Pain is a constant syphon to our motivation, outlook and productivity. Regardless of how you got here, you want it gone. Many times, we resort to medication to help get by or reduce activity to attempt “resting” it away. These things may play a role in your recovery, but movement and conditioning are most frequently our best long term solution. Sometimes this is a tough sell and counterintuitive when even not moving hurts. Keep in mind, this advice is meant for those of us who have earned our pain due to poor posture, weak core and muscle imbalances. If you have suffered an acute injury, you need to see a medical professional which is the first step of five which I will outline to ensure a healthier back, without just masking symptoms.
Step 1: Assessment
Always consult a trusted professional for evaluation. A precise diagnosis will always save you time, money and frustration. This may include a qualified personal trainer for basic symptoms without acute injury, radiating pain and/or numbness. Otherwise, a physical therapist, chiropractor or orthopedic doctor can provide a thorough evaluation including x-rays and MRI if needed.
Step 2: Posture, Posture and Posture
Maintaining posture and proper form during exercise is great, but will never triumph over the many hours of lost focus during the rest of your day. Stand and sit tall like you are being lifted by your head. Middle tight, shoulders down and back and chin tucked. With proper instruction, these basic tips are not difficult. The difficult part is the mental reminder to maintain and correct, maintain and correct until it becomes natural.
Step 3: Core Conditioning
The core includes all the muscles that support your spine, forming a “doughnut” if you will, around your waist. Conditioning these muscles will help you with posture and maintain neutral spine. Neutral spine refers to the natural, healthy three curves that form a vertical line. A neutral spine should be maintained during your core training. Planks are always a good option and can be done a variety of ways, starting from very simple to advanced. Hip tilts are also a must add to your program to aid in the strengthening of the low back. Traditional crunches should be avoided due to the repeated rolling of the back which will only aggravate and potential for further inflammation.
Step 4: Stretching
Most people who are suffering from low back pain will attempt to alleviate it with stretches targeting the affected area. Although this can provide some temporary relief, we need to dig deeper and consider why these muscles are sore to begin with. In many cases, tight hamstrings and glutes which are massive muscles pull on your pelvis. The muscles in your low back will fight back and lose every time…there you have your sore low back. Therefore, make sure to target these areas in your routine, which will provide more extended relief.
Step 5: Muscle Balance
Muscles work in pairs and need to be conditioned equally. Muscle imbalances occur when workouts only consist of favorite exercises, repetitive movements due to work or activity and long periods of inactivity. Too much sitting leads to weak glutes and the opposing hip flexors tighten to compensate, putting extra stress on the lumbar spine. Another example is weak abdominal muscles resulting in tight muscles in the low back. In both of these instances, a preventable imbalance has contributed to your low back pain.
In conclusion, like many health related setbacks, there is a path to wellness without extreme measures or drugs. This approach does require commitment and a few thoughtful changes to how you go about your day, but with proper guidance, you will be back to a pain free and more active life!