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Improving non-specific low back pain.. but what is non-specific?



Specialist exercise instructor Graham Kavanagh in York
Graham Kavanagh

Low back pain is prevalent across society and is one of the most common reasons for time taken away from work. Recently back pain was ranked second to mental health. This shows how widespread back pain actually is.


Many numerous searches online will reveal “exercises for back pain” or “fix back pain for good with this exercise”. In reality these claims are superficial and in many cases totally inaccurate. Many “gadgets” are also promoted and sold with claims of curing back pain such as lying on a stretching device. The reality is that these gadgets may still be in use years later meaning the initial problem hasn’t been properly addressed.


The important point to keep in mind is….. there is a cause somewhere for the onset of low back pain. Ranging from the mild to the extreme. It is absolutely important that the possible causes are addressed….. but how is this done?


An assessment. When I perform assessments we take the bigger picture approach which is now the recommended pathway for low back pain. In the old days, a medical doctor would recommend bed rest for a couple of weeks, believing this to be the solution. In fact all this did was worsen symptoms, create a fear of movement and weaken the body further. Now the medical opinion is physical activity.


The majority of low back pain is classified as “non-specific”. But how can it be non-specific when your back is hurting? There must be a cause? True.


Non-specific simply means there is no specific spinal pathology or radicular/nerve root issues. Any back pain falling outside of the medical arena is called non-specific. This means there are many possible causes and typically muscular in nature hence the role of exercise. Low back pain responds to exercise. Strengthening muscle and regaining functional ability is needed. Stronger muscles provide spinal stability.


There are instances where there is a medical cause and clearance is given for appropriate programming with exercise.


This could be pre or post operation, or a disc condition for example that will benefit from muscular strengthening. Non-specific pain amounts to some 85% or more of low back pain cases, with only a minor percentage in relation to a trapped nerve or a tumour or infection for example.


However, there is more to improving low back pain than just exercise. This means taking a look at lifestyle and applying strategies to maximise pain reduction and a return to daily activities in less discomfort.


Pain over three months is known as chronic pain and the danger is that if there is no intervention then it becomes long term. Factors such as a bad diet, smoking, stress and anxiety, type of career such as sitting at a desk all day all play a role in affecting discomfort and pain.


An example of a lifestyle strategy could be….. improving diet by making a couple of meal swaps per week. Taking a stretch break or moving your legs and shifting posture every half hour at a desk and taking up a new activity that you really enjoy that also gives you the social aspect in your community. Diagnosed depression is a common occurrence with sufferers of low back pain.


Applying lifestyle strategies appropriate to an individuals circumstances along with specific exercise sessions is the approach to low back pain intervention. Either way, the mindset needs to be encouraging positive action long term, hence integrating exercise and positive steps into a lifestyle.


It is never a case of doing a short term improvement program and then cured. It has to be long term integration which also brings preventative properties to low back pain.


Graham Fit Personal Training is York's specialist exercise instructor, bringing decades of experience to you. Do you need help and advice to get your back on track long term with sound training and knowledge?


Why not book your FREE consultation..

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