Can I Exercise While I Have Back Pain?


Low back pain is very common, so much so that over 80% of people experience an episode of back pain at some stage during their lifetime. Although often very painful, with the right treatment and exercise, back pain can be helped! Physical activity is an important part of that care. It is important to have your back pain assessed to develop a treatment plan to get you doing what you want to do again.


For years people with back pain have been told to lay down in bed all day, keep rested and avoid movement altogether. This is not great advice! In fact, the longer you lay down the slower your recovery will be.


Do we rest at all? Of course, but we have ‘relative rest’, for example; just because we can’t run doesn’t mean we can’t go for short walks, because we can’t lift a 20kg bag off the ground doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bend our back at all. If you love gardening, there’s no need to stop altogether. Spend less time digging and mulching but instead potter around and do some light watering. If you run marathons don’t sit down on the couch all day, go for short jogs or walks to keep strength and fitness up. Movement increases blood flow, allows inflammation and fluid to move around the body to facilitate healing. It’s okay to feel some pain with movement - just because we experience a little pain doesn’t necessarily mean we’re causing harm, but to be on the safe side, exercise to a point where pain levels stay below a 3/10.


Even in very acute episodes of back pain, try to get up and change your position - walk to the mailbox, do a lap of the house then come back rest, and do it again in an hour. If you’re unsure what to do, and that’s okay, seek professional help. In an acute flare up some education and basic movement principles will help speed up your return to work or activity. With good compliance and progressions, we can prevent future occurrences of back pain with these principles.


Some low intensity activities to help improve back pain. Water walking/ aerobics. Stretching. Cycling. Walking.


There are times when seeking professional help is a must, these include- Back pain due to accident or fall. Pain is waking you during the night. You lose sensation into your limbs. Shooting pains, or altered sensations in limbs. Loss of control with bodily functions – eg; going to the bathroom (go to hospital)