Heart Smart Minute FitnessNot much can derail your fitness plan faster than chronic low back pain. Next to headaches, low back pain is the leading chronic issue facing nearly 20% of Americans. It is the leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from work, second only to the common cold.

Fitness plays a major role in reducing chronic lower back pain, the stronger the muscles, the less likely you are to injure yourself doing day to day tasks, such as bending over or putting away groceries. Poor posture, obesity, weakened muscles in the back and abs, stress, and normal aging, all contribute to the sudden flare up of pain.

Once you experience lower back pain, the natural reaction is to break from your fitness routine and rest for as long as needed to reduce the pain. As obvious a choice that may be, it is not always the best course of action. Often, the longer the muscle goes without exercise, the weaker it becomes and the chance of re-injury becomes greater.

Here are some Heart Smart Minute Fitness tips and tricks for dealing with your chronic low back pain.

ICE vs. HEAT: Should you ice your back or heat it? During the first day or two of initial pain it’s better to ice. After that it’s entirely up to you and what you feel your body responds best to. Cold will reduce inflammation while heat dilates the blood vessels, and relaxes the muscle which reduces muscle spasms.

OTC PAIN RELIEF: In the initial hours of injury, pain management is a top priority. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin can help you get through the peak of back spasms until you are able to return to your fitness routine.

DON’T REST TOO MUCH: Taking a few days off to allow the muscle to recoup is fine but don’t overdo it.  It’s important to get up and start moving again as soon as possible. Let your pain be your guide and if something bothers you don’t do it, but try to stretch or walk around as much as possible. If you are unable to walk after 2 or 3 days see your doctor right away.

GO FOR THE CORE: The stronger your abdominal and back muscles are the less likely you are to strain the back. Focus on walking, swimming, stretching and gentle yoga to help ease and prevent back pain.

MASSAGE IT OUT: As much as a good massage seems like an unnecessary luxury, your body greatly benefits from it. A 2011 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that 10 weekly massages helped people with chronic back pain. Massage therapy stimulates blood flow to tissues and helps calm the central nervous system.

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