Woman laying on her belly with lightning striking her back

Attending Physical Therapy for CF Back Pain

As people with cystic fibrosis (CF) continue to live longer lives, unique challenges arise such as musculoskeletal issues like back pain. Anyone who has dealt with chronic back pain knows how utterly debilitating it can be to manage it on a day to day basis. Having chronic pain in the lower or upper back can decrease one’s quality of life and make even the simplest tasks difficult to complete.1 In addition, living with chronic pain increases the likelihood of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression which further complicates daily living.2

Many people with CF experience back pain at some point in their lives, especially as they continue to age. What leads to chronic back pain in CF? In addition, what can someone with CF do to help back pain?

Upper back pain from CF

CF can be a physically damaging disease in many unexpected ways. Violent coughing, poor posture, low bone density, and poor muscle mass can all lead to increased back pain.1 A particular curvature of the spine often referred to as kyphosis or “hunch-back” is common as well.1 Furthermore, low lung function can make posture or kyphosis worse while also reducing the capacity of the lungs causing them to be in a squished and contracted position.1 The cycle continues as chronic coughing causes the body to stay in a hunched over, protected position leading to worse posture. This unnatural position can cause chronic back pain.

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My experience with back pain

In my early 20s, I started having daily back pain between my shoulder blades that spread to both shoulders and up my neck. It was a terribly dull pain that was always there by the end of the day no matter what type of activity I got up to. It was so bad most evenings I had to lay down with a hot pack after taking a pain reliever. I struggled to stand and cook dinner or do other activities in the evenings. The pain really had an effect on my energy as well, making me so tired by evening.

This draining, aching, relentless pain was caused by a combination of poor posture and violent coughing attacks I had throughout the day. The coughing attacks pulled my muscles over and over again in my upper back and poor posture caused worsening kyphosis both resulting in pain. Once I reported the pain to my CF doctor, she referred me to physical therapy.

The benefit of physical therapy

Physical therapy (PT), or the treatment of physical injuries or immobility through exercise and massage, was the first step recommended to treating my pain back. At PT after an evaluation, they taught me some simple exercises to stretch and strengthen my scalpel muscles to help my posture. Some of the simple exercises I did included:3

Scalpel squeeze

With your arms hanging down and elbows back, pretend to squeeze a lemon between your shoulder blades. Hold and release, repeat for 10 reps two more time.

Bent over row

Standing with feet shoulder width apart, bend the knees slightly while learning forward with a straight back until parallel with the floor. Grab dumbbells and draw your elbows in to meet your torso while squeezing your shoulder blades tight. Hold and release back down, repeat for 10 two more times reps.

Soup can fly

Laying flat on your back with knees bent, raise arms up into two L shapes palms facing upward. Using two cans of soup or dumbbells, bring elbows and soup cans into the center. Hold and release back down, repeat for 10 reps two more times

Foam roll stretches

Using a foam roller or a rolled up towel, lay down on it vertically so that the roller goes the length of your spine. Spread your arms out palms up, relaxing your shoulder down towards the ground as you stretch.

These exercises were very beneficial to me during the height of my back pain. Even now, I revisit them when I feel my posture has slipped and need strengthening to avoid further back pain.

Have you experienced back pain? What worked for you in treating it? Share with us below!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Cystic-Fibrosis.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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