Can I Exercise with Low Back Pain?

If I was forced to answer this simply, a Stone Cold Steve Austin “Can I get a Hell Yeah?” would swiftly follow. Since we are here for me to elaborate and share my thoughts on the topic, I’ll go a little deeper. Sit back and enjoy while I passionately nerd out.

August 22, 2022

Dr. Donald Mull, DC

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If I was forced to answer this simply, a Stone Cold Steve Austin “Can I get a Hell Yeah?” would swiftly follow. Since we are here for me to elaborate and share my thoughts on the topic, I’ll go a little deeper. Sit back and enjoy while I passionately nerd out. 

Back pain is something that I have been lucky enough to have helped many of our clients bounce back from. Being a Chiropractor, this is the most common thing the public seeks my help for so I have spent a lot of time staying informed on the topic. 

When it comes to advice about low back pain, the misinformation that gets passed along is alarming and unfortunately doctors may be the number one culprit. Words are important here because words drive behavior. Too often are physicians creating a narrative that encourages a fragility mindset.

I am not saying to just rub dirt on it and get back in the game. While that can work on a select few, there are plenty of people that could benefit from guidance that will help them get back in the game and do whatever it is they love to do with as little limitations as possible.

From my perspective, once we have established there are no “red flags” that are detrimental to health and require urgent medical attention (fractures, cancerous lesions, cauda equina, etc) the name of the game is to encourage healthy lifestyle habits. The healthier a person is, the better that person can bounce back from an injury. 

That being said, physical activity is a staple of health and performance. We have decent guidelines that we can use on the amount of physical activity with prescribable doses. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity and/or 300 minutes of moderate activity and 2 full body resistance training sessions a week (more on this topic on our physical activity blog). 

We have seen that the risk of having low back pain DECREASES by almost 20% with MORE physical activity. 

This also looked at other lifestyle factors like smoking that have an enormous negative effect on back pain. Take home for me there is, if we focus on positive lifestyle changes like resuming physical activity to meet baseline recommendations, eating healthy and consuming less harmful products we can then shift the odds in your favor for better outcomes.

Though we know the cessation of smoking has MASSIVE benefits on health, it may be more realistic for us to help people become more physically active. 

This is even more true if you have experienced symptoms for a long time. There is a large body of evidence that points to exercise not only being acceptable but recommended as a treatment for chronic low back pain. Recently a review of literature with over 10,000 total participants showed that an individualized exercise program worked best to help with symptoms over a 12 week period. 

There are a lot of ways you can get back to being physically active and if your doctor is not providing a positive outlook, it may be time to find a new physician. The evidence is stacked in your favor. You CAN become stronger and more resilient. 

We have created a resource for those new to exercise and would like to get moving again. Our conquering low back pain e-book was made just for you to get kick-started back to being physically active. Pair this with tolerable aerobic exercise like walking or biking to get your started. 

We also have a bunch of information on our instagram page and youtube channel that you can follow. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact us. 

Gordon R, Bloxham S. A Systematic Review of the Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain. Healthcare (Basel). 2016 Apr 25;4(2):22. doi: 10.3390/healthcare4020022. PMID: 27417610; PMCID: PMC4934575.

Geneen LJ, Moore RA, Clarke C, Martin D, Colvin LA, Smith BH. Physical activity and exercise for chronic pain in adults: an overview of Cochrane Reviews. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Apr 24;4(4):CD011279. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD011279.pub3. PMID: 28436583; PMCID: PMC5461882.

Thornton JS, Frémont P, Khan K, Poirier P, Fowles J, Wells GD, Frankovich RJ. Physical activity prescription: a critical opportunity to address a modifiable risk factor for the prevention and management of chronic disease: a position statement by the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine. Br J Sports Med. 2016 Sep;50(18):1109-14. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096291. Epub 2016 Jun 22. PMID: 27335208.

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Fleckenstein J, Flössel P, Engel T, Krempel L, Stoll J, Behrens M, Niederer D. Individualized exercise in chronic non-specific low back pain: a systematic review with meta-analysis on the effects of exercise alone or in combination with psychological interventions on pain and disability. J Pain. 2022 Jul 29:S1526-5900(22)00364-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2022.07.005. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35914641.