Get experienced, trained help to begin moving properly
Dear Colin: Ive had back pain for two years with little help from physical therapy and chiropractic adjustments, which included many core exercises. The most depressing part is weight gain, as Ive put on 50 pounds from being inactive due to my back hurting. My doctor tells me I need to stay active because medical tests reveal no real problems, but my back doesnt let me. What can I do?
Janice, West Linn
New research is showing a strong correlation between being obese and having chronic pain, with associations even extending into childhood.
In fact, research suggests that excessive body fat is a major contributor to degeneration of spinal disks, leading to a reduction in mobility and function. This may be at least partly why resting beyond a few days after onset of acute low back pain isnt considered medically appropriate, while active, purposeful, professionally guided exercise has been shown to be consistently more effective than passive treatments.
When it comes to reducing excess body fat, youll have to pay close attention to the types of food you eat while carefully increasing activity in a very controlled manner. I strongly urge you to see a registered dietitian to help streamline your dietary habits while learning how to exercise safely and effectively through a competent physical therapist.
Core training (focused on the stomach and low back regions) can improve trunk coordination, but doesnt do anything to reduce body fat or improve body mechanics for daily tasks. Case in point: in a study conducted at Oregon State University in 2001, it was determined it would take more than 27 years to burn a pound of fat doing 100 sit-ups per day.
Research also shows that strong hips and thighs are key to helping control low back pain long term, because those muscles can help improve body mechanics and burn more fat during the day than core exercises can.
Of course, learning how to properly strengthen your thighs and hips can be difficult and requires considerable practice while being supervised by a highly trained, licensed physical therapist. An optional starting point is the 50-degree squat, which you can do at home using your kitchen counter. If done properly, this exercise strengthens your hips/quads, enhances coordination of your trunk, improves balance and burns considerable calories.
The exercise also teaches you how to protect your low back during daily tasks using your leg and hip muscles, essential for long-term management of low back pain.
Regardless of where you begin your rehabilitation program, its essential to have a qualified physical therapist monitor you for proper technique so you dont get hurt. Thats the only downside to exercise: If done improperly, it can make you worse.
It takes effort, but at least youll get your life back.
Colin Hoobler is a licensed physical therapist, hosts a live health segment on KGW Channel 8 and has written two books on exercise as treatment for disease and injury