Summit spine specialist Catherine Choi, M.D., discusses how to avoid losing muscle mass if you have long-term back pain.
Muscles are a key part of many of your body’s systems, affecting everything from your heart health, to your metabolism, to your immune system. But if you have chronic back pain, you can be at risk of losing muscle mass, (called “atrophy”). “People can lose muscle mass for a variety of reasons, including lack of exercise due to pain, other chronic diseases, malnutrition, aging, or being in a postoperative state that doesn’t allow for much movement,” Dr. Choi said.
Muscle mass atrophy includes losing size, strength, and mobility in your muscles — to address the issue and avoid losing muscle mass, there are several steps you can take. Here are a few simple ways to make sure that your back pain is not causing you to lose muscle mass.
Tip 1: check underlying conditions
“A good first step is to make sure that there is nothing else that is causing you to have issues with muscle mass,” Dr. Choi said. Endocrine problems, thyroid issues, and anemia can all prevent people from building and maintaining a healthy level of muscle.
Tip 2: avoid losing muscle mass with a healthy diet
Making sure you’re eating a diet rich in protein (whether animal- or plant-based protein) – will help build muscle. In addition, increase your levels of omega-3 fatty acids. “Omega-3s have a lot of anti-inflammatory properties,” Dr. Choi said. “They also prevent muscle loss by helping proteins and carbohydrates work together to build muscle effectively.”
Tip 3: exercise
Start slowly, with walking — in water or on land. “You can start by walking in an indoor pool, which can help you get started building muscle,” Dr. Choi said. If you don’t have access to a pool, walking on land is also great.
Second, make sure you’re adding stretches to your routine, to boost flexibility. Yoga and tai chi can be very helpful to avoid losing muscle mass as well. Finally, adding resistance training with light weights or exercise bands can prompt your body to tone the muscle you have and help you build more. “If you’re concerned about losing muscle mass, talk with your doctor about whether you might benefit from physical therapy,” Dr. Choi said.
Tip 4: avoid losing muscle mass by taking care of yourself
Finally, make sure to get enough sleep. Sleep gives your muscles time to rest, recover, and rebuild. Also, because studies have suggested that stress can lead to muscle loss, try to reduce your stress levels. You can find a wealth of relaxation and mindfulness techniques online to help.
Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise
Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.
Start your journey to a healthy spine. Find your spine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a spine consultation.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.
More resources for you
- Learn some ways to reduce stress if you have back pain
- Take a look at nonsurgical treatment options for back pain