If you haven’t had your own brush with back pain, you likely know someone that has. Over 80% of the general population will experience low back pain at some point in their life.
The spine, itself, is a complicated structure. It is made up of 33 bones called vertebrae. In between each vertebra are shock-absorbing discs. These discs allow the spine to absorb varying degrees of impact and stress. They also help protect the nerves in the spinal cord. The spinal cord runs down the middle of the spine. It allows the brain to communicate with the rest of your body.
However, low back pain happens for a variety of reasons. The discs can become worn down - leading to painful bone-on-bone contact or pinched nerves. The muscles of the low back can become torn and strained, especially when incorrectly lifting objects. Muscles around the low back may also become tight, causing compression of a nerve. There are also a number of abnormal spine curvatures and bone growth conditions that may contribute to low back pain.
What Happens When it Becomes a Chronic Condition?
Chronic low back pain is categorized as back pain that lasts 12 or more weeks. And surprisingly, it is not necessarily caused by structural issues. The central nervous system plays a critical role in many chronic cases. Let us explain!
The central nervous system receives and sends signals throughout your body. These signals receive constant updates - which explains why we get better at riding our bikes, walking, or running. When a back injury happens, pain signals are sent from your affected muscles or structures to the brain and spinal cord. If these pain signals continue for a long duration, central sensitization occurs.
Your central nervous system surprisingly ignores many incoming signals. It deems them not useful or not important - which is how you can quickly ignore that annoying sock that keeps falling down. In the case of chronic back pain, the central nervous system would normally ignore the signals coming from these structures. However, the spine and brain have become hypersensitive to these signals from recurring pain. Instead of ignoring them, the pain signals become amplified - even by the slightest stimuli.
The sensors have improperly adapted to recurring pain signals. In other words, your nervous system is short-circuiting. Instead of feeling a small achy sensation or stiffness, you feel intense pain. This intense pain, then, develops into a chronic problem - where the nerves are continually overly sensitive, and small movements continue to cause severe pain.
How Hydrotherapy Helps Chronic Back Pain
Luckily, there are a variety of treatment options for chronic low back pain. Hydrotherapy is part of many low back pain treatment strategies. Exercises are performed in a pool, where the buoyancy helps take the stress off of the joints and back. It also reduces the risk of falls and can drastically help increase your range of motion.
And hydrotherapy isn’t just limited to helping low back pain cases. It is also frequently used for knee, hip, and ankle injuries. It’s gained a lot of speed in recent rehabilitation processes and continues to help many people worldwide.
But, what exercises should you be doing for your low back pain? It may vary depending on your condition and the severity of your pain.
Below we describe 8 different exercises that you can try at your local pool or with your manual therapist. Begin with a basic warm-up involving the first 2 walking exercises. Make sure to err on the side of caution. If pain occurs, ease off or stop the exercise. Listen to your body. Further, check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
For chronic back pain, begin with the first 3-7 exercises. Once you start to feel better, you can attempt the squat exercise (but we do not recommend it during your first couple of sessions). For acute back pain cases, you may be able to perform all 8 exercises within a lesser amount of time. For the best results, perform your exercises in a pool 2-3 times per week.
Forward Walking Warm-Up
This is a good starting point for acute and chronic conditions. Walk in the shallow part of the pool. If it is a chronic condition, the use of floatation devices may also help take the pressure off of your low back. Walk back and forth for about 2 minutes.
Side to Side Walking Warm-Up
Stand tall in the shallow end of the pool. Use the wall or side for support if needed. Walk sideways to your right side then, walk sideways to your left side. Walk side to side for about 2 minutes.
Stand tall in the shallow end of the pool. Contract and engage your core muscles. Bend and lift your right knee up to hip height. Slowly lower, then repeat on the left side. Continue to alternate sides. Do a total of 10 repetitions per side.
Twisting Range of Motion
Stand tall in the shallow end of the pool. Hold onto a pool noodle or floatation device for added support. Without moving your feet, rotate your torso to the right side, then the left. Repeat for 10 repetitions.
Forward and Backward Range of Motion
Face the pool wall in the shallow end. Hold the wall with both hands. Keep your feet in the same spot and slowly lean in toward the wall - gently arching your back. Perform a similar movement in the opposite direction. Repeat for 10 repetitions.
Hip Extension Range of Motion
Face the pool wall. Slowly extend one leg straight back as far as you comfortably can. If needed, you can perform this movement with your knee slightly bent. Do 10 repetitions on one side, then 10 repetitions on the opposite side.
Hip Abduction Range of Motion
Stand facing the pool wall. Without leaning to one side, slowly lift your leg straight out to the side. Slowly lower your leg back down to the pool floor. Do 10 repetitions for each side.
Face the pool wall. Hold onto the wall with both hands. Slowly squat down as far as you comfortably can. Make sure to squeeze and engage your abdominal muscles to protect your low back. Push back up to standing and repeat 10 times.
Other exercises, outside of the pool setting, that can help relieve your low back pain include the following stretches:
Knee To Chest Stretch
● Slowly hug one knee up toward your chest.
● Hold for 20-30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.
Child’s Pose Stretch
● Begin on all-fours on a comfortable surface.
● Slowly bring the buttocks as close to your heels as you comfortably can.
● Keep your arms straight out in front of you.
● Hold here for 20-30 seconds.
Cat & Cow Stretch
● Begin on all-fours on a comfortable surface.
● Slowly arch the back down, bringing the belly close to the floor, and bringing your gaze up.
● Slowly arch the back up, bringing your head in between your hands, and look down.
● Repeat back and forth for 5-10 repetitions.
These stretches help release tight muscles in the low back, relieving pain and tension. The release of these muscles can help decrease neural compression and stop spasms from occurring. Unlike the pool exercises, these can be performed 1-3 times every day.
Clinical Massage Therapy to Relieve Your Back Pain
Clinical massage therapy can further significantly help relieve your low back pain. Your massage therapist can advise you on what exercises to do and when, as well as provide manual therapy techniques to help further decrease your symptoms.
A new technique used by massage therapists for chronic back pain is RAPID Neural Fascial Reset. This manual technique addresses the central nervous system’s role in your chronic pain condition.
In combination with exercises, RAPID Neural Fascia Reset helps relieve tension, pain, and restriction in the fascia tissue, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. In other words, the technique resets the pain-causing circuit. How? The nerve receptors in the muscles and fascia tissue are reset via movement or another cause, such as tapping.
The fascia is a connective tissue that surrounds every muscle in the body. It can sometimes become aggravated, creating tension spots on the body. When your massage therapist applies a specific movement pattern, the fascia releases and resets. The spine and brain adapt to this new signal, decreasing pain sensations and symptoms.
Your massage therapist can also advise you on over-the-counter pain medication and what you should be cautious about. For example, many people reach for anti-inflammatory medication to help ease their pain. Yet, inflammation is your body’s natural healing abilities coming into play. It brings the immune cells to the affected area, which help heal the injury - meaning inflammation is actually a good thing!
At Derivation Wellness, our experienced and qualified massage therapists offer educational advice and clinical massage therapy using proven techniques, such as RAPID Neural Fascia Reset. For more information on how clinical massage therapy can help you and your low back pain, contact us today. Get back to feeling your best!
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