Three things to consider about exercise and injuries

Three things to consider about exercise and injuries

If you’re anything like me, it’s not unusual to experience the odd joint or muscle pain every now and then, particularly where your back is concerned. In fact, back pain is very common in Australia, with National Health Survey statistics showing that while 16 per cent of us are living with it at any one time, 70-90 per cent of us will experience lower back pain at some stage in our lives.

Physical activity can play a key role in the prevention, cause and treatment of injuries – including those that cause back pain – so here are three general things to keep in mind, in addition to any individual advice you may have received from your doctor or healthcare professional.

1. Exercising regularly can help prevent back pain.

Back injuries, or back pain, can be caused by a number of different things, including living a lifestyle that’s more sedentary than active, and poor posture. Doing something active regularly, can help with both.

One way to assess whether you’re doing ‘enough’ exercise, is to take your step count into consideration. A good target to aim for is 10,000 steps a day – you can read more about why, and how to achieve it, here.

As well as doing enough exercise, the type of exercise you do may help to reduce your risk of experiencing back pain, too, even for people who are used to working up a sweat. According to a 2018 study, amongst keen runners, it was those with weak core muscles who were more likely to develop lower back pain, despite being physically fit otherwise. Plus, strengthening your core can help to improve your posture.

The message? While a well-balanced exercise program is vital, it’s important to include some core-strengthening exercises such as planks into your routine, to help reduce your risk of experiencing lower back pain.

You should also make a concerted effort to avoid factors that can lead to injury while you’re exercising, including wearing the wrong or worn out footwear (which you can read more about here), uneven terrain, or poor technique and posture.

2. Exercising ‘through the pain’ is never recommended.

If you experience pain or injury while you’re exercising, stop and seek professional advice as soon as possible because you may need to rest or get treatment. And the sooner you get an injury treated, the quicker your recovery will most likely be. So never ignore pain, even if you’re not 100 per cent sure what’s caused it. Pain is your body’s way of trying to tell you that something’s not quite right, so consider seeking the advice of a doctor, physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor.

3. An injury doesn’t have to mean ‘zero exercise’.

 The question of when, and how, to return to regular exercise after any type of injury is something you should consult your doctor or health professional about, as every ‘body’  – and injury – is different. Be sure to follow their advice, as it’s specific to you.

But, as a general rule, there’s usually always something you can do, when you’re carrying an injury. For example, if you’ve hurt your ankle or knee, upper-body exercises are still on the table. Likewise, if you’ve injured your arm or shoulder, lower-body exercises are unlikely to cause harm. Plus, professionally prescribed programs designed to help you recover from an injury often include specific exercises that strengthen muscles or help to redress a muscle imbalance or weakness.

Even back pain doesn’t always have to mean ruling out all forms of exercise until it subsides. In fact, according to one study, gentle walking for 20-40 minutes, two to three times a week can be just as effective as expensive clinical therapy, for the treatment of some lower back pain.

Water-based activities may also be a good option, because they eliminate impact to your joints. Think hydrotherapy, water exercises, aqua aerobics, swimming or simply walking laps around a pool.

Again – always ask your healthcare professional for their advice about your individual situation before you start exercising when you’re experiencing back pain, or any pain. And wishing you a speedy recovery!