Back Injury Exercises

Women in supine position stretch one knee towards the chest.
Supine one knee to chest stretch. Wavebreak Media

Are Back Injury and Stretch Exercises Good during the Acute Phase?

Let's face it, tight muscles likely contribute greatly to your neck and/or back pain. They may even be the cause of your long term problem entirely. If you've seen a physical therapist for your spine, chances are she has given you some back exercises to do.

But what if you're experiencing an acute back injury, or your old injury is acting up?

Should you stretch?  Should you do back injury exercises at all?

Try to Avoid Stretch Exercises at the Location of Your Injury

In general, you shouldn't stretch an inflamed area.

During the acute phase of a back injury (about the first 24 to 48 hours,) your tissues are vulnerable to stresses placed on them. Stretching at this time can further damage your back.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends stopping normal physical activity for the first few days after a low back injury to help reduce swelling associated with the inflammation and to reduce pain.  During this time you can apply ice and/or heat to the painful area, as well as take over the counter pain medication such as Advil, Tylenol or something similar.

Related: Serious Health Risks of Taking Advil and Ibuprofen

But you don't need to remain off your feet for very long.  Bed rest is no longer recommended as a way to heal a back injury.

 As long as you don't have serious symptoms such as loss of bowel or bladder control, weakness, pain and/or electrical sensations that go down one leg or arm, weight loss or fever, then being active within pain free limits is recommended by experts.

If you believe stretching an inflamed area makes you feel better, or you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, discuss with your doctor as soon as you can.

Keep Back Injury Exercises and Stretches within Pain Free Limits 

Even though it's a good idea to be active is while you're in the healing phase of an injury, you may still need to adjust your intensity levels downward.  

Once you're back in the swing of your usual activity (which generally takes a few days to a week post mild or moderate injury), it's important to be aware of how your body responds to what you do during the day.  Remember, you're in a modified activity period while your back is mending.

I find that one of the most helpful attitudes injured people can have (but also one of the most challenging to maintain) is to be willing to do less than you think you should. Overdoing it is the cause of many a back and neck re-injury.  

Another rule of thumb is "let your pain be your guide."  If, as you're doing an exercise or some other type of movement, you encounter pain that's related to your injury, consider decreasing the intensity or forgoing the activity completely.

Source:

Kinser, C., Colby, L.A., Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques. 4th Edition. F.A. Davis Company. Philadelphia, PA. 2002.

Low back pain - acute. MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine website. Last Update May 2015. Accessed Feb 2016

Continue Reading