Exercise and Unwanted Back Tension

Here’s an email I received from one of my patients Peter, 48 y/o, last week:

Trupti, I was wondering if you could help me… As you know I really enjoy running. I run 5-6 times a week with at least one day of rest. Lately my body has been feeling a little lethargic and my back feels tense, do you have any tips for what I can do?”

Feeling lethargic, and experiencing tension doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You might be thinking I am crazy right now, and of course any kind of muscle tension/soreness is not ideal, but it is a signal from our body telling us to slow down and ‘heal’.

When you enjoy running as much as my patient Peter, or any number of my patients, it can be difficult to take a break – but sometimes doing less is the solution. Let me explain why…

Back tension is a very common thing I see amongst runners. If we over exercise, and are constantly on the go, we’ll most likely experience some form of tension / soreness at some point. This alone can get in the way of your health goals, and in the long run your back, or any other part of the body, may only get worse. So to prevent this from getting in the way, here’s some simple things you can do:

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

We all know that getting good sleep is important, and we’re not told to get up to eight hours for no reason. Studies actually show that consistently getting eight hours a night helps reduce the unwanted aches and pains in the body, as well as minimize that lethargic, “heavy” feeling. When you sleep, your body a chance to repair, and when you have a regular routine, you will likely find yourself feeling energized!

Drink Enough Water

It is critical for everyone, though for us who exercise, even more critical for our body to get enough water for normal function and repair. The old golden rule for drinking water was simply drinking 8x 8oz/day. Though one size does not fit all, as we are all different shapes, sizes and we have different activity levels and we live in different climates. More recently, it is suggested to drink daily between .5oz. and 1oz. of water for each pound you weigh. If you live in a warmer climate and exercise a lot you would be on the higher end of that range; compared to a cooler climate and mostly sedentary, you’d need less.

Exercise Less

This one might come as a surprise, but sometimes taking a break from exercise will have a huge benefit to your body. It’s important to give your body a chance to recover in order to see and feel the benefits of exercise, repair your muscles and reduce inflammation that comes from exercise.

This doesn’t mean that you have to stop exercising, or running for a number of days – you could simply try switching up your workouts so you’re not always using the same muscles, and be sure to take at least one or two days off.

I know it’s hard to take a day or two rest, I find it tough too sometimes, but it’s worth it! When my patients do this, their back tension eases off, and their running even improves! So give it a shot; why let a little back or other tension get in the way of keeping active and mobile?

Trupti Mehta, PT, MS, OCS

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