How to Overcome The Odds with a Bad Back
I remember it as clear as day- as I was coming up from my warm-up set for squats I heard something pop in my lower back and it didn’t sound good!
I was a military firefighter stationed at CFB Cold Lake as I was walking downstairs to get to my car – it was the most painful steps I’ve ever taken and I knew I was in trouble.
The next day it was the start of my shift and like how every day starts, our platoon chief had a meeting with us about what happened during the last shift and what needs to get done today. As he was talking he noticed I was very uncomfortable, I would sit down for 20 seconds and stand up for 20 seconds and so forth I have never been in that much pain in my life, never mind that it took me 15 minutes to put on my one piece uniform in the morning. He saw how much pain I was in and he sent me home for the day and I had to go to the MIR (military lingo for hospital)
The doctor told me I had a bulged disc in my lower back- I thought I was screwed so I got put on light duties at work and I focused 110 per cent on getting my back to tip-top shape. Physio gave me a bunch of stretches to do and like most I didn’t follow it because I thought I was wasting my time. Meanwhile I bought a TRX a few months before and like everyone with exercise equipment it was collecting dust in the closet.
The TRX stands for Total Body Resistance Exercise with the resistance being your body. You can do over 200 exercises on it and everyone uses it from the Navy Seals to the NFL. Before I got that bad boy out I started doing planks as well as side planks.
TRX one of their mottos is “earn your progression” meaning don’t hop right out of the gate to do a crazy exercise like barbell snatches. In this case a simple plank on the TRX because it’s a step by step process so I started to do planks on the ground and I progressed from there.
There are different types of back pain- muscle strains and sprains (which are very common), disc troubles (disc degeneration, bulges- if made worse it can turn out into a full blown herniation,) arthritis, facet joint syndrome (a bad joint can cause the same pain as sciatica-shooting pain down leg, buttock pain etc.), spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal within your vertebrae) and sacroiliac joint dysfunction. This has the same symptoms as sciatica and facet joint syndrome- this is caused by when the sacroiliac joints go out on you.
Back surgery is the LAST option for you if you have back pain, in fact most people with confirmed herniated discs recover without surgery in one to six months! That being said here are some red flags for you to keep your eye on. If you encounter this, see your doctor right away.
- Leg Pain and/or numbness (especially below the knee), leg weakness or loss of muscle function
- Night Pain (Can’t Sleep at all)
- A disk herniation that is so large that it causes bowel or bladder dysfunction
- Trauma associated with certain fractures
- Spinal instability- one or more vertebrae slip forward when the back is in a flexed or extended position
- Nerve canal narrowing that results in unremitting pressure on nerves and constant pain
- Aneurysm in the abdominal aorta
- Cauda Equina Syndrome which means the nerve roots in the lumbar region, especially those that control bladder and bowel function are compressed and paralyzed, cutting off sensation and movement.
The spine needs to have stability in order to move, if the core isn’t strong enough to do the job it will change position and try to use something else to provide the stability it needs. There is a beautiful analogy on how the body works, think of it as a kinetic chain – ankles are meant to be mobile, knees stable, hips mobile, lower back stable, etc. Usually if one part of the chain is picking up slack from another part and it’s not doing it’s job properly.
This will cause significant pain elsewhere so in this case the hips are very tight so most of the time that’s how lower back pain is caused. If your lower back is giving you problems or any other part of your body for that matter it’s not your lower back or that particular part of your body that’s causing you grief it’s somewhere else. Think of your back as a fire alarm going off, why is it doing that? I can pretty much guarantee it’s not your back that’s the issue it’s either your hips are too tight, your inflexible (you can’t reach down and touch your toes-usually because your hamstrings are tight) or your core is to weak.
This is where the side planks come in, if you have spent years on stretching tight hips and getting nowhere, side planks could become your answer.
How so? According to Dean Somerset, the muscles of the hip that resist internal rotation (lift up your leg, bend it at the knee and bring it inwards-that’s internal rotation)these muscles are found on the outside of the hip and they play a key role in providing lateral stability to the spine along with the obliques, psoas, serratus anterior and your “lats”. By doing the side plank it helps stimulate these muscles so they all work together to help stabilize the spine in a position that doesn’t allow compensation and it can re-set the hip and core to allow the hip to work more properly.
Make sure you perform the side plank on both sides.
If you are going through back pain right now I will show you three amazing exercises that you can do that will help tremendously!
This first exercise is called the back relaxor- it will relieve your muscles in your lower back. Gently push your lower back against the ground so your hand can’t slide underneath and just stay like this for 15 minutes.
The next exercise is an extension exercise called the pre-cobra (on forearms) or if your back spasm isn’t as severe I would suggest the cobra- on your hands.
If you are not going through pain but want to strengthen try Hardstyle Plank and Side Plank!
How to perform the Hardstyle Plank- lie face down on the ground- dig your toes into the ground and from there squeeze your legs and butt (imagine you are cracking a walnut in between your cheeks) lift up your hips and imagine you are pulling your elbows down towards your groin and at the same time pull up on your toes towards your groin.
Back pain is among the most expensive musculoskeletal disorder to the health care system and one of the most common work related aliments affecting adults in the United States. 50 per cent of the working population in any given year will experience back pain with 80 per cent reporting lower back pain some time in their life!
The International Association of Fire Fighters’ annual Death and Injury Survey reveals that back injuries account for 50 per cent of all line-of-duty injury retirements each year! Those are some alarming statistics, if you haven’t experienced back pain- you will at some point and in the next few articles I will provide you with the necessary tools to help combat this and I will discuss how you can make your back as strong as ever.
Before you do any of these exercises consult your doctor. If you are experiencing back pain- do the flexion and extension routines, back to back three times up to four times daily.
Perform the side plank and hardstyle plank at the beginning of your workout- you can use this as a warm up. Do two sets of each exercise hold for 12-15 seconds.