Things You Can Do To Help Back Pain
I am always reading books on fitness and one of the leading experts on spinal health and rehabilitation is Stuart McGill. Here are some great tips to help with Back Pain.
If you experience back pain, here are some things that you can do on your own to help:
- First stop any exercise that aggravates your back. This sounds common sense, but many people ignore their bodies pain signals. The no pain-no gain axiom does not apply when exercising our back, particularly with weight training.
- Our bodies are constantly trying to heal themselves and often one of the biggest gifts you can give your spine when it is in substantial pain, is rest. Stuart Mcgill believes forced rest is one of the main reasons why back operations help.
- Avoid bending your spine within the first hour of waking. Our intervertebral disks absorb water while we sleep and this is why we are taller first thing in the morning. The extra water puts more pressure on the annulus fibrosis (tough circular exterior of our spinal disks) and if we have any disk issues, bending forward with a flexed spine with the extra pressure from water absorption overnight could make your disk damage worse. After an hour of waking scientists have established water absorption goes down by 90%.
- Perform exercise daily which help to alleviate your back pain. If you have had physical therapy at some point for lower back pain, those exercises should be performed at least 3 times a week as long as they do not aggravate your back. Low back exercises appear to be the most beneficial when performed daily. If you have never had physical therapy, but know from experience that certain exercises make your back feel better, perform those exercises at least 3 times a week. Consistency is key.
- Add walking to your daily routine. Research has shown that cardiovascular components (such as walking) combined with lower back exercise programs, are more effective in both rehabilitation and injury prevention. Fast walking with an upright torso and arm swinging reduces aggravating spine loading. You get the added bonus of also helping to build your cardiovascular fitness and burn some calories as well!
- Once some of your back pain has subsided learn how to lift safely. Research has shown that workers who were observed lifting and who had back troubles lifted in a way to load their backs and not their hips. Our hip and leg muscles are built to lift. Our legs carry the majority of us around everywhere with absolutely no problem. Also, our back muscles are built for endurance, meaning they are built to sustain prolonged exercise at low loads. Once you reach a peak level of fitness, your back pain has subsided and you have specifically trained for it, some lifters can get away with lifting with a bent spine. However you will not catch me doing that ever, since I have scoliosis and I therefore do not have a normal spinal curvature to begin with. You have to know your body and learn from it.
- Don’t compare your experience with back pain to others. Everyone’s anatomy is unique. We all have different bone lengths and some of us actually have more vertebrae! Therefore the exercises that help you, may be completely different to the exercises that help another person.
- Work on increasing spine stabilization. Interestingly there is no direct correlation to increased spine flexibility and decreased back pain. The most successful rehab programs appear to emphasize trunk stabilization with a neutral spine while stressing mobility at the hips and knees. If you are currently working with a physical therapist ask what exercises you can safely do to help with spine stabilization.
- Have patience, seek help and make some positive changes. Reduced pain even with every possible positive change to help your back may not be experienced for up to 3 months. The alternative of not listening to our bodies is worse though than carrying on as normal.
The terrible consequence of pain is that it can adversely affect our attitude, our mood and how our body functions. It is not unusual for a person to experience chronic pain and therefore serious depression. If that is you, trust your body’s signals and seek help. Unfortunately, you may have to see several different doctors before getting a successful diagnosis. Doctors are human as well. I have been to several different doctors, chiropractors, massage therapists and have quite the extensive list of practitioners, in my quest to help my spine after suffering shoulder pain and sciatica. Only in my late 30’s was diagnosed with scoliosis. Sadly, I have had to give up a sport I loved, because it was aggravating my back and subsequently have learned how to strengthen my body safely to help balance out a muscular imbalance in my hips. I am determined to get back to the sport I love eventually, but not until I know I am in a good position to do so. I am on monthly maintenance now with my chiropractor and I get monthly acupuncture treatments, which fortunately are covered by health insurance. However, I have finally figured out what works for my body and what doesn’t. Sitting for long periods of times is not good for my back. I have to get up often and perform spinal extension exercises. Performing deadlifts with a doable weight makes my back feel great. I am now sciatica and shoulder pain free, but it was a long journey and I always have to keep on top of it. My scoliosis is never going to go away and the last thing I personally want is a spine operation.
This information was summarized from listening to pod casts featuring Stuart McGill and reading the book, “Ultimate Back Fitness And Performance.”