Exercise is Medicine For Back Pain – As Told By Dr. Shane Mangrum, MD

Eighty percent of adults experience back pain at some point. Worldwide, it is the most common reason to see a doctor or miss work. Pain is a difficult issues, and according to Vinay Prasad, MD (as quoted by Teresa Carr’s Consumer Reports post): “Many Americans — and their physicians — have come to think that every symptom, every hint of disease, requires a drug. Americans take more pills today than at any other time in recent history — and far more than people in any other country.

However, this trend is starting to change. There is a movement to replace pills with exercise — and Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center is a big part of this shift.
As a physiatrist, I am board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation, as well as sports medicine. My education and training at Harvard and the Mayo Clinic have made me an evangelist for the application of exercise in back pain treatment.

Exercise is the one tool that I can send home with patients to empower them in the care for their own spines. – Dr. Shane Mangrum, MD

The American College of Physicians was in the news recently with a highly publicized release of guidelines that list “nonpharmacologic therapies” such as exercise, yoga, and spinal manipulation as first-line interventions for the treatment of back pain. These recommendations stand in stark contrast to the forces that fed the opiate crisis we have experienced in America during recent years. As a general rule, I try to prescribe opioids very rarely (outside of cases of cancer and pallative care). Instead, I, along with every physician at Polaris, employ exercise as a powerful tool in back-pain treatment (in addition to injection therapies and surgery when appropriate). Not only can exercise help to treat current back-pain symptoms, but it can cut in half the risk of developing low-back pain in the first place.

So how do you start a back-specific exercise program?

Here are a few keys:

1. Traditional exercise approaches applied to other parts of the body may not be ideal for the low back.
2. Rather than focusing on building strength, back-specific exercises should focus on improving endurance and spine stability.
3. Low-back exercises seem to have the biggest impact, when performed daily, as opposed to the three-times-a-week model recommended for other forms of exercise.

But as with all exercise routines, back-specific exercise is not a quick fix. It often takes months to perceive the full effects of an appropriate exercise routine. It is also important to discuss your exercise routine with your doctor. I am a proponent of the Polaris M.O.: We are moving away from quick fixes like pain medication to a more holistic well-rounded view that involves promoting healthy lifestyle changes.

Need help starting a back-specific exercise routine to manage your pain?
Give us a call at 404-256-2633 to set up an appointment with Dr. Mangrum.

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