Features December 2013 Issue

A Holiday From Back Pain

How stretching and exercise can turn a hectic time of year into a true break from pain.

You’ve twisted, turned, lifted and lugged to get ready for the holidays, and your back knows it. While it’s a common annoyance any time of the year, low back pain, especially during a hectic time, can make even the happiest celebrations unbearable.

And, if you have osteoarthritis (OA) of the spine, also called spondylosis, it often seems that there is no relief for the pain. Often worsened with improper lifting mechanics and even simple household chores, low back pain accompanied by spine OA can be improved simply by stretching and strengthening exercises.

Pinpointing the reason for pain
“The first step in treating low back pain is to determine its underlying cause,” says Cleveland Clinic Florida physical therapist Jasmani Cata, DPT, COMT. “A sudden onset of pain with no known cause may be a sign of something more serious than just back pain from improper lifting or osteoarthritis. Once we discover what’s causing the pain, we can instruct patients on the best exercises to gain relief.”

Approach from the middle
Low back pain caused by OA may start with a gradual pain here and there, but over time increases to a daily backache. As the discs between the vertebrae wear down, causing the bones to rub against each other, the pain worsens. This also leads to stiffness that triggers more severe pain.

“A pulled muscle typically affects one localized area, where OA pain can radiate throughout the lower back. I often see arthritis patients with low back pain have worse flares after doing something like picking up their grandchild,” says Dr. Cata.

To treat low back pain from OA, Dr. Cata says you must first strengthen the core muscles—or those muscles around your trunk and pelvis. Core exercises improve posture, balance and stability while simultaneously easing back pain.

“Any exercise that involves use of your abdominal and back muscles in a coordinated fashion is a core exercise,” explains Dr. Cata. “By strengthening your core you can make even standing up from a chair more easy.”

Stretching for relief
Just as important as strengthening your core is stretching the muscles surrounding them. Stretching plays a key role in the treatment of low back pain through gaining flexibility, according to Dr. Cata.

“Stretching the hamstring muscles is extremely important in treating the pain. These can often become tight just by sitting too much,” he says. “We also address hip rotator muscles that can cause a misalignment in the back when too tight.”

With aging, slouching also becomes more predominant, but maintaining proper posture engages the muscles for overall strength. “Low back pain also causes neck pain. Proper posture combined with exercise can help ease both,” Dr. Cata says.