Back Pain vs Physical Activity

What causes flare-ups?

It’s common “knowledge” that physical activity can cause flare-ups of pain in those who suffer from acute low back pain, and that you should rest your back when it’s hurting. The problem with common knowledge is that it’s often dead wrong, and this is one such case.


Lower back pain is easily one of the most debilitating types of pain a person can experience, and when you’re in the throes of an acute episode, the last thing you want to do is move around. You’d much rather rest, allow the pain to pass, and hope for the best. After all, you really don’t want to make the problem even worse by causing a movement-related flare-up. A recent study, however, has shown that this pervasive belief is not only inaccurate, but that resting could be the very cause of these pain flare-ups and that acute lower back pain instead responds very well to physical exercise.


During the course of the six-week study, individuals experiencing acute lower back pain - in other words, whose pain duration was less than three months - were regularly assessed for pain and flare-ups, and these compared to their physical activity levels, as well as any stress or depression they were undergoing. Flare-ups were defined as a period of increased, distinctly worsened, pain that lasts at least two hours during a 24-hour period.


Over the course of the study period, the 48 participants registered a variety of activity levels and pain episodes and the results conclusively showed that physical activity during acute lower back pain shows the risks for flare-ups as a result of exercise to be almost negligible. On the other hand, prolonged periods of sitting - more than six hours - were by far the greatest contributor to lower back pain flare-ups. Depression and stress also take their fair share of the blame, increasing the risk of pain flare-ups.


The moral of this story? If you are experiencing acute lower back pain, the worst thing you can do for it is to sit quietly for hours on end. You’d be far better off engaging in light to moderate activity, as this will not only help reduce the pain, but will help strengthen your back to help prevent future injury.