Sadly, 90% of the American population will experience some form of significant back pain at some point in their life. While one can get much advice from the internet, magazines, healthcare providers, and even their Aunt Edna on what is the best remedy, it is often unclear whether continuing an exercise program is a good idea following the development of acute back pain.
A good rule of thumb is that for the first day or two one should try to move as tolerated, given their level of the pain. Studies have shown that the patient who stays in bed not doing any activity will do worse in terms of returning to regular activities as opposed to those who move as best as they can and continue to try to function.
After the first few days one can start to reintroduce activities as tolerated. If, however, any pain radiates down the legs with exercise, then that should be avoided. Oftentimes, if symptoms are recurring in the leg, they may be more notable when a person is standing or sitting. In the case where pain radiates down the leg while in a seated position, biking would be an exercise to be avoided while walking or swimming would be a recommended activity. The same holds true if pain is worse with standing; in that case, biking may be the recommended activity.
In general, it is safe to exercise as long as the pain in the back remains localized and does not become worse with a particular activity. As with any condition, if these measures along with over-the-counter medication do not help over a period of a week or two, medical care should be sought. At Sarasota Orthopedic Associates, we are well equipped to handle any type of injury, including back pain, and are committed to getting you back to life.
Paul Lento, MD
PM&R, American Medical Society Sports Medicine