How staying active helps manage back and joint pain

For Individuals
July 18, 2019
Exercise to reduce back pain and joint pain

How sedentary is the U.S. population? According to the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Americans spend “the majority of their waking time in sedentary behaviors."

Sedentary behavior is a matter of public health. Not only does it have a negative impact on overall health, it has also been associated with a proneness to suffer from musculoskeletal disorders – also known as MSDs, a set of diseases that includes chronic back and joint pain, and affects 1 in every 2 adults in the U.S.

Exercise, a central player in preventing and treating MSDs

The correlation between exercise and health is obvious. We know how relevant a role physical activity plays in preventing heart diseases and fostering mental health, for instance.

Indeed, exercise is seen as "an economic and safe way to prevent and treat diseases" when compared with the cost of opioids and other drugs on families and society. Yet, what people sometimes overlook is that exercise can help prevent and treat musculoskeletal disorders, too.

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion published a scientific report that showed “a relationship between greater amounts of physical activity with decreased pain and improved physical function in adults with osteoarthritis of the knee and hip." What is more, an active lifestyle also led to reports of “overall improvement in their quality of life.” As for low back pain, a recent systematic review stated that exercise, along with patient education, is the only clinically proven way to prevent it. The study goes as far as saying "exercise alone may reduce the risk of an episode of LBP [low back pain] and sick leave due to LBP, at least for the short-term."

People with medical conditions, however, should be cautious when engaging in physical activity.

MSD patients should follow an exercise program customized to their specific case and prescribed by certified physical therapists. A tailored exercise program will provide the guidance they need to engage in suitable physical activities that promote their rehabilitation and physical function.

More physical activity, more pain relief and self-confidence

The piece that people usually miss in understanding why physical activity is so important is exactly how it can change the way their bodies behave and adapt. First, exercise improves overall physical ability as well as muscular strength and flexibility, reducing stiffness and improving mobility and range of motion. Secondly, exercise promotes the release of endorphins, which act like opioids in our system and lead to a decreased perception of pain.

All in all, exercise helps surpass the fear of movement, regaining confidence in movement, self-esteem, and self-efficacy.

It's fairly simple to recognize why these factors may contribute to an improvement in quality of life and overall health.

The missing factor: compliance

By this time, the association between physical activity and effective back and joint pain management is well-established. However, there's another critical factor for this equation to work: compliance.

In research, studies showing greater compliance with exercise programs also reported more positive outcomes. But how do we promote compliance?

According to the report mentioned above, individual-level interventions may be an effective way to "increase the volume of physical activity (…), especially when the interventions are based on behavioral change theories and techniques."

Moreover, "information and communication technologies (...) can be used to enable self-monitoring, deliver messages, and provide support”, which can help promote regular physical activity.

Why Sword is the go-to solution for pain management

Summing up what we have discussed so far, there are three key ideas to take away:

  • physical activity is an effective strategy for the management of back and joint pain;
  • exercise programs should be customized to the individual needs of MSD patients;
  • exercise is more effective when there is compliance, which can be achieved through one-on-one interventions, patient education, and remote support.

Sword covers all three aspects for the successful management of MSDs: we promote physical therapy as the first-line treatment for joint and back pain, we prescribe tailored exercise programs that address the specific needs of our patients, and we enable our patients to perform their programs at home while receiving real-time feedback. The result? A faster and better way to treat MSDs.

And when it comes to relieving pain, our program’s positive impact is best described with one of our patient’s words: "Sometimes I couldn't sleep because of the pain, so I got up at ungodly hours and started exercising (...) The best part of my day was the therapy; it actually relieved my pain."

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