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Should You Keep Exercising When You Have Back or Joint Pain

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Greetings once again from your friends at the Village Family Clinic. We are a multi-specialty chiropractic and medical facility here in Hackettstown that provides comprehensive pain management services for close to two full decades now. Once again we arrive the new year and, across this great land, Americans have committed to a renewed focus upon physical fitness and exercise. If that is you, then congratulations and best wishes for happy and healthy results.

Exercise is incredibly important to both our physical and mental health so it’s great to see so many of our neighbors exercising and taking care of themselves. But what should we do about exercise when we have back or neck pain? Do you rest or power through the pain and keep up the exercise routine?

There are lots of opinions and published research on the subject, but the big thing to remember is that every situation is a little different. If you are unsure what is causing your pain, consider visiting your local chiropractic team as they can diagnose your condition and give you specific advice.

The research has been clear and consistent that exercise is helpful in the healing process of spine injuries. For injuries to other joints, it seems to be even more crucial to properly repair the soft tissue structures like ligaments and cartilage. Physicians are now recommending that post-surgical patients are up and moving as soon as possible after surgery and not just minor procedures, this applies to even more invasive surgeries like hip and knee replacements.

This does not mean that you should continue powerlifting or running marathons if you have severe back pain, but it does mean that continuing to exercise to the extent you safely can is going to be good for the healing process. After a back or joint injury, the advice we generally give my patients is to start gentle range of motion exercises, such as stretching and light yoga, as soon as it’s comfortable to do so. If that does not increase the pain substantially, they can begin walking and increase the distance incrementally. If that goes well, we reintroduce resistance exercises starting with low weight and working our way up.

The big thing to keep in mind is to keep moving even if you must modify what you are doing. One of the big challenges we see, especially with older patients, is that they stop activities which may cause some pain because they are afraid they are going to make the condition worse. Once you stop a physical activity such as walking or cycling it is much harder to start it again. This is called fear avoidance and can lead to a loss in normal function and even chronic pain syndromes if not addressed

This was especially true for runners who were concerned that running might cause or worsen their knee arthritis, but this has, for the most part, been debunked. In 2016, the American Journal of Sports Medicine published a large study that showed no link between running and the development of knee osteoarthritis. In fact, the running group showed less prevalence of joint space loss and fewer episodes of knee pain than the non-running group. Several other studies have come out since then showing that in most cases running does not cause or worsen already existing arthritis in the lower body. So, the answer to the question of do you rest or power through and keep up the exercise is, both. There is nothing wrong with a rest day or two if you have over worked or sore muscles. There are even certain injuries like stress fractures that do require longer periods of rest to recover. For most joint injuries and generalized spine pain, movement is a critical part of the healing process so modify your exercise but do not stop activity completely and ramp back up as your body allows.

If you have a specific injury that is not improving or recurring pain for which you can’t identify the cause, you should get it checked out by a healthcare provider that specializes in these types of injuries

For more information regarding how to recover from back or joint pain, contact our Village Family Clinic today!


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