From dull muscle aches to severe, sharp pains, issues with your back or neck can be extremely uncomfortable – even debilitating. According to the Mayo Clinic, back pain is the second most common reason Americans visit our doctors, and we spend an estimated $193.3 billion annually trying to treat it. The good news? The right types of exercises can have you walking tall in no time.
Know Your Pain
Back pain is a complex, individual experience, but it's generally classified in one of two categories: acute or chronic pain.
Acute pain: pain lasting less than three to six months. It is the most common type of back pain and can often be traced back to a single event causing tissue damage.
Chronic pain: pain lasting longer than six months. Causes typically include arthritis, degenerative disc disease, herniated discs and untreated or improperly treated acute injury.
Preventative Solutions in Atlanta
One of the best ways to prevent back and neck pain is to keep your back muscles strong. Weight loss can also help relieve pressure and strain. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends participating in back strengthening and stretching exercises at least two to three times a week to prevent back pain.
But if you have an existing injury or are already in pain, what can you do? Atlanta spine specialist Dr. Krystal Chambers recommends light stretching, especially if your injury is a simple strain. "Once the pain is gone, then strength training can be introduced," she says. Dr. Chambers also recommends preventative core strengthening to protect the spine from further injury.
So whether your goal is to resolve or prevent back or neck pain, stretching and core strength are your best bets, and you can find classes to help right around the corner.
It seems simple, but good posture can work wonders for relieving pain. Gina Minyard, co-director of Yoga Collective in Atlanta, believes in the power of stretches found in alignment-based yoga. This approach works to balance and align the musculoskeletal system, and that alignment "is the basis for recovering from chronic tension and establishing good posture long term," she says.
To that end, Yoga Collective offers "therapeutic alignment" classes that help you understand and achieve a natural spinal curve. This means the head sits over the shoulders, which sits above the hips. The tops of the thigh bones stay back over the center of the ankles, and abdominals support the front to stabilize the core. Shoulder blades stay drawn toward each other and slightly down to support healthy neck alignment. If you find you need more targeted help for your pain, Yoga Collective offers specialty yoga workshops for low back and neck pain.
For instant relief, Gina suggests lying on your back with a yoga block under the upper back and some support under the head. From here, lie with the arms by your sides, palms up, letting the upper back and chest open over the block. This can clear up neck, upper back and even lower back tension in about five minutes.
Hit the Bar
Well, the barre. Studios offering barre workouts have been springing up all over Atlanta, and for good reason: this fitness program incorporates low impact, isometric movements to strengthen the entire body. Because of the emphasis on small, safe motions, barre workouts are an excellent option for those with pre-existing back and neck issues.
Pure Barre, a studio with 12 Atlanta-area locations offering these workouts, encourages a "neutral spine" throughout their classes. By keeping hips "tucked under," any major curve of the lower back is removed, improving posture and alleviating any strain. "Many of our clients spend much of their day hunched over computers. Our teachers are trained to correct each client's form hands-on to ensure proper alignment throughout class," says Katy Bayless Gibson, teacher and owner of Pure Barre's Virginia Highlands location.
This is a particularly good option for people of all pain levels or fitness levels because numerous modifications are offered for each exercise. That means even if your back hurts, you can work toward better alignment and less pain while getting a great workout.
Just Keep Swimming
"A body in motion is less prone to chronic back and neck pain," says Kathleen Butcher, the director of Concourse Athletic Club. She says, "Movement is key. A body at rest will not only stay at rest, but also stay in pain." With this in mind, Concourse Athletic Club offers aqua classes and deep water classes. These options, Butcher says, "are a great way to allow the body to move freely in an immersed and supportive medium with minimal impact to the joints. Deep water classes add an extra core-strengthening component to them."
Many local YMCA locations, LA Fitness locations and other fitness centers also offer Aqua Zumba, which brings the fun, upbeat movements of Zumba to the much lower impact environment of the pool. No matter which class you choose, the resistance of the water adds an extra element to improve your fitness over time.
Call in the Experts
If you are suffering from chronic neck and back issues, or have suffered a recent injury with pain lasting over a week, you may want to consider a visit to a rehabilitation specialist or orthopedist. If you are looking to become an active participant in your recovery and are hoping to avoid spinal surgery, check out options such as Resurgens Orthopaedics, whose team of physiatrists specializes in treating spine pain without surgery.
Thankfully, simple strains can usually be treated at home with rest, ice, heat and over-the-counter medications for pain and inflammation. But as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so never underestimate the power of staying active, eating healthy food, staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest. Taking care of yourself in general is the first step to taking care of your back and neck pain.
Kathleen Butcher, Concourse Athletic Club – www.wellbridge.com/concourse-athletic-club/sandy-springs
Krystal Chambers, MD, Resurgens Orthopaedics – www.resurgensspine.com
Katy Bayless Gibson, Pure Barre Virginia Highlands – www.purebarre.com/ga-virginiahighlands
Mayo Clinic – www.mayoclinicproceedings.org
Gina Minyard, Yoga Collective – www.atlyogacollective.com
U.S. Department of Human Services – www.healthfinder.gov