Back Pain Post-Injury Exercise

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Post-injury exercise recommendations

Post-Injury Exercise

Is Exercising Safe for Those with Back Pain?

Many people with back pain don't know whether it is safe to do exercises or if exercises will worsen their condition. It all depends on the cause of the back pain.

Exercising is beneficial for various conditions causing back pain, even osteoarthritis of the spine. Always check with a doctor as to which exercises are appropriate for you to do.


When back pain is caused by an injury, maintaining day-to-day activities is usually recommended.

BED REST FOR A COUPLE OF DAYS ONLY: Muscles go into spasms at the site of an acute injury (triggered by inflammation). Muscle spasms restrict movement to protect the body from further injury. Muscle spasms may cause intense pain. For the first couple of days after an acute back injury, lying on a firm surface may be helpful in relieving muscle spasms and pain. After a couple of days the inflammation subsides substantially, along with the muscle spasms it has triggered.

After a couple of days, bed rest is counterproductive. Prolonged bed rest weakens the back and delays healing.

For the majority of people experiencing back pain from an injury, maintaining normal activity speeds up recovery. Maintaining normal activity is better than either bed rest or getting into an exercise program too quickly.

In the case of an acute back injury, back exercises (except for gentle stretching exercises) are best started after the majority of back pain has resolved. It is important to maintain day-to-day activities, as bed rest will not speed up recovery and prolonged bed rest causes wasting of the muscles. Weakened muscles make recovery more difficult.

If you are suffering from severe back pain caused by an acute injury, a couple days of bed rest may be necessary until inflammation and muscle spasms have subsided, but get up and get moving as soon as possible. Increase activity slowly. Try to get up and walk around the house a little. Do a little more every day.

The muscles that support the back are activated during almost any activity - even while simply sitting or standing the core muscles support the weight of the body - so maintaining daily activities will maintain the muscles that support the back. Walking and swimming are low impact activities that can be started before the back pain has totally resolved, as recommended by your physician. Stay away from high impact activities until you have completely recovered from a back injury.

Start with gentle stretching exercises only. Stretching exercises for the back increase circulation to the muscles to speed healing, relieve tight muscles and back pain, and help increase mobility. A warm shower or bath before exercising will loosen up tight muscles and ease pain, making the exercises easier to do.

Save the strengthening exercises until your back pain has gone or as recommended by your doctor or physical therapist. Until back pain is gone, avoid exercises that put pressure on the lower back, such as leg lifts done in a face down position. You don't want to restrain injured muscles and cause a flare up of back pain. If you are unsure as to what exercises are safe, a physical therapist can create a personalized exercise program for you to follow.

*Warm water exercises are particularly beneficial. Warm water increases circulation, speeds healing, relaxes tense muscles, and eases pain, which makes the exercises easier to perform. Many public pools offer warm-water exercise classes.

When you have recovered from your back injury, begin strengthening exercises that target your core muscles. Strong back, abdominal, and buttocks muscles support the spine, take stress off the joints of the spine, are vital to good posture, and will reduce the chance of recurring back pain. Do strengthening exercises regularly to maintain strong muscles. See Back Exercises page.

Strengthening the muscles that support the back can prevent back pain from recurring.

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