I strengthen my back? What exercises would you recommend? A friend suggested Hatha yoga for me and I am going to give it a go next week. Another friend recommended I see a physiotherapist. What would they do?

I just want to be able to minimize this happening. There is no history of back pain in my family--despite us being busty ladies--and this seems to have started after I turned 34.

(I am very active in terms of exercise. I do intense cardio, spin, light weights, step, etc.)
posted by Kitteh to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Physiotherapist. Be sure to tell them about the exercise you do. It is possible to do lots of exercises that build up a certain set of muscles, meanwhile you're not strengthening the corresponding set of muscles, which can cause things to get pulled out of alignment.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:04 PM on April 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

You first need to see why your back is going out on you so often. Mine was doing that - going out on me for really no good reason (it wasn't like I was abusing myself and being reckless). I had a really bad episode of back pain a few years ago brought on by coughing. Yeah, coughing. Turns out I have TWO herniated discs (confirmed by an MRI). Physical therapy (PT) to target my specific issues helped a lot. I had a few sessions with a trained physical therapist to show me how to do the exercises and the proper exercise form. I now do the PT at home on my own twice a day to keep everything strong.

Asking the general public for recommendations on how you can strengthen your back is a bad idea. You might make it worse by doing something you shouldn't be doing. There are several activities I had to stop doing so I wouldn't aggravate my bad discs.

Go to a doctor, get a diagnosis and go from there. That's the only way to be certain of what is going on and how to treat it.
posted by ATX Peanut at 12:09 PM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you don't want to go the doctor route just yet (which I would strongly advise if the problems increase in frequency, duration, or impact), you can try stretches every morning*.

My back started going out on me about three and a half years ago, which seems about right to your time line, as I turn 38 next month (I concur with the "Stupid getting old"!). I was able to walk off the first few bouts, but the last landed me literally on my back for an entire weekend before I was able to regain complete and pain-free movement.

Heating pads helped, but I feel the lynch pin in my recovery from it was a stretch where you lay on your back on a firm, but soft surface, pull both knees to your chest as far as they can go, hold, release and repeat.

I was told to do this every morning (*which I do not) by someone with chronic back pain, but whenever I start to get that familiar twinge of pain, whether it is from sneezing (last week), lifting something awkward (a few months before), or a long car trip (last summer), I make a concerted effort to do these stretches in the AM right after I take a hot shower until the pain subsides.

My assumption is that my back pain is tension or muscular, as this always seems to do the trick for me... if it were a disc or other issue, I'm not sure stretching will have much of an effect, but IANAD.
posted by Debaser626 at 2:02 PM on April 2, 2014

Read Treat Your Own Back by Robin McKenzie and find a physical therapist near you that is certified by the McKenzie Institute to provide MDT (Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy) treatment following the McKenzie method.

Disclaimer: My mom used to be on the McKenzie USA board.
posted by Arbac at 2:48 PM on April 2, 2014

I'm also a big fan of the McKenzie method. It's definitely a good start and the exercises are gentle. Just listen to your body - if something hurts, don't do it!

Then again, I'm also a big fan of physical therapists so that's a good route of the McKenzie exercises don't help.
posted by radioamy at 3:12 PM on April 2, 2014

Check with all appropriate doctors and whatnot first, and I highly recommend working with a trainer or at least being very careful about your form, but... Have you thought about lifting heavy rather than light? Deadlifts are amazing for strengthening your back, especially the lower back. I have mild scoliosis that used to occasionally (once a month or so) cause me to stiffen up for 3-4 days at a time due to pain when it would twinge. I'd move the wrong way, and that would be it. It started bothering me around age 17 or so and continued until a couple years ago (I'm currently 24). I started lifting weights about two years ago, and the problem totally disappeared after the first few months. I haven't had a single issue since.

I've been doing the Stronglifts 5x5 program for a while - on and off more than I'd like due to school stresses, but steadily improving overall nonetheless but have heard some excellent things about Starting Strength as well. Heavy lifting, when introduced carefully and performed with proper technique, is excellent for eliminating all sorts of joint issues by strengthening the muscles that support that joint.
posted by Urban Winter at 7:49 PM on April 2, 2014

I've posted about this before — after 15 years of chronic recurrent back pain that at times would reach the level of back brace+cane+opiate painkillers, the Egoscue method of physical therapy changed my life. (I need to get another copy of his book Pain Free — I keep giving away mine to friends who're in pain. I think I've passed along half a dozen at this point…) Half an hour of gentle (non-sweaty) PT exercises a day and I feel strong and flexible and energetic.
posted by Lexica at 8:52 PM on April 2, 2014

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