Most of us have had back pain at one time or another, but we might not realize how common it is: it affects eight out of ten people during their lifetime! One of the times we are vulnerable is when we go from being inactive to being active again, such as when spring rolls around. Back pain might also occur with starting a new job or with an occasional activity such as helping a friend move into a new house.
Different structures such as muscles or nerves may be at the root of an episode of back pain, or a problem like arthritis can be its cause. If you get a referral to physical therapy for your pain, the therapist will act as a detective to help determine which structure might be involved, which activities make your pain worse and which make your pain better. The therapist uses this information to plan treatment (including an exercise routine) to promote healing, and typically to improve range of motion, strength, and function, along with decreasing the pain that brought you in.
There are different approaches to treating back pain, and it’s important that you get a therapist’s advice about the best approach for your specific problem. An individual choosing the wrong approach could make his or her pain worse instead of better. For example, if you read advice in a magazine, you might think that lying down and pulling your knees up to your chest is a universal way to treat back pain. That helps some, but for some people that could worsen the problem, while stretching in the opposite direction is what will help.
An exercise program that includes correct stretching and strengthening as well as balance plays a part in returning most people’s backs to their optimal level. Therapists often work in that order, helping an individual regain motion first, followed by working on strengthening and then balance, if needed. What does balance have to do with it? You may know that the strength of your core--the muscles of your abdomen and back--is important in having a healthy back. Those same muscles play a role in our maintaining balance efficiently.
If you have back pain and it does not resolve in a week, it would be good to seek medical advice. Not all back pain will take care of itself.