Even if physical activity is what hurt your back, it's likely one of the best ways to heal it. "You might find something else to help you feel better, but if you don't solve the issue, the pain is likely to return," says MaryBeth Horodyski, former National Athletic Trainers' Association vice president and a professor in the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation at the University of Florida. It's difficult to do large studies on exercise that rule out other factors (like medication, physical condition, and motivation), so scientists haven't been able to definitively say that exercise is the best treatment for all cases of low-back pain. "But I would look at it this way: Exercise is your safest, best bet to prevent back pain from becoming chronic," says Eric Robertson, program director of Kaiser Permanente Northern California Graduate Physical Therapy Education and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association. While anything that makes the pain worse should be avoided, the American College of Physicians Guidelines found no reports of serious harm among patients who exercised with back pain. A few reasons physical activity may be good for your bad back:

Less misery.
"The body's responses to back pain are fairly predictable," says Robertson. You have a muscle spasm, so you try to avoid making things worse by limiting movement—which serves only to focus your attention on the area, increasing your sensitivity to pain. When you keep moving after an attack, it makes you less likely to stiffen up, distracts your brain, and helps you avoid overcompensating with other muscle groups.

Shorter recovery time.
Aerobic activity can improve blood flow to the spinal area, says Heidi Prather, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. This can help heal damaged tissues or herniated disks, "which sitting down doesn't do."

Improved resilience.
Research by Linda Van Dillen, PhD, professor of physical therapy and orthopedic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found that when people with chronic low-back pain learn in PT to correctly perform problematic moves (such as emptying the dishwasher) and then are diligent about not slipping back into bad habits, they're able to do more with less discomfort.

More control.
Studies show that when patients take an active role in their own recovery (like by exercising or keeping up with PT), they enjoy better outcomes over the long term. Says Prather, "With back pain, patients have more power than they realize."

Read More: This Woman Exercised Her Back Pain Away–And You Can, Too and Doctors Say Opioids Should Be a Last Resort for Back Pain


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