Recently, I reached out to my patients to inquire about what their biggest health challenge is that they are currently facing. I have taken the time to review the answers with great care.
And here are two of the many responses I received:
“How do you continue to try and stay fit (gym, work, golf etc…) when a long standing, persistent back injury keeps recurring? It seems that during the course of Physical Therapy things are fine, but as soon as it stops my problems return. I know the obvious answer is more Physical Therapy, but I feel this only masks the problem. What can I do?” – John
“Because of lower back problems I have been unable to do any exercise and have consequently put on weight which I struggle to get off because of a thyroid problem.
I have a very healthy diet but really could do with some exercise. I’m sure the extra weight I carry isn’t helping my back problem. Any thoughts?” – Pat
… So, let me try and answer both of these similar questions which, in a roundabout way, I hear a lot of.
And I’ll start with John’s concern about why his back problem keeps happening.
I note that he mentions that Physical Therapy “masks” the problem… And I’d have to agree… to an extent… because it’s like this:
Physical Therapy can never be a full blown cure where you’re not going to suffer again.
Sure, it makes a HUGE difference to the quality of your life and can help you steer clear of pain and stiffness for significant periods…
It lowers the risk, and gives you a better shot at avoiding things like early onset arthritis, but it’s not going to be a full cure.
It’s a bit like cleaning your teeth…
You do it twice per day and you even visit the dentist every six months to get them checked, but I bet you still get tooth pain now and again, right or a cavity?
And that’s because it’s just normal for mechanical things like teeth (and lower backs) to suffer everyday “wear and tear” as a consequence of “living”.
Now, Physical Therapy, like the dentist, does a great job of keeping you on the right track — meaning less time in pain, more time without pain.
But the real long term success at fighting things like back pain is in what YOU do.
As in, the lifestyle changes you make, the exercise classes you attend (…or set up in your home), the type of exercise that you do or don’t do, right down to the length of time you spend sitting (even how you do it).
John tells me he has an office job…
Now I bet that his day is consumed with a lot of sitting at a desk or in important meetings, etc.
And that means chronic back pain is more likely because “backs” aren’t made to sit with weakened core muscles and poor posture.
(It’s true… sitting and repeated bending and lifting are the chief cause of most chronic back pain)
The long term solution?
Regular posture style exercises to INCREASE muscle control using PILATES routines AND stretches to make the muscles and joints more supple and flexible.
One thing I must point out – “exercising” (running, swimming, golfing, etc.) rarely makes backs stronger… and there is a HUGE difference between exercising and doing exercises.
(Like Pilates and Yoga — which are exercises that get you in good enough shape to be able to “exercise”.)
Pilates style exercises are also perfect for “Pat” (who asked the second question), and she is right… back pain is made worse by the amount of weight any lower back has to carry.
But the issue is the same…
Constant pressure added to the lower back… which makes it even MORE vital to do strength and control exercises to support her back on a DAILY basis.
(The same as brushing your teeth…)
Physical therapy works perfectly to help get you out of pain and put the joints back into place… then it’s over to the long term exercises to help keep it that way.
And is that a guarantee of staying 100% fixed?
It gives you a great shot at being active and healthy for a LOT longer without resorting to pills or surgery, than had you chose not to do those exercises or take that trip to the Physical Therapist.
So, the answer to both of these questions is to be found in long-term commitment and discipline to doing the appropriate exercises.
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