A lower back injury can be a terrible thing to live with and unfortunately a very common injury in today's society. Personally I have one, and as a personal trainer and yoga teacher I have frequently come across this injury amongst the population.
Causes of it may include prolonged sitting by a desk, bad posture, lack of movement, bad technique of movement, bad self-maintenance or it can occur from unfortunate life incidents. A back injury in combination with little education makes the problem worse. It's always important to see an expert to help manage the injury before it gets worse, and remember- movement is medicine.
My personal injury
I have, like a lot of other people, a disc injury. An L6 herniated disc to be exact. I have lived with this injury for many years. The injury got bad in 2013, when I least could expect it. After a tough gym session, lethargic at the end of it, I was leaning into the rack of dumbbells to place a weight back, and I felt a sudden agonizing pain. I could hardly move at all for the next two weeks, and ever since then my life has been about managing this injury. There are periods of time when my injury flares up and the pain is severe, but most the time I am able to cope without pain.
Managing a back injury
Some treatments I use to manage the injury include making sure my core and glutes are strong, doing exercises that feels right for me, reminding myself to exercise with good form, stretching and yoga, chiropractic massage, dry needling and joint mobilisations. The goal for me is to be able to self-manage my injury as much as possible. But at times, seeing a physiotherapist or a chiropractor has been an important part of the plan.
Bear in mind that everyone’s body is different, and so is everyone’s injury. You always need to have a personalised treatment plan and perform exercises that feels the best for you.
Here are some of the things that has helped me manage my back injury:
1. Always see an expert for help
Invest in your health. Everyone’s body is different, and an expert can tailor a plan to your needs. See a physio or chiropractor, try out procedures like dry needling and massages, follow a training plan and even get a personal trainer to show you how to perform exercises you are unsure about.
2. Core strength, core strength, core strength!!
Your ‘core’ is the midsection of your body. It involves all muscles in your front, back and on your sides. Your core includes everything from your innermost layer of muscle- the traverse abdominis (TrA), your internal and external obliques, erector spinae that strengthen and rotates your back and your lower lats.
The muscles in your core are stabilizers for your entire physique and a vital part to keep strong for a healthy body. Weakened core muscles can result in many complications. For both avoiding back injuries, and living with a back injury- core strength is vital.
3. Glute activation and strength
Everything in the body is inter-connected, so keeping the muscles strong around your lower back is important. Prolonged sitting can cause weakening of the glutes. Many people also find it difficult to switch on their glutes when performing leg exercises and compensate by putting pressure on other muscle groups, including the lower back. If you find it hard to activate your glutes, try using a booty band to activate these muscles before you get in to your bigger lifts, like squats and deadlifts.
Remaining seated for a long time at a school bench/ office desk or behind the wheel of a car and not taking part of enough exercising due to a busy work life may lead to weakening of the core and glute muscles and bad posture. Push your shoulders back, be aware of your posture and change up the way you sit or stand every 30 minutes at least. Your next posture is your best posture to minimize potential damage.
Our bodies are built to move- not remain still all day. If you can- try and stand up when you work rather than sit down, and take regular breaks and walk around.
5. Self-release work with a foam roller or ball
Foam rolling helps you manage tight muscles and maintain a healthy body. It's a good way to prepare your muscles for a training session. I don’t roll out my lower back directly, but the muscles around it. Everything in the body is inter-connected, and tight muscles in one area can cause pain and soreness in another. My top-two muscle groups to roll out to manage my lower back pain are:
- Hip flexors: the hip Flexors connect to the spine, and their inflexibility may cause or make back pain worse. This muscle group is therefore important to help release.
- Glute muscles: Studies indicate that people with lower back pain tend to have weaker and more tender gluteus muscles. As well as working on activation and strength- releasing the glutes muscles through foam rolling is important. Find a tender spot, and hold it there for 30-40 seconds. Then move on to the next tender spot. It feels painful- but trust me, it helps!
6. Flexibility, yoga and stretching should be part of your plan
Stretches and yoga will increase flexibility, and work in combination with foam rolling to avoid, help and even eliminate lower back issues.
7. Listen to your body!
If a movement feels wrong for you, don’t do it, or try an easier regression variation. When the pain from my injury is severe I can't train at all and every transition movement- from laying to sitting to standing and vice versa will give me excruciating pain. Walking is what feels the best first, so it gets me out doing hikes and long walks. When I can finally get back into the gym, a lot of exercises don't initially feel comfortable. I try to avoid anything that compress my spine, for example barbell back squats, dead lifts, kettle bell swings, or overhead weight exercises. To increase core strength and stability, which I is so important; I stay away from any twisting exercises, even crunching exercises at the start- and put a focus on exercises that keep my spine in a neutral position. Here are some examples:
- Front plank variations
- Side plank variations
- Bird Dog
- Stability ball, stir the pot
- Balancing exercises are alos amazing for core stability- like a Single leg Romanian deadlift (bodyweight or holding on to kettlebells/dumbbells)
When my back feels better, I am now able to perform more advanced exercises, it takes time and just like a baby you cannot learn to walk before you crawl- you need to take baby steps with this so that you don’t make the injury worse.
8. Having the correct mindset
Understanding the power of the mind is important. Having a positive mind and not dwelling on the negatives can really help you get through tough situations- like dealing with lower back pain. Pain is in a way a good thing as it signals to your body what to do and what not to do- so use it as a guide and remain positive.
I hope this blog post can give you some insight and inspire you to see and expert and get into the gym.
May health be with you,