Ever heard someone say this: “I have a bad back, so I can’t exercise this week.” Or perhaps you’ve said it yourself. But what exactly does it mean to have a bad back? And why would that restrict you from physical activity? First, let’s look at the definition of ‘bad’:
- low or poor in quality
- not correct or proper
- not pleasant, pleasing, or enjoyable
Is your back poor in quality or not correct? Is it truly “bad”? Yes, I do realize “bad back” is a colloquialism, but it shouldn’t be. Having a bad back implies you can’t use it, and yet, you use it every single day of your life, when you move. Did you know that low back pain is the number two cause of work absenteeism?(2) And guess what? “Almost everyone can expect to experience back pain at some point in their lives.”(3)
What causes low back pain? Some of the physical factors include: lack of fitness, heaving lifting of objects, operating motor vehicles, prolonged sitting, operating vibrating tools, and history of cigarette smoking. Some sports, like golf and horseback riding, may also overload or stress your lower back. (2) Your back may be in pain because it or another part of your body is weak or tight.(3) In the case of muscles other than the ones in your back being weak or tight, your back then has to carry more than its share of the load. It’s called a muscular imbalance.
Here’s the thing: stiffness begets stiffness. The less you move, the weaker and stiffer your muscles and joints become. And the harder it becomes to move easily and fluidly. So you don’t move. So, what’s a person with low back pain to do? Keep moving. Motion is lotion, after all, and the movement associated with your activities of daily living will slowly help to unlock the area of pain.(3) That doesn’t mean go run a marathon - be sensible about intensity of activity.
A few weeks ago, I was moving furniture. I know how to safely lift and carry heavy objects. But a well-meaning individual distracted me and I lost my focus. So I lifted heavy chairs with bad alignment. Yup, you guessed it. I injured my lower back and put it into spasm. Currently, I teach 9 weekly Essentrics classes and 5 weekly water-based fitness classes. I did not miss one of those classes while I was injured. I was able to continue teaching as I recovered. My back still isn’t 100%, but it’s slowly healing. And now, I need to get up from my computer and move around. Because we all need to keep moving.
Amanda Sterczyk is a Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM), an Exercise is Medicine Canada (EIMC) Fitness Professional, and a Certified Essentrics® Instructor. She offers in-home personal training in central Ottawa. Amanda specializes in helping older adults maintain and increase strength, flexibility, and mobility. No fitness goal is too small, in her opinion.