Category Archives: Posture and Back Pain

Common Training Problems – Low Back Pain

Anyone who plays sports or exercises regularly has probably experienced a variety of common body ailments or pain syndromes. It’s pretty hard to use your body to it’s fullest potential without running into issues like shoulder pain, or lower back pain. In my own athletic and exercise career I’ve managed a good number of these injuries, and thought it might be helpful to share some insight.

Lower back pain is a very common condition. A prevalent statistic is that 80% of people will experience some degree of low back pain in their lives. Based on my own personal and professional experience I’ve got to think that the number is at least that high, if not higher.

The thing about back pain is that it can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and for a lot of different reasons. My own back pains over the years have been related to pelvic malalignment due to a leg-length discrepancy. When I don’t train as regularly as I should, or I try to lift too heavy, I sometimes tweak my lower back and disrupt the alignment of my spine or sacrum (part of the pelvis). This happened to me recently and I spent most of the last weekend face down with ice on my back.

There are a number of things we all can do to help prevent lower back pain, as well as reduce the severity of an acute incident. With a good working knowledge of your own lower back you should be able to minimize the impact that back troubles have on your life.

Always remember to perform a progressive warm-up before training or sports, and get medical approval before beginning a new fitness program, especially if you have a history of lower back pain or injury.

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Knowledge – Whether you’re trying to achieve great results with your fitness training program, improve your golf game, or avoid back pain, it helps to be knowledgeable about your existing condition. This knowledge usually comes in the form of baseline testing or assessments. Avoiding back pain is a lot easier if you know what movements or activities might be more stressful to your back, based on your own unique structure and anatomy. This is part of the rationale that we use during assessments at my training studio and posture clinic. Awareness of the condition of your spine, imbalances that exist or functional weaknesses can give you the knowledge that you need to fortify your body, or change your movement patterns. This, in turn, can help you to avoid problematic activities and back troubles. Even a test of flexibility and core muscle strength can shed a lot of light on potential weaknesses that might leave you vulnerable to lower back injury. I urge you to learn as much as you can about this important area of your body.

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Prevention – There are a number of strategies for preventing lower back pain. Regular low impact aerobic exercises, like walking or swimming, are excellent for keeping muscles active and balanced while building strength and endurance. Building a strong core stabilization system is also very important. The core acts like a protective belt around your entire mid-section, and when it works properly it will enhance your movement while reducing stress to your body’s bones, joints and other tissues. Strength in your other muscles will help to make movement and lifting much less taxing on your lower back. It’s also very desirable to maintain good flexibility in your hips and upper legs, to allow for good postural alignment and un-restricted movement. And remember that being overweight puts additional strain on your lower back, as well as other joints and structures of your body, so work hard to maintain a healthy weight for your body.

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Treatment – If you do experience an acute episode of lower back pain, try to get an assessment and/or treatment by a chiropractor, physiotherapist, or other qualified practitioner that you trust. The right treatment can reduce a seriously troublesome lower back episode to nothing more than a day or two of mild discomfort. I know this from my own repeated experience, and I can’t understand why people wait weeks to see if their pain goes away on it’s own. If you can’t see a practitioner right away, be sure to rest the area immediately and do what you can to reduce inflammation to the injured tissues. Icing the area right after the injury occurs can make a big difference in reducing the level of pain and inflammation. Many specialists also recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or pain-killers for comfort. There are also a number of homeopathic remedies that might help. Overall, it’s important not to over-react, but to take the matter seriously.

The Power of Posture

Over the holiday season I was fortunate enough to work with four elite Canadian athletes, from two different sports, each playing at the national and international level. I have to admit that I continue to be amazed at how important posture is for overall health and athletic performance.

With each of these athletes, a preliminary posture analysis was performed to identify any asymmetries in their standing and neutral athletic positions. These observations were closely related to existing or prior injuries that these individuals have been managing during their playing careers. It’s always rewarding for me at this stage to watch an individual have that ‘AHA!’ moment, where they can actually see how their posture is contributing to their problems.

Once I’ve analyzed someone’s posture, it’s important to get an understanding of how their body functions. This is done through manual testing, for things like core function, joint range of motion and muscle flexibility, as well as with analysis of movement patterns and strategies. Poor posture causes faulty movement, which leads to pain and injury. In each athlete there were weaknesses identified that were clearly related to the athlete’s performance limitations or prior injuries.

Through thousands of posture assessments and related training sessions, I’ve observed how closely postural alignment is related to dysfunction at various parts of the body. The most notable areas are the neck, shoulders, lower back, hips and knee joints. If you’re dealing with overuse or chronic injuries in one or more of these areas, try improving your posture as part of your corrective rehabilitation program. You’ll be surprised how much it can help.

As always, consult your physician before beginning or modifying your exercise program, and be certain to perform an effective warm up.

Posture and back pain

If you deal with chronic lower back issues, or get recurring episodes of acute pain, there’s a good chance that your posture is part of the problem. Because of the complexity of the spine and pelvis there are many things that can go wrong to cause pain and dysfunction. Making sure that you sit, stand and move in the best position possible will prevent muscle imbalance, joint stress and increased pressure on the intervertebral discs of your spine.

One of the most common posture deviations is the anterior pelvic sway, where your hips and pelvis begin to drift forward of your body. As the pelvis migrates it often tilts forward as well and the upper body must lean backward to keep you from falling face first. These displacements result in an increased or sharpened curve in the lower back, as well as a rounded upper spine with forward head carriage. This increased curve in the lower back puts strain on the joints and extra pressure on the discs. One way to prevent this is to remember that your ribcage should always be aligned directly above your pelvic ring, with 360˚ support from the entire core complex.

Posture and shoulder injuries

Clients often come to me with mild to moderate shoulder problems caused by sports or their occupation. Most of the time they’ve already tried various forms of therapy and treatment, but not had any permanent resolution to the problem. When this is the case, a posture assessment usually gives some indication of why.

Most posture deviations result in changes to the position and alignment of the upper spine and torso. When this happens, the arms will hang forward of the body and the shoulder blades will swing outward around the ribcage, often winging or rolling forward. This is one of the worst positions because it increases the risk of shoulder joint injuries. By realigning the rest of the body, the arms and shoulders will become more neutral, and the joints won’t be as susceptible to trauma.

Posture and how you move

Rob training Scott Richmond on Core X

Likely the most stimulating aspect of my professional practice is the part where I get to analyze a client’s movement strategies and improve upon them by optimizing their dynamic posture and alignment. Everyone should understand that training their bodies to maintain the best positions possible during movement will maximize their strength, balance and function. Even the elite athletes I work with see an instant improvement in their stability and athleticism when I coach them into better body position. This might involve getting deeper into the hip joints to encourage the big glute muscles to fire, or neutralizing the curves of the spine so that the core muscles can work from a position of strength.

When considering your own body position, check if your spine and pelvis are square and neutral and that your core system is engaged. Be sure you’ve balanced your bodyweight between your two feet, keeping them active rather than collapsed. All movement should begin from the center of your body, and happen with efficient precision. Try to avoid excessive, unnecessary motion, or weak, imbalanced body positions.

Rob Williams is a Vancouver based multi-business owner in the health and fitness industry. He is an entrepreneur, health and fitness columnist, presenter, inventor, athlete, father, prominent downtown vancouver personal trainer, coach and mentor to many young athletes on the North Shore www.williamshealthgroup.com