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Why rest isn’t always best for back pain

Rest is often a go-to solution to pain relief. But when it comes to back pain, rest isn’t always best.

While lying down may give you some immediate back pain relief, studies have shown that rest does little to alleviate back pain in the long term. Studies have also shown that people with acute back pain may be more likely to have recurring or chronic back pain with rest compared to people who remain active through the pain.

If you suffer from back pain, physical activity may seem like the opposite of what you need, but if you understand how the body works, it makes perfect sense. In order to stay in peak condition, the body needs movement. Without regular activity, muscles grow stiff and weak, tendons and ligaments lose their flexibility and spinal discs lose nutrients and become dry and inflexible. Lack of physical activity also makes you more prone to injury, since without movement, your body begins to lose its ability to withstand the impact of gravity.

If you’re experiencing back pain, the best approach is to stay active. Here are three things to work into your daily routine to help prevent or alleviate back pain (always check with your doctor first):

Core-strengthening activities

Pelvic tilt: Lie on the floor with your knees bent, feet parallel and arms to the side. Tighten your lower abdominal muscles, pulling your belly button and lower back toward the floor. Hold for five seconds. Repeat five to 10 times.

Trunk curl: Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your arms held across your chest. Using your upper abdominal muscles, slowly raise your trunk (back, shoulders and chest) off the floor. Hold for five seconds. Slowly lower your truck to the floor and repeat five to 10 times.

Exercise ball sit-ups: Sitting on an exercise ball with your back in a neutral position, feet flat on the floor and arms straight overhead, slowly lean back, flexing at the hips. Hold for five seconds. Sit up slowly and repeat five to 10 times.

Superman: Lie on your stomach with your legs straight behind you and your arms outstretched overhead. Slowly raise and lower each arm and leg, one at a time. Repeat five times with each limb. Next, work alternating limbs by raising your right arm and left leg at the same time, then left arm and right leg. Repeat on each side five times.

Cat curls: On all fours with your knees and hands on the floor and your back in a neutral, straight position, slowly tighten your lower abdominal muscles, rounding your back toward the ceiling. Hold for five seconds and release. Repeat five to 10 times.

Stretches to maintain flexibility

Back flexion: Lying on your back, pull both knees to your chest while flexing your head forward until you feel a light stretch. Hold for 10 seconds and release.

Knees to chest: Lying on your back with your knees bent and both feet on the floor, place your hands behind one knee and bring it to your chest. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Hip stretch: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, take a small step back with one foot, bending the other knee and shifting weight to the back hip. Keeping your back leg straight, bend forward and reach down until you feel a stretch in the hip. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Hamstring stretch: Standing with your legs straight, slowly bend forward at the waist with arms hanging down in front. Try to touch your toes, but do not strain to reach them if you cannot easily touch them. Stop when you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Hold for 10 seconds.

Low-impact aerobic exercises

  • Walking
  • Stationary cycling
  • Elliptical or stair climber
  • Swimming

If you experience sudden pain while exercising, stop right away and consult your doctor.

Avoid strenuous activities like intense exercise, gardening and lifting heavy objects when you’re experiencing back pain. If you do need to rest, try not to lie down for more than an hour or two during the day. To ease the strain on your back, put a pillow between your knees when lying on your side, and under your knees when lying on your back.

If you experience persistent or sudden, sharp back pain, schedule an appointment with Dr. Kushwaha.

About Vivek Kushwaha

Vivek P. Kushwaha attended the University of Texas at Austin where he earned his B.A. from the College of Natural Sciences. He then earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, Texas.

Make an appointment with Dr. Kushwaha for diagnosis and treatment. Make An Appointment