Bad back or injured? This is what you need to do
A new study has found that exercise is as effective as surgery for people with knee problems.
It’s a world away from the traditional advice of bed rest, which for many injuries is now believed to be “a bad thing“.
On the flip side, too much exercise can aggravate an injury, as I discovered recently when I tried to go for a gentle jog with a bad back and ended up barely able to move from bed for the next two days.
As many as 90 per cent of us suffer back pain at some point – in fact, according to a recent paper published in The Lancet, it is the No. 1 cause of disability within Australia – while about five per cent of us experience a sports related injury each year.
So, when pain strikes us from our sport, what do we do?
Physiotherapist Anna-Louise Bouvier says the advice has changed in the past 10 years.
“It’s really about injury and movement,” says Bouvier, also the founder of rehabilitaion program, Physiocise. “We’d always say rest. Now that’s completely not the case. Move, but within your limits.”
Attempting to go for a run while injured, a la moi, is idiotic, she says using kinder words.
“It’s too much,” Bouvier says. “The trick is to listen to your body and do gentle walking, gentle stretching.”
Often it is the lack of listening which leads to injury, about 50 per cent of which are preventable according to Sports Medicine Australia.
Indeed, what’s going on in our heads has been found to impact our likelihood and the intensity of an injury.
When we are psychologically or emotionally stressed, our muscles can seize up or if we push our bodies too hard during these times they can break down.
“We are psychologically and physically so connected and the combination [when stressed] can tip us over the edge,” Bouvier says.
Breathe it out
Relaxation and breathing techniques have been found to help with sports injury rehabilitation as well as with chronic pain.
“Pain increases muscle tension which in turn, creates more pain,” The Australian Pain Management Association explains. “When muscles are tense, they tighten and increase pressure on our nerves and other tissues and our pain sites, which can make the pain worse. Relaxation can help break the pain-tension cycle.”
An added benefit is that breathing deeply helps to activate and stabilise the core which, in turn, can support the back and relieve pain.
Move away from the pain
Foam rolling can help to “turn down the volume” of a spasm but it doesn’t address the cause, Bouvier says.
Rather, while we rest from intense exercise, we still get moving with gentle walking, and specific stretches for specific injuries (which your physio can devise for you depending on the injury).
“You want to have a pantry of exercises – it’s having your onion and your garlic and knowing how to put them together,” Bouvier says.
For instance, for back pain, she suggests a psoas (the muscle that wraps from your lower back across the front of the hip) stretch, a table stretch placing your hands on the table and extending through the spine, and a buttocks stretch, bringing your heal to the opposite knee and leaning forward gently.
Physiotherapist Sarah Keys adds that as well as stretching and moving, it’s a myth that people can’t lift.
“There are a couple of old wives’ tales about backs that need to be expunged from the lexicon of bad backs and that is that you shouldn’t lift, that you shouldn’t bend, that you should roll over like a log to get out of bed, you should sit bolt upright,” she explains.
“Don’t suddenly do it all, but physiological loading [lifting and carrying and bending and doing stuff within activities of daily living] are really the best thing the body can do – at least from a skeletal point of view because it keeps cartilage pumping, it keeps bones strong and plastic – i.e. not brittle, it keeps tendons all of the right length and it keeps the muscles strong.”
Ice and heat are effective tools to have in your pain management kitty (Bouvier suggests – as a general rule – ice for “severe pain – which is more often nerve or inflammation” and heat for “dull, aching pain – which is more likely to be muscular”), as well as Neurofen (“always take it with food – each morning and night, unless you have gut issues such as an ulcer”). Of course, it is always worth checking with your qualified health practitioner as these are general rules.
For a long-term issue Bouvier advises booking an appointment with a physiotherapist, but for short-term relief says osteopathy or acupuncture can also help.
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