In sessions, I hear a lot about chronic pain, particular back pain. Many folks are becoming more and more skeptical to the use of pain killers with all the headlines about the opioid epidemic. They want to look at other options for pain and/or reduce their personal use of opiates and other pain killers. Exercise comes up with mixed thoughts and feelings. On one hand they hear that the increase of exercise can help with circulation, healing, and tension related to pain. On the other hand, the wrong exercise or the wrong amount can cause serious damage and create more problems.
A recent article in the October 2017 edition of Scientific American highlights some research on this topic. The research looked at over 300 individuals with chronic back pain and prescription painkillers. They assigned these individuals to either a program of yoga, physical therapy, or a program of educational materials. What they discovered is that the individuals in the yoga and physical therapy groups were able to significantly reduce their use on pain killers than the control and education only group. The author described the yoga that was prescribed in the group as gentle stretches including cat/cow and child’s pose.
The article spoke to the evidence that what seems to work best is an overall combination of tools, which could be medications and movement. When speaking to one’s primary care physician or pain treating provider, asking about other options for pain relief in addition to medications is recommended. If there are no structural reasons for the pain or damage to any vertebrae many times movement is preferred over medications. Although even with structural problems with someone’s skeleton, increasing flexibility and circulation is beneficial and necessary for healing. Muscle relaxers may help obviously with muscle tightness, but you may get much more with exercise such as overall increase in circulation, relaxation and strengthening of muscles.
Bottom line seems to be that there are benefits to medication but much more for adding the right exercise with or without the medication. Figuring out the right exercise may take a little research and time. Speaking to qualified professionals familiar with one’s unique health history and getting a list of options to choose from is the best place to start. A physical therapist is also a great place to start but if you want to try something at home, one could always begin with asking their healthcare provider to explain first off which exercises they shouldn’t do and why. Then at least an individual is able to stay safe while they sample different exercises to try at home. As with any exercise program, when you find something that works, it’s the consistency that will give you the most benefit. It’s better to start small and keep going than start too big and feel like you can’t keep it up due to time or energy.