Eighty percent of people will experience low back pain at least once in their lifetime. That’s huge! Whether you are an athlete or someone who exercises to stay in shape, low back pain has been considered an epidemic.
There are many causes to low back pain and this is probably one of the reasons why so many people experience it at some point in their life. Pain, specifically low back pain, is multi-factorial.
The purpose of this post is not to claim that there is one way to fix low back pain or to help people with low back pain. Consider it more of a way to help others to optimize their life, to decrease the chances of experiencing low back pain in their life, and/or recovering from low back pain quicker.
As a society, not enough people move. Sitting has been considered the new smoking. I’d go a step further and say that “Not Moving is the New Smoking”. Whether you sit all day at work, stand all day, lay down, whatever the case may be, the body likes to move. Therefore, we should do that throughout the day.
Now, I’m not saying that you need to be moving 24/7. That is not feasible. But, change positions frequently. Sit down for 30-minutes then switch to ½ kneeling or standing and vary the positions for your body throughout the day.
Anecdotally, I’ve found that if I move more throughout the day, my back and the rest of my body feels a whole lot better.
2. Optimize Mobility
There are people out there who are stiffer than a board and don’t have low back pain and there are those who are more flexible than Gumby and have low back pain.
photo credit: hallmark.com
Photo credit: hallmark.com
The point here is that whether you have no mobility or too much than you can handle, lack of mobility in certain areas of the body can predispose someone to an increased chance for low back pain.
Areas where limited mobility can affect the low back are the hips and the thoracic spine.
Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org
Studies have shown that lack of hip internal rotation mobility has a direct correlation on the incidence of low back pain, especially in rotational athletes. If you can’t move rotate through the thoracic spine and/or hips, the one common area between those two is the low back and this is where the body is potentially going to compensate for that lack of mobility.
Drills to optimize thoracic spine mobility are:
Bench T-Spine Mobilizations
Sidelying Rib Roll
A-Frame Thoracic Spine Mobilization
Drills to optimize hip mobility are:
½ kneeling Couch and Hip Flexor Stretches
Quadruped Hip ER Mobilization
There are a multitude of other mobility drills to help improve hip and thoracic spine mobility. Working on a few can help hip and t-spine mobility and help to decrease stress on the back.
3. Core Stability AND Strength
Through my experiences, I have found that the body needs both stability AND strength. These 2 terms sometimes get lumped together to mean the same thing, but they aren’t.
Stability is “controlled mobility” as termed by Sue Falsone. It has to do with muscle timing, coordination, and precision. It isn’t about brute strength. It is about being able to control a certain position. Stability typically only requires about 20-25% of a muscle’s maximal voluntary contraction. With that being said, it doesn’t require a lot of muscular effort.
Strength is the ability to exert a certain amount of force. Whether it be holding a certain position with maximal force or lifting something from point A to point B, strength tends to run above 25% of a muscle’s maximal voluntary contraction.
The body needs both. It needs the precision to control certain positions as well as brute strength to resist forces that life throws at it.
Different core stability drills are:
½ Kneeling Chops
Different core strengthening drills are:
Stability Ball Rollouts
Incorporating both stability and strengthening drills into your training or exercise program can be an effective way to help decrease your chances of experiencing low back pain.
4. Exercise Technique
We can sit here and debate that exercise technique doesn’t matter. There are some people who think that you can deadlift with a round back, round your back or hyperextend your back in a squat, etc. and you can repeatedly do this over time and be ok.
There is another school of thought that you must have perfect technique all day, every day, whether you are in the gym squatting or deadlifting or picking up a pencil off the floor.
The answer typically lies somewhere in the middle.
Good technique is a spectrum. It is going to vary from person to person based off body type. Maintaining good technique when you train or exercise is important. I will never tell someone that lifting with poor technique is ok.
There are some people that can deadlift with some rounding in their low back, etc. and are totally fine. This is one person. This rule should not be applied to everyone. A good overarching theme is to train with good technique. With that being said, if you have a rep or two that aren’t “pretty”, your back will not explode.
This leads to my next point. You do not have to have perfect technique 24/7. You are going to have reps when you lift that don’t look as good as others. This happens to everyone! The key is to train with good technique most of the time.
On the flip side, when you are living your life, you do not have to have a perfectly neutral spine all day every day. Not allowing your back to move through flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral flexion during everyday life is no way to live either.
If you need to lift up a heavy bag of something, use good technique and lift it off the ground. But, if you have to pick up a pencil or a piece of paper from the floor, just bend down and pick it up. Training your back to never move is just as bad, if not worse than training with poor technique.
A good way to think of this is that if you are loading your body, ie. whether it be with weights in the gym or something heavy in real life, use good technique and lift it.
If you are going to pick up something simple that you dropped on the floor, don’t think about it, just go down and pick it up.
5. Listen to Your Body
Last, but not least, is listen to your body. This is one that many people don’t do and is one of the most important.
This can come in the form of having some pain/discomfort and just completely trying to push through it OR having a slight amount of pain/discomfort and completely shutting down all activity.
Each scenario is not ideal. For the 1st scenario, blindly pushing through pain is not a good idea. It’s your body’s way of telling you to adjust or change something. Pain does not always mean there is something structurally damaged. But, it is your body’s way of trying to tell you something so you can fix the situation.
For the 2nd scenario, this can cause some people to not want to move at all if they feel a slight tweak/twinge/pain/discomfort. This can be “paralyzing” and cause people to avoid and type of movement.
In either of these cases, dial back the intensity, check your form on an exercise, try a different movement, etc. The options are endless. Listen to your body and make adjustments accordingly. Not everyone is made to lift the same way or do the same exercise as everyone else. Either make an adjustment yourself or ask a professional to find the exercise or movement that is right for you.
There you have it! This was not an all encompassing list of ways to get rid of back pain. Back pain is one of the biggest epidemics in the world today. These 5 tips were just that, tips, to help you move and feel better and try to help reduce your chances of having back pain or to help you get rid of it faster.
Here I will be writing and posting about topics ranging from physical therapy, injury prevention/reduction, and strength and conditioning.