Lower back pain is a common injury we see today, personally I have one, and as a personal trainer I come across this injury amongst the population all the time! Causes of it include prolonged sitting by a desk, bad posture, lack of movement, bad technique in the gym and bad self-maintenance or it can occur from unfortunate life incidents. A back injury in combination with little education makes the problem worse, and many lower back pain circumstances could even be prevented from happening in the first place if you do the right things. So, if you feel like you suffer from any of the problem groups mentioned, see a an expert like a physiotherapist to correct the problems before it gets worse, and get into the gym with a personal trainer and get moving!
ABOUT MY INJURY
Personally, I have a disc injury, an L5 bulged disk, and I have lived with this injury for about 3 years. The injury happened 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 after my last set of the session, and felt this sudden agonizing pain! This is the last time I ever put back a weight with bad form, and I encourage my clients to follow this rule in their day to day life as well. I could hardly move at all for the next two weeks, and ever since then my life has been about managing this pain. There are periods of time when my injury flares up and the pain is quite severe, but most the time I am now able to cope without pain quite well.
MANAGING A BACK INJURY
Some treatments I use to manage the injury include making sure my core is strong, doing exercises that feels right for me and making sure my form always is spot on, stretching, soft tissue massage, dry needling and joint mobilisations. The goal for me is to be able to self-manage my injury as much as possible! But initially, seeing a physiotherapist was an important part of the plan.
Bear in mind that everyone’s body is different, and so is everyone’s injury. So, you always need to personalize the maintenance to what feels the best for you. Here are my personal top tricks to living with, managing, and even preventing a lower back injury:
1. 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 (TVA), 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, including back pain. So, for both avoiding back injuries, and living with a back injury- core strength is vital. This is actually the reason for me developing my 7 week core workout plan- as it’s something that is so important for me and I realize the benefit of it for everyone’s health!
2. 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, and many people find it difficult to switch their glutes on 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. My 7 week booty program works on your whole body but has a focus on glute activation and strengthening of the glutes- which can really help manage and avoid lower back pain.
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 leads to weakening of the core and glutes 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.
4. Self-release work with a foam roller or ball.
Foam rolling helps you manage tight muscles and maintain a healthy body. I do this every week, usually before I train legs- to prepare my muscles for a 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!
5. Flexibility and stretching should be part of your plan!
Stretches will increase flexibility, and work in combination with foam rolling to avoid, help and even eliminate lower back issues. Here are my top five stretches to help me manage my lower back pain:
- Hamstring stretch
- Glute stretch
- Childs pose
- Prone on elbow stretch
- Double knee stretch
6. Don’t be afraid to 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, try out procedures like dry needling and massages, follow a training plan and have a personal trainer show you how to perform exercises you are unsure about.
7. Listen to your body!
If a movement feels wrong for you, don’t do it, or try an easier regression variation. When I first did my injury, I couldn’t train at all and every transition movement- from laying to sitting to standing and vice versa would ache! Walking felt fine, so I did a lot of this. When I finally got back into the gym, a lot of the exercises would initially feel uncomfortable. I would avoid anything that compressed my spine, for example barbell back squats, dead lifts, kettle bell swings, or overhead weight exercises. To increase core strength and stability, which I knew I needed to do; I stayed away from any twisting exercises, even crunching exercises at the start- and put a focus on exercises that kept my spine in a neutral position. Here are some examples:
- Front plank
- Side plank
- 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)
I am now able to perform a lot more advanced exercises, including crunching and twisting- but it has taken time and just like a baby cannot learn to walk before he/she can 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.