It usually takes one with back pain to know one with back pain.
There’s nothing quite like it.
If you’ve ever experienced back pain you’ll understand how much it impacts your life and how important it is to reduce it.
A substantial number of people experience chronic back pain at some point in their life with one article on PubMed pointing out that “Low Back Pain (LBP) is increasingly becoming a major public health concern” and another report by the Australian Government showing ” 1 in 6 Australians (16%) had back problems in 2017-18″.
That equates to around 4 million people experiencing back pain, impacting their life, their relationships, the workplace, and the community.
Many people who have chronic back pain invariably put on weight.
It becomes a never-ending cycle of pain, an inability to move, lack of daily function, eating or emotional eating, more weight gain, repeat.
If this is you, you’ll understand the frustration of a medical professional or anyone for that matter, telling you that you need to lose weight to help your pain.
As if you had never thought that might be a good idea!
You don’t enjoy being in pain, you don’t enjoy weight gain, and you don’t enjoy all of the other health challenges that pop up with chronic back pain, but you’re not able to get back to your exercise, movement or activities, leading you to a feeling of being stuck and in a downward spiral.
Being told losing weight will help your back pain is a great idea in theory, but it often doesn’t translate to the real world of back pain.
Chronic back pain impacts every area of your life and body, in fact there is nothing that happens in the body long term without all 4 Pillars of health being impacted, which is why many of the unintended outcomes of chronic pain feed off each other.
One behaviour leads to the next, a small consequence of that behaviour leads to another, and it goes on and on, until you are leading a life and living in a body that feels unrecognisable to you.
It goes something like this (you emotionally eat, put on weight, which leads to more pain, causing you to be more fatigued and moody, causing you to have disturbed sleep, which leads to more fatigue, so you eat more, put on more weight, then start experiencing gut issues, and high blood pressure, and on it goes).
Anyone can see why the treatment of and knowing how to reduce back pain is essential to all areas of health and life.
How does chronic back pain impact your life?
For many, chronic back pain leads to a decrease in even the slightest activities.
Put simply, unless you adjust your eating, you can see why you may put on a little weight.
More often than not, however, if you experience long-term physical pain, your mental and emotional health will most certainly be impacted in some way.
The psychological and emotional pain that comes with chronic back pain leads to some sort of comfort or extra eating, with further weight gain being the outcome.
As one study showed “the suppression of emotions is associated with chronic lower back pain” so the ability to reduce back pain is essential to your daily life in more ways than one.
Without the strategies and skills to deal with your mental and emotional health you are setting yourself up for many more challenges than are necessary, however, when you can’t exercise to help your back pain, so your ability to reduce back pain is a challenge, emotional eating is one of many ways you may be coping.
As much as this feel like it’s helping in the short term, the long-term consequences of not only this, but other negative coping strategies have a substantial impact on your weight, back pain, inflammation, gut health, hormones, cognitive function and more.
Your body fat will increase and your muscle mass will decrease as you lack movement and activity, leading to a decrease in confidence, energy and vigour.
You will no longer want to look in the mirror and you’ll start each day with a foggy head, pain and a low mood.
Of course, constant pain impacts sleep in a variety of ways in both quality and quantity, leading to further fatigue and weight gain, along with a start to a less than positive daily routine.
Your usual overthinking has had nowhere to go without the outlet of movement, making your mind more active at night.
Often staying up later, getting more work done, and finding things to watch and be distracted by seems like a good idea at the time, though unfortunately, they all contribute to a greater impact of chronic back pain that impacts you, your body and your life, leading to further issues in reducing back pain when you can’t exercise.
Staying up later can also mean snacking, changing meal times and an impacted circadian rhythm. These all have an incredibly negative impact on your pain and your weight and your ability to reduce back pain.
Eating more closely to bedtime can affect your digestive system leading to poor gut health, absorption and assimilation of nutrients. That’s on top of possible pharmaceutical medication, processed foods, alcohol, stress and constant pain, which all create a poor environment for not only gut health but your health in general.
Now digestive issues alone are troublesome, however as our body systems are all intricately connected, poor digestion can lead to a variety of other symptoms, such as skin complaints, headaches, inflammation, mental health challenges and more.
