More than 80% of adults suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. It’s the leading cause of disability worldwide and a condition further aggravated during the coronavirus pandemic as people experience increased stress, routinely work at home in spaces lacking proper ergonomics, and may be reluctant to visit health-care professionals due to fears about COVID-19 infection.
Dr. Kirstie Griffiths is a Guelph, Ont.-based chiropractor and yoga instructor helping people overcome their back pain with the launch of a 12-week online Yoga for Back Pain program that includes education, movement and meditation.
“Today we are moving less and stressing more and this creates a perfect storm for the development of back pain,” Griffiths says. “There are so many myths and misconceptions about how to manage back pain, and the problem for most people is that they often attempt to deal with it the wrong way, including being afraid to exercise because they don’t want to make the pain worse.”
Yoga can help control pain, increase strength and stability, and improve mobility, says Griffiths, who has observed the benefits of yoga for her chiropractic patients. To support her patients, she created the Yoga for Back Pain program, which is now available online so people can benefit at home.
Griffiths has top 6 tips for managing back pain, so you can get back to wellness. These recommendations are informed by her experience working as a healthcare provider specializing in muskuloskeletal health, and backed by the latest research on the management of back pain.
There are so many myths and misconceptions floating around about how to manage back pain. The problem for most people is that they are going about treating it the wrong way. Did you know that bed rest after a back injury actually delays healing and makes things feel worse? If you saw your doctor 20 years ago with a back injury, best rest would have been recommended, but we now know this is one of the worst things you can do – the longer you stay in bed, the more muscle mass you lose, and the harder it is to recover.
Now we recommend that patients begin movement right away, first in an effort to control pain, then with the purpose of increasing strength and stability, and finally with the intention of improving mobility. This movement should be gradual, progressive, and specific, as there are some exercises such as sit-ups that can make back pain worse.
3. MAKE IT A PRIORITY
With full schedules and busy lives, it is easy to put the needs of others before yourself and to place your own wellbeing on the backburner. Health is created by the choices we make day in and day out, and if it is consistently being placed last, you will begin to feel the toll it takes on your life. Sometimes this requires a mindset shift that involves treating your health like any other commitment; it can be helpful to schedule in a fitness class or meal prep into your calendar and work your other events around it. This takes some practice, but instead of cancelling your yoga class because your friends want to do dinner, communicate your intentions to take the class and ask if it is possible to change the meet up time so that you can uphold the commitment you have made to yourself and to your health.
4. CREATE A HOME MOVEMENT SPACE
The changes related to the pandemic have made it more difficult to access our usual spaces designed for fitness. Creating a space within your home that is designated to movement can be a motivator to get you to the mat. Take a look at this video for some additional guidance on how to set up a movement space and how you can incorporate household items in place of gym equipment. As we move into warmer weather, this is also a great opportunity to get outside and take your practice into nature whether that be your own backyard, a park, or a beach.
5. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
You know your body best. Before you listen to the suggestions provided by the instructor, check in with what feels right for you and your body. Know that is it okay to reduce the number of repetitions, the speed at which you perform a movement, and the length of time you hold it for even if it puts you off-pace with the instruction. Do movements that feel good, and don’t do movement that don’t feel good. If something is painful, try backing out of the position slightly first to see if that relieves the sensation and if it does not, come to a place of rest. Finding joy in movement and choosing activities that feel good for your body will allow exercise to be something you look forward to, rather than another chore on your to-do list.
Most of us lead high-stress lives that are focused on task completion and to-do lists. We are living in a state of chronic stress, and the over-activity in that part of the nervous system is strongly linked to a wide range of health conditions including back pain. Meditation and mindfulness practices are incredible tools for shifting the nervous system into a state of rest and relaxation and are used effectively in the management of back pain.