Lower back pain has been described as one of the most common health complaints in the world, with 58% to 70% of people experiencing some form of lower back pain during their lifetime.  Lower back pain has been linked with weakness, inhibition and imbalance in the tonic and phasic muscles of the core and hip girdle. 
What does this mean?
Basically, it means that, despite the fact that you’re probably in quite a bit of pain, you need to exercise in order to improve, reduce or eliminate your pain.
“What the – ?@?! I’m already in too much pain to get off the couch, and you want to me start hurling weights around? I’m in pain when I walk and you’re telling me to start running???”
Here’s the thing – there are many different types of exercise, and in cases of lower back pain you need specific exercises which are correctly prescribed for you. When most people hear the word “exercise,” they immediately conjure up images of sweating it out in the gym, “feeling the burn” and lifting to failure. As you might expect, this is the exact opposite of a program designed to assist in managing lower back pain.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to prescribing exercise for lower back pain. It’s essential that you are assessed correctly for postural abnormalities, flexibility and range of motion, as for your ability to activate your core through different planes of movement.
It is almost certain that there will be abnormalities in all of these areas if you are experiencing lower back pain. By identifying ways in which your posture can be corrected and your core stabilising muscles retrained to work effectively, we can ensure that we reduce unnecessary stress on the spine. Ironically, despite the fact that you rely on your core muscles to provide stability, support and protection to the spine, these muscles can often become inhibited (“switched off”) by pain, poor posture, or even extended periods of time spent sitting down (for example, at a desk or behind the wheel.)
So what can you expect from a program designed to help alleviate lower back pain?
First of all, I may ask you to give consent for me to communicate with the allied health professional who has been treating you – your physiotherapist or chiropractor, for example. By communicating directly with them, as well as discussing the issue with you, I make sure that I have as much relevant information about your symptoms as possible.
Our first session together will be spent assessing your posture and flexibility, looking at your existing ability to engage the muscles of your core, and looking at pelvic stability and walking and/or jogging technique if appropriate. This gives me an idea of how your body is functioning and the effects that may be having on your spine.
Then, exercises will be prescribed. Why do I say “prescribed?” Because they will be very specific exercises, based on the communication with your allied health professional and on the findings of my assessment of your posture, core activation and range of movement. And, like any prescription, you’ll need to take these exercises home! That’s right – you’ll need to do your homework!
Because the stabilising muscles are need to work all day, every day, to protect your spine in everything that you do, we need to train them in a way that encourages endurance, and which allows them to remain activated or “switched on” all the time. This is why we don’t do intense exercises to the point of failure, which you might have done while training large muscle groups. Instead, we use programs which feature light, low intensity exercises, but we emphasis frequency – so while you won’t be asked to work “hard” at this type of exercise program, you will be asked to work a lot.
I’ve had success not only in managing my own back pain, but helping clients to address and manage theirs through correctly prescribed exercise, with the guidance of their health providers. Rehabilitative exercise can help you to regain your mobility and your life!
To find out more about how exercise can help to manage your back pain, contact Mae-Lin on 0422 124 244
Durstine, J, Moore, G, Painter, P, Roberts, S 2009, ACSM’s exercise management for persons with chronic diseases and disabilities third edition, Human Kinetics, United States of America
Marchese, R 2013, The specialised exercise trainer: a guidebook, Pearson Australia, Frenchs Forest, NSW