The cause of back pain and the potential treatments for back injury are diverse. A staple piece of equipment for any therapy professional when rehabilitating a back injury is the physioball, but what makes this piece of therapy exercise equipment so suitable for back pain sufferers?
Back pain can be the result of a range of conditions that affect muscles, tendons, ligaments, discs, nerves, other soft tissues or joints. There is still a lot that can be learned about the causes and treatment of back pain. Most back pain does not have one simple cause, but may be due to a range of factors, such as poor posture, repetitive activity or trauma.
No matter what the particular cause of back injury, it is well documented that the resulting pain inhibits the deep abdominal muscles whose job it is to support the spine. A vicious downward spiral is created where injury causes back pain, which causes the muscles that support the spine to weaken which in turn leaves that back more vulnerable to further injury! It is possible to break free from this cycle and specific lower abdominal stabilization training is a key component to winning the battle.
This is where the physioball comes in. The physioball is a fairly common place piece of equipment in many gyms, studios and clinics. It may also be referred to as an exercise ball, gym ball, stability ball or therapy ball. It is effective in rehabilitation of the back because it helps strengthen and develop the core body muscles that help to stabilize the spine (Stankovic, Lazovic & Kocic, 2008).
It has been shown that the muscle activity required to perform a simple curl-up exercise is almost doubled when using a physioball compared to the same therapy exercise on a stable surface (Garcia-Vera, Grenier, & McGill, 2000). Using equipment like the physioball to perform abdominal exercises changes both the level of muscle activity and the way the muscles work together to stabilize the spine and whole body, this effect is exactly that which is required to counteract the negative effects that back pain has on the muscles.
The physioball does not simply provide a method to restore the spinal stability that is lost in an episode of back pain. The range of exercises that can be performed when using it allows for expansive exercise program progression. It is possible to perform a wide range of mobility exercises to promote increased range of motion about the spine as well as improve stability.
The evidence supporting the use of physioballs can be conflicting. Some exercise specialists and therapy professionals may question it’s suitability for functional rehabilitation. This negativity is likely to be the product of lack of understanding surrounding the use of the physioball and inappropriate exercise selection. You cannot simply take any exercise and perform it on a physioball to make it more effective. Whether using the physioball for rehabilitation or general exercise, the choice of movement and the technique of how it is performed are paramount to achieving the desired result.
The use of a physioball is an excellent conservative back therapy exercise treatment option for back pain sufferers. It is a readily available, inexpensive and versatile piece of equipment that can be used under the supervision of a health professional and/or as part of an independent management plan for back pain. Not only will its use help to resolve the presenting complaint, it will also help prevent further episodes of low back pain when used as part of a rehabilitation program.
Stankovic, A., Lazovic, M., & Kocic, M. (2008) Proceedings of the 7th Mediterranean congress of physical and rehabilitation medicine. Exercises on a "swiss ball" for chronic low back pain. (pp. 58-60).
Garcia-Vera, F.J., Grenier, S.G., & McGill, S.M. (2000). Physical Therapy. Abdominal muscle response during curl-ups on both stable and labile surfaces. (Vol. 80). (pp. 564-569).
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