Our human nature is to avoid pain. In fact, this instinct to avoid pain is one of our most important built-in self-preservation mechanisms. And while avoiding any movements or exercise that causes pain seems like a good idea, in some cases avoiding pain can often make things like Back Pain even worse.
Confusing right? It’s no wonder I get this question from so many people. So, how do you know if exercise is safe or if it’s going to make things worse?
My answer to this question depends on the situation, but there are two common scenarios I often see and both require a balance between avoiding pain and continuing to move despite some pain.
It’s important to pay attention to pain. Obviously, we don’t want to risk aggravating a minor issue and end up with a more serious injury. Injured tissues need time to properly heal and pain can be a great way to judge if you’re ready to return to an activity, such as running or your gym workouts.
Despite our natural instincts to avoid pain, there are a lot of people who believe they need to “push through pain” in order to make progress. While this may apply to the “pain” we experience when we exert ourselves during an intense workout, it doesn’t apply if you are dealing with an injury or inflammation that is causing actual pain.
In these scenarios, a good rule to follow is this…
If it hurts, don’t do it!
Keep pushing through pain and I assure you your Back Pain will only get worse. Instead, find an alternate activity that you can do without pain until your injury fully heals.
If you can’t run yet, walk. Gradually increase your walking speed until you tolerate a slow jog, then increase your speed until you can run full speed again.
If you can’t do your full gym routine, do the exercises you can and modify the ones you can’t. If a bench press causes pain, try a lighter weight or even a wall push up if that’s where you’re at.
This is a great way to stay active and exercise safely while an injury is healing – all you need to do is modify things a little.
While it makes sense to avoid overdoing it and potentially aggravating a problem already causing us pain, I see far more people do the exact opposite and avoid ANYTHING and EVERYTHING that causes them pain.
This is probably the BIGGEST MISTAKE I see people with Back Pain make – or really any pain for that matter.
They mistakenly think REST will allow things to heal faster.
Yes, it’s true some rest can be beneficial in healing, but TOO MUCH REST makes things worse. Joints get stiff and muscles get weak making movement more difficult and more painful.
I believe this where a lot of chronic pain starts and is also the first step to losing our independence and mobility as we age. It usually starts with a minor problem that is not properly addressed. When things get bad, we often don’t recognize a minor issue that started months or years ago as the root of our problem.
The good news is that in most cases, gentle stretching or any light activity or exercise is generally safe for most people, even if it’s a little uncomfortable. When done properly this type of exercise can help speed up the healing process. Tight muscles and stiff joints are painful. Any activity or exercise that helps loosen things up will reduce pain. Weak muscles are painful. Any activity or exercise that helps strengthen those muscles will reduce pain. Even in the worst cases a gentle progression of movement and exercise can turn things like Chronic Back Pain around.
If you are worried that you’ll aggravate your pain or problem or you’re uncertain which exercises are safe, it’s important to get guidance from the right professional.
Don’t risk your health, your future independence and mobility by relying on well-meaning family and friends, or even worse the internet for this type of important advice.
Yes, getting proper advice from a qualified professional will most likely require you to invest some time and money, but you, your health and your future independence are definitely worth it!
With that said I understand how hard it can be hard to decide who the right professional is for your specific situation. With so many different options and so many conflicting opinions, where do you even start?
Why not start with a simple phone call? Give us a call. Ask some questions. Get some answers. Once we know a little more about what’s going on, we can help you figure out what your next best step should be.
As a physical therapist I have helped a lot people with all kinds of pain and problems, but I’m not always the best person to help everyone. If I don’t think I’m the right person to solve your problem, I will do my best to guide you to someone who can.
What’s more important is that you take that first step toward getting the help you need. Take that first step toward solving your pain, learning how to exercise safely and getting back to the activities you want and love to do.
Give us a call @ 503-744-0046.
If you’re reading this after hours or now isn’t a good time to make that call, just click here to fill out a simple form and we’ll be in touch to arrange a time for you to “Talk To A Physical Therapist On The Phone”.
There is no commitment required and the phone call is 100% FREE. If we are a good fit for each other and YOU decide you want to get treatment with us, we can discuss next steps at that time.
Either way you will walk away with some helpful advice, a better understanding of your problem and what you can do about it.
"Helping active adults overcome persistent aches, pains and injuries, so they can get back to the activities they love and improve their health naturally - without pain medication, injections or surgery."
Oregon City, OR
Dr. Julie Krueger