“Use it or lose it” can easily apply to any of the muscles in the human body. Some people with chronic pain fall into the habit of cutting back on physical activity out of a fear of experiencing renewed discomfort. However, the tendency to lead a more inactive life when dealing with recurring pain may be the very thing that’s making back pain worse.
Long-term inactivity sometimes results in what’s termed disuse syndrome, a condition resulting in the gradual deterioration of muscles from a lack of sustained use. Reduced muscle strength means that pressure from movement has more of an impact on nerves in people experiencing chronic pain.
Inactivity Contributes to Chronic Pain
A generally inactive or sedentary lifestyle also contributes to chronic musculo-skeletal pain. An extensive 11-year study on the correlation between inactivity and chronic pain found that even participants reporting a medium activity level experienced a noticeable reduction in chronic pain.
Effects on the Nervous System
With the spine and nervous system so intertwined, the relationship between a lifestyle involving little physical activity and chronic pain makes sense. This explains why patients who have had recent back surgery are often encouraged to get up and walk or move as much as possible to prevent muscle weakness.
Misconception Over Immobility and Rest
When people find that certain movements contribute to their chronic pain, there’s a natural tendency to avoid all activity or get more rest than what’s really necessary. While some rest can help the body recover, too much rest can lead to muscle weakness from lack of use. Instead, it’s recommended that people who suffer from chronic pain make an effort to:
• Modify activities or movements that cause pain
• Shift to exercises that place less pressure on muscles like water-based activities
• Participate in physical therapy sessions and continue with recommended exercises at home between sessions
• Limit rest to shorter periods of time to minimize muscle inactivity
Careful diagnosis by a board-certified orthopedic physician also plays a role in the successful management of chronic pain. When a clear source of pain isn’t identified in patients, however, part of the problem may be muscle weakness from inactivity.
To learn more about causes and treatments for chronic pain, call The Spine Institute at (310) 828-7757. Our experienced spine surgeons, including Medical Director Dr. Hyun Bae, can help you pinpoint the root cause of pain and set you on a path toward a pain-free life.