Back pain

One of the most common complaints physicians hear in their practices is that of lower back pain. I guess if you can go through life and not have LBP, you are one lucky person.

Back pain can range from more serious problems such as spinal stenosis or herniated disc to strained muscles. Many people think when that happens, they should just stop all their activities and lay in bed until the pain gets better.

There have been many studies done about this very subject, and it has been found that, depending on your diagnosis, activity actually can help alleviate the pain of minor back problems. Activity can increase blood flow to the back to help with the stiffness you may feel, and also help you maintain your range of motion. The more flexible the lumbar spine and hamstrings are, the less stiffness and pain you will feel.

The crappy posture that many people have certainly doesn’t help.

I am sure you have experienced that type of stiffness when you have to sit in the car for a few hours, or sit at your desk for a long day. Most people will experience some type of back pain in their lifetime.

Personally, I never had that problem until I got run over pretty handily by a horse a few years ago. I was never diagnosed with any back issues after that, just a ripped-up knee. But I have noticed since then a few times a year I do have back issues, mainly muscle spasms. And lying in bed makes mine much worse.

At the end of every year, I usually take two weeks off from teaching my fitness classes. I look forward to just getting a break for my old knees.

During my hiatus this last December, I was still exercising, just not as hard as usual, and I did something to my back carrying some heavy things up our stairs at home. It caused me to have pretty bad muscle spasms, and this time it lasted almost two weeks.

The reason I think it lasted so long is that I was off my routine, out of town for a week, sitting on airplanes a lot, and not on my normal sleeping or exercising habits.

In the past, when I have had similar back pain, it would only last three or four days. I think that was because I would just keep on trucking and trying to work through it to feel better.

I think many people with minor back issues just shut down and don’t do anything at all for fear it will hurt. But that just seems to aggravate the situation — at least for me. Once I got home and got back to my own bed, got back into a routine and went back to teaching, I immediately felt better.

Our bodies are made to move, whether it is static stretching or running a marathon. Our backs go through a lot over time. Lots of stress and strain, standing, sitting, running and lifting can all play a part.

Make sure when you lift, you use your legs to assist.

Check your posture. When we sit with bad posture, the ligaments in our back get stretched out trying to hold us up. Over time that causes strain on the back. Try to keep you chest proud and your shoulder blades pulled back.

I believe in what exercise can do for all of us. Really believe. We need to be in training for life. Try to find workouts that make that possible. Train for function. Check your posture and keep moving. And consult your physician for your back pain issues.

Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer and  manager of the Oxford YMCA.