When suffering with low back or leg pain (sciatica) from a lumbar injury, we often struggle to stand upright or walk comfortably. We gravitate to inactivity and then employ occasional, often extreme, stretching exercises to alleviate pain and stiffness - which often give only brief, symptomatic relief.
Stretching exercises (such as knee hugs and rotations) can be very helpful as they can create a rapid change in pressure through the joints, stretch muscles and help open up the spaces through which nerves pass between vertebrae. However, this higher amplitude and intensity can aggravate injuries if over done.On the other hand, walking at a comfortable pace allows the spine to move and undulate more gently. The mild pressure changes and rhythmical rocking that occurs during walking improves blood circulation and lymph drainage. In turn, this helps reduce congestion, inflammation and pain from tense muscles, fluid stagnation and high prostaglandin levels. Moderate walking can help your muscles relax by adopting a familiar pattern imprinted within your muscles’ memory, rather than taking on a more challenging new exercise. Simply put, being upright and mobile stimulates your core, posture, balance and body physiology (including your circulation, digestion and respiration) to keep working healthily - all essential in assisting your recovery.
Yet, whilst walking seems easy, it can be a monumental task when in pain. Some helpful tips are:
-Take it slowly.
-Avoid sitting in low soft chairs or sofas when experiencing back pain.
- Stand up and get moving from a high chair or stool.
-Take your time as you may feel light headed from medication or lying down too long.
- Use a stick, chair or a friendly person to help you onto your feet.
- Bend your knees a little and tuck your tail bone (coccyx) under, by engaging your core and tensing your buttocks a little.
- Holding onto a chair or furniture if needed, start by walking on the spot. Try to look ahead and not at the floor.
- A heat pack can ease stiff and aching muscles or apply a cold pack if the pain is intense or acute.
- Try a back brace or even a sweater or thick scarf tied around your lower back, hips and pelvis for added support.
- Discuss medication with your GP / health practitioner as often this can assist your movement by making it feel less painful or inflamed.
In most cases remember that “motion is your healing potion" and the enemy of your recovery is bed rest and inactivity. However, there is a case for bed rest and inactivity with certain spinal injuries, so its always best to consult a health professional for advice.
If you are experiencing musculo-skeletal pain from an injury, lifestyle habits or degenerative changes and would like advice and treatment, I would be delighted to discuss this with you.
Elaine Everitt is an Osteopath, Acupuncturist and Medical Herbalist working in Boxford and London. Tel: 07587 743 850 Pippettes Farm, Stone Street, Boxford CO10 5NR elaineeveritt.com