Gut health is directly linked to mood, mind and motivation to name just a few, and inflammation is the last thing you want to increase when experiencing chronic pain and wanting to reduce back pain.
The extra health challenges that eventually come as an offshoot from chronic back pain will build into their own health challenges and if you allow it to continue the constant pain, fatigue, weight gain, low mood and energy, poor quality sleep, all contribute to you becoming less confident, more moody, intolerant and sharp with those around you.
More mistakes will be made at work, you won’t be as productive or focused as you were and you don’t have the energy to go the extra mile or think about the big picture. You are now a get-through-the-day kind of man, not a purposeful intentional man.
Postural and stress headaches, irritable bowel and gut issues, hormonal problems lack of quality sleep, low mood, vigour and drive, are all health challenges in their own right, so a holistic and integrated approach to chronic back pain is essential if you ever want to be pain-free, or have periods of time that you are pain-free.
The longer the cycle continues, the more new symptoms appear. Digestive issues, skin complaints, aching joints, anxiety, feelings of depression, cardiovascular issues, and more. If only you could exercise you could get back on track, but you can’t…..so what do you do?
3 Tips on how to reduce back pain when you can’t exercise
1. Get Moving!
I know, you can’t move right. I’m not expecting you to run a marathon or smash out a weight session but let’s get this straight – some movement is better than none, especially when wanting to reduce back pain.
Whether it be moving your hips in circles when you stand up or you’re in the kitchen waiting for the microwave to heat your heat packs, spending 5 minutes completing your balance exercises, stretching your upper body each time you get up to go to the toilet, or spending a few minutes on your shiatsu mat, there will be something small you can do to reduce back pain.
Now you might be thinking these things are too small to make a difference, or you may be thinking I’ll wait until I can do something that works, something that is actual exercise”
Ok, you keep waiting, how’s that been working so far?
Spend a night in a tent with a mosquito and then tell me small things can’t make a big difference.
2. Cut down on eating crap
After a certain period of feeling sorry for yourself and emotional eating, you need to draw a line.
If you usually eat lollies, chocolate, chips or processed foods, but it’s previously not affected your weight because your activity has been high, that’s great, but guess what, it’s not helping right now, so stop.
Tips to cut down on your food intake:
- If you usually eat some processed food, take that down a notch.
- Take an item out, don’t eat the entire packet.
- Choose one option instead of them all.
- Have 5 coffees a day? Have 4.
- Don’t drink enough water? Add 2 glasses.
- Drink alcohol most nights? Have 2-3 alcohol-free days.
- Eating too quickly? Learn why eating slowly helps
Not only are processed food, sugar, and alcohol adding weight, but they are increasing and contributing to the inflammation in your body, creating more pain and more challenges, only adding to the already challenging time of reducing back pain when you can’t exercise.
You might be ready to tell me, it’s the only thing you do anymore that feels good, or the only thing that gives you joy….stop right there while I get the violin..!
Are there really no other activities you can participate in that will create a positive feeling?
You really can’t find other activities you enjoy?
Do you really want to help yourself feel better or not?
3. Find a New Activity
If you no longer do anything for yourself since exercise left the room, spend 5- 20 minutes a day and start getting your life back.
Activities you can do in 5 minutes that will make a difference:
- Doing your Physio rehab stretches (you have got some right? If not please see a health professional!)
- Visiting the sauna, (benefits are amazing but see your health professional first)
- Complementary therapies can be very beneficial -look into them
- Spend 15 minutes laying in the sun reading your favourite book a few times a week
- Get a self-massage device
- Spend some time with your animal
- Get your feet on grass each day
- Breathing exercises
- Using essential oils or smells you like
- Listening to your favourite music for 5 minutes in the morning and during the day
- The list goes on……
The hard truth
This is a time to focus on the solution. Rehab, new strategies and new skills developing and gaining some strength, energy and function will be worth their weight in gold and will help reduce back pain!
It’s time to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t do.
While the activities when you start may not be what you could do before the pain, and while you may have pain when doing these activities, especially at first, the mental and emotional benefits will put you in good stead to deal with your daily chronic back pain and place you and your body in a position to take your life back.