What To Do If A Backache Stops You From Exercising

A common excuse we hear from our clients who don’t exercise is that they have backache. In this podcast, Dr Sandra Cabot chats with nutritionist and exercise enthusiast Jessah Robinson about how to get around this issue. Jessah provides her top tips for strengthening core muscles to support your back, as well as outlining low impact exercises, such as swimming, to help you increase your fitness. Dr Cabot is a huge fan of inversion tables – find out why!

Listen to this podcast and leave a comment below if you have any questions.

DR CABOT: Hi. My name’s Dr Sandra Cabot and today I’m joined by Weight Loss Detective, Jessah. Hi Jessah!

JESSAH: Hi. How are you?

DR CABOT: Good. And Jessah is a picture of fitness. She’s very into exercise and healthy diet and all that. And she studies a lot about how you can help yourself lose weight with natural strategies.

So, we see a lot of people who want to exercise, but they’ve got pain in their lower back or what we call the lumbosacral area. And this can be associated with painful hips and knees or ankles, if you’re prone to arthritis or if you’ve been overweight for a long time. And sometimes people say, “Oh, yeah, I just love to start exercising. But if I go for a walk, it really aggravates my back pain.”

So, today Jessah and I are going to talk to you about what you can do to reduce that pain and what type of exercises are most beneficial for you, not only to lose weight, but to help your backache.

So, Jessah, we were talking about the importance of having a strong core.

JESSAH: That’s correct. Having a strong set of abdominal muscles or a strong core greatly reduces the chances of, first of all, getting lower back pain. But also, if you already have lower back pain, it can help a lot to reduce the pain.

There are quite a few methods to enhance abdominal strength. So, yoga or Pilates, something gentle like that. I’m sure that there’s a lot of muscles that the exercises that they specifically mention to enhance core strength. As well as using an inversion table to reduce that pain.

DR CABOT: Yeah. Well, the inversion table is helpful if you’ve got compression. So, let’s say you got a lot of arthritis in your lumbar vertebrae or your lumbosacral disc. And you’ve got spurs sticking out or discs that are worn out and they’re protruding and compressing the nerves or the spinal cord. That’s very painful. And that’s where an inversion table can help. You can always try one out. They might have one at the local gym.

JESSAH: Yeah, actually, that’s true! Some gyms would be likely to have one, yeah.

DR CABOT: Or you might have a friend who’s got one. Or you could go to a store that sells gym equipment or sports equipment and they might give you a demo.

JESSAH: That’s right! Or just as a different method to help with the lower back pain, exercises like swimming or cycling. You can exercise with lower back pain doing those things. You shouldn’t notice the pain during those exercises. It’s very, more gentle on the lower back.

DR CABOT: That’s right. Swimming is the best exercise, really, for your whole back.

JESSAH: Yes, it’s a whole body work out. But it’s also gentle at the same time. It’s effective, but without being high impact.

DR CABOT: Yeah, that’s right. Because what you don’t want to do is go jogging.

JESSAH: That’s right.

DR CABOT: Or you don’t want to go for really long walks. You got to start little by little.

JESSAH: Yes, that could be quite stressful on the body, jogging in particular. I know over a long period of time that it can be quite prone to causing injury later on down the track. So, jogging wouldn’t be the best thing to do. But, things like, I’d say, gentle strolls or gentle walking or short walks, I should say. As well as cycling and swimming, yoga and Pilates. And I know that there’s lots of videos you can even look up online, if you don’t want to join a local class. Or, of course, there’s lots changed with this whole Covid situation. So, it’s more convenient to do exercises from home. There are videos you can look up. As well as getting maybe a small set of hand weights. Or I was talking to Dr Cabot about even using items you’ve already got at home, such as canned foods or heavy textbooks or something in replacement of actual weights.

DR CABOT: Yeah. Because if you’re sitting in a chair and you’re lifting some cans or light weights, you’re actually strengthening your whole core.

JESSAH: That’s correct! And working on your posture as well, making sure you’re holding the correct posture will help as well. Because having a poor posture – not standing correctly, not standing straight with your shoulders back – that can also contribute to back pain as well.

DR CABOT: That’s right! So, even when you’re sitting in a chair, contract your abdominal muscles. Pull your abdomen in and you’ll feel your abdominal muscles tighten. And then pull them in and out. You’ll often see a dog do that. They’ll get up in the morning and they’ll stretch before they walk and they’ll pull their abdominal muscles in…

JESSAH: I’ve actually noticed that before. Yeah!

DR CABOT: That’s right! So, just sitting in a chair and pulling your abdominal muscles in and out. Doing that for five minutes, that is a good workout.

JESSAH: Yeah, actually I remember reading about that. That’s really good. And even getting a set of resistance bands. They’re often in gyms nowadays, or you can buy your own. But they’re really effective because you’re actually increasing your muscle strength, but without physically holding something heavy, such as weights. You’re actually just using your own body strength to increase your own body strength. So, they’re really effective. And there’s lots of different exercises and different size resistance bands that you can get to suit your body type or muscle type.

DR CABOT: Yeah. I’ve got some of those. Those rubber bands. As a matter of fact, I’ll start doing more of them. You’ve inspired me! Cause core strength is so important, isn’t it? And people think, “Oh, you know, you got to have nice strong muscles in your arms and legs.” But, it’s all about your core because your abdominal muscles really support your spine. It’s not just the muscles alongside your spine.

JESSAH: Oh, exactly. Yeah. It can affect, if you don’t have a strong core, it very much increases the chance of injury. Just doing basic things, like carrying groceries or assisting someone who needs help walking or something.

