John Seivert: Facts about back pain & exercise |

John Seivert: Facts about back pain & exercise

John Seivert
Tai Chi is an internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits. The health benefits are far reaching and include balance, coordination, strength and maintaining flexibility in the upper and lower limbs.
Submitted photo to The Union |

There has been a great deal of research in the conservative treatment and management of chronic low back pain.

The great news is that exercise is truly the best remedy for managing chronic low back pain.

Surgical intervention for low back pain has demonstrated less than optimal outcomes and involves a lengthy recovery. The rehabilitation experts have been telling us for years that exercise creates far better results than surgery. Therefore movement is medicine.

Here are 10 facts about exercise and back pain reproduced from Dr. Pete O’Sullivan’s website. Dr. O’Sullivan and his team of researchers from Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia has been researching exercise and its effect on chronic low back pain for many years.

Let’s have a look at what several decades of research is telling us.

The facts

Exercise is helpful for back pain. If you hurt your back its OK to rest it like you would an ankle sprain. Then after a day of rest, get moving again. Return to your normal activities as soon as possible. Start with gentle exercise like small walks and then progress to more strenuous activity slowly as your confidence allows you to do so.

Rest is NOT helpful but getting back to moving and to normal activities is. Scientific studies now show that prolonged rest and avoidance of activities for people with chronic low back pain leads to higher levels of pain, greater disability, poorer recovery, and more time off work. Make sure the exercise you choose to help you recover isn’t causing more pain.

Be smart and listen to your body. Exercise should make you feel better.

Exercise can prevent recurrence of low back pain. This fact speaks for itself. The more fit you are for the lifestyle you want to lead the lower the risk for recurrence of low back pain.

Moving with confidence and without fear is important for back pain. Many people begin moving around after an episode of back pain with slow, guarded/protected motions. They may even find themselves holding their breath to do things. The fear of re-injuring their back can lead to abnormal movement patterns keeping their back guarded and stiff.

Exercising in a relaxed manner is important. I teach my patients to do simple tasks in a confident, relaxed manner and we build from simple to more complex tasks as the patient responds to the exercises. Breathing comfortably is the key when exercising.

Many patients with chronic low back pain hold their breath when moving. Their thoughts are to protect their back with this bracing strategy and the research has shown that it can keep the lower back stiff.

The best type of exercise is the one you enjoy. People should do an exercise that they enjoy, is affordable, and one that they can do regardless of the weather. This will create more exercise because it is so enjoyable.

The exercises that have consistently shown to improve function in back pain patients are walking, running, cycling, swimming, yoga and pilates.

Tai chi and Qigong are two other forms of exercise that continues to provide healthy benefits for people with back pain. Find out which one or group of these types of exercises works for you and make it happen.

Feeling sore after exercise does not mean damage to your body (pain does not equal harm). You may remember long ago when you did a hard workout and had muscle soreness in the muscle groups you used the next day. That is exactly what happens when we are reintroducing exercise to our body.

Underused muscles get sore more quickly than healthy muscles and people with chronic low back pain tend to be more sensitive to muscle soreness than people without.

You MUST exercise regularly. Studies have shown that getting more than 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of exercise a week has the greatest health benefits. Even 10-15 minutes at a time can be good for your body. I commonly tell my patients, “Motion is Lotion” and the more you move the better you’ll feel.

Running and swimming the breaststroke are NOT bad for your back. There is no evidence in all the scientific research that states running or swimming the breaststroke are bad for your back or “wear out” your joints. Studies state that at least 30 minutes a day is ideal but any amount is better than no exercise.

No supplement or drug can create the benefits that exercise can. I am commonly repeating to my patients, “exercise is the most potent pain killer in the world.” Another phrase I’m guilty of repeating is, “Movement can replace many drugs, but no drug can ever replace movement.” (Taken from

Most important to remember is that not all back pain is the same. If you have tried one form of exercise that has not helped you, talk to your healthcare professional that can help you find a program that will work for you.

John Seivert is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and he has been practicing for 34 years. He opened Body Logic Physical Therapy in Grass Valley in 2001. He has been educating Physical therapists since 1986. Contact him at

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