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.
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.
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.
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.