Spring is just around the corner; the weather is warming up and people are gearing up for training season. Although it’s a great time to get back into a regular workout routine, it is also a season of increased injury rates. As injuries arise, many people turn to opioid prescriptions to treat their pain.
According to the Utah Department of Health, "32 percent of Utah adults age 18 years and older had been prescribed an opioid pain medication in 2014."
Although prescription opioids are an effective pain management tool, long-term use to treat chronic pain has been shown to be less effective over time as patients develop a tolerance for the drugs. Unfortunately, too many try to relieve their pain with increased medication, which can lead to abuse and addiction.
Alternatively, there are many ways to reduce the risk of injury and effectively manage pain. If you're planning to jump into a new training regimen this spring, use the following tips to stay healthy and pain-free.
1. Exercise safely
As you transition from a sedentary winter routine, MountainStar Comprehensive Spine Center specialist Ryan Church, DNP, recommends gradually increasing the amount of exercise. It’s also a good idea to focus on the “three pillars of fitness: flexibility, strength, and endurance." By balancing a workout routine across these three areas, you will reduce risk for injury and increase overall health and fitness.
Safe exercise also means focusing on proper body mechanics and techniques. Church encourages taking advantage of online resources, such as bodyspace.com or bodybuilding.com for videos and tutorials on proper and safe exercise form. When appropriate, he refers patients to a physical therapist or a personal trainer, who can work one-on-one with them and develop strategies for recovery from injury or training.
2. Get physical therapy
Whether you’re newly injured or dealing with an old misery, physical therapists can often help. They will work with you to determine effective exercises and stretches that can relieve pain and reduce it over time, without the use of opioid medication. Some people find that massage therapists and chiropractors are helpful too.
3. Loosen up
The best way to manage pain is to prevent it in the first place. One prevention method is warming up before you exercise. Take 5 to 10 minutes to do some light exercise and stretching to get your body loose and your blood flowing. Yoga-based warm ups are great for dynamic stretching and gradually increasing your heart rate. Take time to cool down and stretch afterward too. This will reduce muscle soreness and pain, post workout.
4. Cross train
Injuries are one result of overexertion to an area of the body. A simple way to reduce the risk of injury is to cross train. By varying the types of exercises you incorporate into your routine, you allow each area of the body to recover between workouts, and you increase your overall fitness level.
5. Reduce inflammation
Exercise can increase inflammation and pain in the back or other areas of the body. Luckily, there are steps you can take to reduce swelling and soreness, such as post-workout foam rolling and stretching. These methods essentially massage tight muscles and keeps them loose, work out tension and knots, post workout.
For acutely sore muscles, foam rolling or stretching may not be effective. Instead, apply ice to the affected area for 20 minutes at a time. Repeat each hour as needed.
If your pain persists, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, like ibuprofen, can relieve symptoms.
6. Talk to a professional
Not everyone will need to seek professional attention to manage pain, but it's important to reach out when you need it.
"If pain is causing anxiety, neurological changes such as numbness, tingling, weakness or loss of function of any kind, you should seek the advice of a medical professional," Church said. "Same advice if the pain is so severe that you can't control it with activity modification, alternatives like massage therapy or over-the-counter medication. If your doctor does prescribe opioids, take them exactly as prescribed, don't share them with anyone, and keep them in a safe place."
As you exercise good judgment and take advantage of the many alternative pain management options available, you’ll enjoy life more. If you need guidance, or want to discuss your back pain on a deeper level, schedule an appointment with the MountainStar Comprehensive Spine Center online or call: (801) 262-5711.