DR CABOT: Yeah. Just even getting up off the floor or getting up off a chair or getting out of the bath.

JESSAH: Getting out of the car.

DR CABOT: And we call the abdominal muscles the rectus abdomini. They’re big muscles, but they can atrophy if you don’t use them, like all muscles.

JESSAH: Very true. Even with pregnant women, actually, if they haven’t got a strong core. It can increase the chance of this condition called rectus abdomini. And where their abdominal muscles can separate.

DR CABOT: Hernia.

JESSAH: Yeah! Oh, yeah! Or hernia. There you go! You know all about that.

DR CABOT: So, get your abdominal muscles strong before you fall pregnant.

JESSAH: Yeah. Exactly. Yep.

DR CABOT: There’s less chance that they’ll stretch wide open.

JESSAH: Yes, exactly!

DR CABOT: That’s right. Core strength is good.

And as far as the inversion table goes, you can go on to the Internet, and there’s lots of videos on YouTube demonstrating inversion tables. They cost about anywhere from $300 to $500. And you can have one in your home and you basically line it, you put your arms back and it tilts you backwards at about 45 to 60 degree angle. So, it’s giving you traction. And that’s wonderful for a compressed spine. And often that’ll relieve backache after ten minutes. It will relieve your backache. People who find it a little bit uncomfortable are those who have painful feet, because you’ve got to actually put your feet under the little bars at the bottom. And people who suffer with vertigo, sometimes if they tilt backwards they get a bit dizzy. But otherwise, people find them wonderful. So, you mightn’t need to see the chiropractic so often.

JESSAH: That’s true! Exactly! You want to try and sort of alleviate the problem before it gets worse.

DR CABOT: So, getting your backache under control will be really helpful if you want to start exercising, because it can be a big obstacle for people. They go, “Well, you know, if it’s got too much pain…” So, work on the pain first and then start doing some gentle, graduated exercises at your own pace.

Now, if you have a lot of back pain due to inflammation in the bones and the connective tissues. Or if you have a lot of inflammation in your knees or ankles, then there’s things you can do about that to reduce the pain and that’s going to make it easier for you to exercise.

So, we all know about anti-inflammatory drugs. They’ve been around for many, many years. Things like Naprosyn, Voltaren, Indocid… there’s so many. Meloxicam… They’re very good drugs. They do work, but long term they can cause some inflammation in the stomach and they can cause digestive disorders.

So, what else can you do if you’ve got this kind of musculoskeletal pain? Well, check your vitamin D level, because we know that people with low vitamin D often have muscle and bone pain. And when we give them a fairly high dose of vitamin D, sometimes within days that pain is relieved. So, vitamin D is very, very important for those people with muscle or bone pain. And also, it makes your bones and muscles stronger.

Similarly, magnesium, the mineral magnesium, helps with muscle and bone pain. And it’s very hard to know if someone is magnesium deficient from a blood test.

JESSAH: It’s true! It doesn’t actually show up in blood work.

DR CABOT: That’s right! Because most of the magnesium in your body is in your bones, the vast majority of it. So, you can be magnesium deficient and your blood tests can look “normal”. But it’s not really optimal. It’s the same with the mineral selenium. So, a blood test isn’t gonna guarantee that you got optimal magnesium. Magnesium is a wonderful mineral for those with low backache, muscle pain, fibromyalgia. So, I’m always saying to people, “Go make sure you got that vitamin D in there, and that magnesium.”

And another thing that can help, Jessah, is the minerals that we find in kelp powder.

JESSAH: Oh, yes! Specifically, iodine.

DR CABOT: Yeah! But also, kelp powder has very good bioavailable broad-spectrum minerals; from your calcium to your iodine, manganese, zinc, silica, all sorts of minerals. And it’s anti-inflammatory. So, if you make yourself soups, particularly nice bone broth soups, but any soups, you can add some kelp powder and do it regularly. You can add it to other foods, like stir-fries or casseroles. And you’re getting those extra minerals that you need to reduce inflammation in your musculoskeletal tissues.

So, they’re natural things you can do. And, of course, fish oil. It lubricates your joints.

JESSAH: Oh, of course! Yes!

DR CABOT: So, all those things can help. You’ve got to have your strong muscles and bones and connective tissues to do an exercise program.

JESSAH: And it can be hard knowing where to begin. So, we’re hoping that these tips or thoughts can help sort of the average person to know where to begin. Or if you’re struggling with back pain, that you won’t be too overwhelmed about how to sort of start getting into exercise again.

DR CABOT: Yeah. It’s a Catch-22. People are overweight. They’re got a backache. “Okay. I’ll start exercising to lose weight. Oh! It made my backache worse. Oh, now I can’t exercise at all.” So, they get bigger and bigger. So, you have to kind of do both at the same time. Improve your diet and then get those nutrients into you – the vitamin D, the minerals. And start doing things gradually. And if you get a little flare up, well just take the day off and try the next day. And maybe you overdid it the first day. Maybe you did 15 minutes and you really can only do 5 minutes at the moment. Or maybe you can do 5 minutes three times a day and not 15 minutes all at once.

JESSAH: Exactly. You have to ease into it.

DR CABOT: Yeah, that’s very important!

JESSAH: Find what works for you.

DR CABOT: But don’t give up! Just try! And it’s amazing, you’ll get better every day. And you can always email us, if you have any specific questions. Email the Weight Loss Detectives and we’re here to help you.

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast and found it useful. Thanks for listening.

JESSAH: Thank you.