When you begin the recovery process for a back injury, physical activity may seem like a terrible idea. Many individuals experience sudden increases in pain with certain movements, which can make the idea of actively trying to move seem unwise.
In our previous blog, “Back Pain: Don’t Take It Lying Down,” we discussed the fundamental reasons why sedentary living does more harm than good when you have back pain. In this blog, we provide you with more specifics about how you can reintegrate physical activity after a lower back injury.
Create a Daily Stretching Routine
One of the first effects of decreased activity is a corresponding decrease in flexibility. Unfortunately, in individuals who suffer from back pain related to an injury, inflexibility of the hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors can increase pain intensity and frequency.
In most cases, you will not be able to return to your usual level of physical activity right away after a back injury. However, you can start the process of restoring your fitness by creating a daily stretching routine.
Stretching involves no jarring movements and can be tailored to your flexibility at that moment, which makes this form of exercise ideal for individual moving through the recovery process. In fact, many physical therapists begin the treatment for their back patients by introducing a daily stretching routine.
If you choose to do so, you can also include fluid motion forms of exercise like yoga. Just remember that your journey back to your desired physical fitness level after a back injury will likely take weeks, if not months, and that you should not attempt to integrate new activities too early.
Focus On Low-Impact Activities
As you begin to add more activity types into your fitness routine, focus on low-impact activities. Look for activities that you enjoy that cause you little to no discomfort when you perform them for a short period of time.
The most popular low-impact activities are swimming and walking, however, you could also consider:
- Rowing or kayaking
- Stair stepper and elliptical machines
- Tai chi
Do not integrate high-impact, lifting, or strength activities into your physical fitness routine until you receive approval from your doctor. Be aware of the transitory activities for certain low-impact options. For example, you should not perform kayaking while still in recovery if you will have to lift and carry the kayak yourself.
Increase Your Core Strength
Once you feel comfortable with light exercise, begin working to increase your core strength. A strong core provides your lower back the support it needs to prevent future injury as you perform more strenuous tasks.
Your daily stretching routine can provide the perfect starting point for increasing core strength. If you perform piriformis stretches, bridges, or leg lifts, adding a Kegel element to each stretch works your core.
When you begin to do more core-based exercises, exercise the same amount of caution you used when reintroducing low-impact activities into your days. While core activities are essential to your lifelong back health, you should not push your limits during this adjustment period as doing so can cause injury rather than prevent it.
Listen to Your Body’s Responses to Activity
If you have done physical training in the past, you’ve probably heard many slogans about pushing through discomfort and overcoming weakness. You may feel tempted to adopt this mindset when reintroducing physical activity to your life after a back injury.
However, pain from an injury is wildly different than muscle soreness. If you feel any twinges, pangs, or intense strain on your lower back, stop the activity you’re doing immediately and let your pain management specialist know what triggered the issue.
You may have to adjust your routine multiple times to find activities that do not hurt your back, but this step ensures that physical activity strengthens your body rather than undermining your progress.
Remember That Any Activity Is Better Than No Activity
Many individuals, especially those who have competed athletically or worked hard to control their fitness, feel frustrated at how little activity they can handle after a lower back injury. If you find yourself in this situation, take a moment to remind yourself that even small steps bring you closer to your long-term goals.
If you have days where your physical activity is confined to your home or even to your room, remind yourself that any activity is better than no activity. This mantra can also help to motivate you when bed rest seems like a safer or more comfortable option than reintegrating physical activity into your life.
Follow the guidelines outlined above as well as any recommendations provided by your primary care doctor, pain management specialist, and physical therapist to optimize your recovery and ensure that you return to your desired physical activity level as soon as possible.
For comprehensive back injury and chronic pain services, trust the experienced and expert staff at Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates.