Chronic Back Pain, Diabetes and Exercise

by LMatthews on February 23, 2014

diabetes and back pain exercise aquarobicsExercise is a key component of diabetes management and staying active is now also recognised as an essential part of relieving back pain and other chronic pain conditions. Unfortunately, a lack of energy, increased stress, poor diet, reduced joint mobility, diabetic ulcers, and increased pain can all seriously undermine efforts to exercise. Our latest article in this mini-series on back pain and diabetes looks at the role of physical activity in chronic pain relief and diabetes management.

Why We Need to Exercise When We Have Back Pain

When we don’t get regular exercise this weakens the body, increases the proportion of body fat compared to muscle, heightens our stress levels and predisposes us to further disease and injury. Regular physical activity, even moderately paced walking for fifteen minutes each day, helps lower blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce pain levels, lowers stress, and can help with weight management to reduce the production of pro-inflammatory substances from fat cells (adipose tissue).

How Much Exercise?

The right types of exercise also help us to feel happier, more engaged socially, more energetic, and more motivated to take care of other aspects of health, including eating well and getting good sleep and relaxation time. The key is to find forms of exercise that feel good and that keep you interested over time. Getting 150 minutes of aerobic exercise (the type that leaves you feeling a little out of breath) each week is recommended. This doesn’t have to be all at once, nor do your exercise sessions need to be all that long. In some ways, splitting this 150 minutes into 15 minute chunks can be better for those with chronic pain as it may lower the risk of injury and fatigue, especially if you make sure to work different muscle groups on consecutive days.

Safety First

It’s essential to clear any lifestyle changes, including any new forms of exercise, with a physician first as some may be unsuitable, require additional support, or need to be introduced very gradually. As exercise can lower blood sugar it is good practice to monitor blood glucose carefully when exercising and to have snacks on hand just in case.

Not everyone needs to become a gym-bunny or an avid runner so if you have back pain and diabetes consider these other ways of getting regular exercise:


  • Walking your dog (or a friend’s dog!)
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Canoeing or kayaking
  • Resistance training (free weights)
  • Playing squash
  • Dodgeball
  • Going on a garden tour
  • Walking around a museum or art gallery
  • Mall walking
  • Gardening
  • Litter-picking
  • Playing on the Wii with the kids
  • Helping a friend move house
  • Doing a scavenger hunt or orienteering

There are plenty of ways in which you can build exercise into your day without making it seem like a chore. That 150 minutes a week quickly adds up with just a 15 minute walk after a meal each day and a weekly swim, cycle, badminton game, or round of golf. Try to add in yoga, tai chi, or other relaxing and meditative exercise and this can help relieve both back pain and diabetes management by lowering stress levels and improving mobility.

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