Recently I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I can inspire patients with back pain to be more consistent with their strengthening exercises.
Most of us understand that strengthening your back with specific exercises from your chiropractor or physio is important in order correct the underlying reason for why you got the back problem in the first place. Also, doing exercises alongside treatment will get you out of pain quicker, and save you money and time. Despite all this, many of us still see exercises as a chore and don’t do them.
When I was at university, I suffered a terrible pain in my mid back between the shoulders from sitting in the library for hours on end and not taking time to move around. In the end, I couldn’t sit up straight for more than 10 minutes before the muscles in my back went into painful spasm. Fortunately, when you are a chiropractic student, you get free chiropractic care from the university clinic and the pain and spasm was relieved within a few sessions. I was only in my second year of a five year degree, and had three more years of studying ahead of me. I was warned the problem would only come back unless I worked on my posture and core strength, and I was given a specific exercise programme. Doing the exercises allowed me to go through my university years painfree, I even still do them from time to time today. Here is some advice on how to make home exercises your friend.
Make them a habit. I always say this to patients because it is so important! When we develop a ritual the exercises become mindless and automatic. For me it helped to stack the exercise habit onto an existing habit. For example every time I went for a run I would have a mat ready on the floor for when I got back, decide that I had to get on the mat when I got back in, once I was on the mat, the exercises would start automatically, even if I was tired after the run. For example, If you have been prescribed shoulder exercises using an elastic band –have the band and the equipment ready for when you get back from work so that you start the new habit by taking of your shoes off, sitting down, and then once you are in the position you will automatically do the exercises.
It is more important that you do a small amount of exercises regularly than no exercises at all. If you are one of those that struggle to make exercises a habit it is good to just start with an amount that is so easy that you can do it even when you are running low on will power. Your practitioner will prescribe you a certain number of sets and repetitions, you should of course aim to complete these numbers but it is still much better to do even just one set than nothing at all.
Focus on the habit first and the results later. If you are very stiff and weak in your back after years of deconditioning it might feel like a bit of a journey to return to normal function through exercise, and it might be tempting to give up. If you focus on the habit and ritual rather than the end result, the urge to quit will not be as strong. Once you have formed the habit, you can worry about making progress in function.
I found that making the home exercises a habit that I did automatically was key to gettig good results. Focussing on simply getting started and the ritual itself rather than the end result makes making the habit easier. Home exercises can make a make a big difference with regards to pain and function and can increase quality of life.