Not unlike all things bad, the mysterious bad back is just something that many Americans ‘get’ somehow. You were just minding your own business and suddenly, for no reason, you were punished with a bad back. It was from an injury, it’s from a disease, it’s from the stress, it’s from a torn disk 20 years ago, it’s from the spouse – the reasons never end.
Everyone with a spine will most likely experience issues with it. Arguably a physical expression of deep emotional strife, chronic back pain is very often fixed with a series of complicated and uncomfortable exercises, foam rolling, massage, yoga, stretching and a clean diet. Yes it would be easier to fix the deep emotional strife, but it’s evidently more fun to try the weird exercises and attempt to eat healthy, topped off with experimental opiate drugs and surgery instead.
Here are some thoughts on fixing back pain:
Many of us get into back pain by avoiding weird exercises for long periods of time and then suddenly attempting one. We call this event an accident for some reason; perhaps by accident. This is why trainer-geeks like me try to get you to do weird exercises regularly to train your nervous system to work better for you. Properly performed “core” exercises can positively affect many back problems since the majority of back issues stem from weakness and chronic overload and not just a ‘bad back’.
Every time you ask your body to do something that it has very little conditioning for, you experience something like cognitive dissonance of the body – your brain wants to but your body can’t. This causes stress as the body is trying to do what the brain wants. The body either gets better or chronically gets worse depending on a lot of variables.
The core (an interconnected group of structures that mobilizes your spine, hips, shoulders and head) generates and absorbs the most torque as the body moves, so it makes sense that the low back is often the epicenter of pain. Jacked up movement patterns (bad form and posture) causes more torque on the spine. What runs the spine? Your brain and your muscles. Get them to work in accordance and you will experience less symptoms even with previous trauma like an injury, surgery and disease.
I don’t tell people to stretch, do weird exercises, and to take Yoga, Tai Chi and boxing simply because I am messing with them! These methods really work to help you to relax and feel muscles working so you have a chance of restoring good neuromuscular function. These methods are also probably safer and more effective than drugs and surgery in most cases. Again, it’s not about getting strong ab muscles, it’s about making an overall balance of strength and flexibility throughout the body.
Along with weird mind/body exercises and stretches, one can help back pain with a few complicated strength exercises. I won’t tell you that this is easy because it takes time and practice to learn a good routine that works for your own body. There is no magic routine that works for everyone just like no single ingredient makes all meals great. (OK, yes there is – it’s called bacon). It’s always a special combination of factors that makes anything great.
I wish that I could give you ‘secret exercises’ that fix your back overnight, but they do not exist. If you really want to fix your back, you have to be willing to get some help educating yourself about the various methods that therapists use. You can sub-out some things, but you have to do most of the work yourself.
Don’t focus only on getting strong abs and stretching your hamstrings (medical advice from the dark ages). Instead, work on counteracting or eliminating bad patterns of movement like sitting and tons of flexion movements that are typical to work and sports. Reverse bad or repetitive movements with exercises to strengthen opposing movements. I find that loosening up thigh muscles (quads), gut muscles like psoas and calves helps the most. We know that big, strong muscles pull your body out of alignment and put pressure on disks and nerves, so why not fix that instead of treating the nerves and disks with opioids and scalpels?
For example: If you sit in a ‘crunch position’ all day, why would you do crunches at the gym? To get better at it? Reversing the pattern with some low back, hip and butt exercises helps to balance out dysfunction and slowly works to put less pressure on nerves and disks over the long haul.
Doing the wrong stuff at the wrong time will get you injured. All workouts and exercises have the potential to help or hurt you depending on many factors. The key is to carefully learn what works for you. I heard someone call fitness a “personal science” that you develop over time. Some people can learn by watching a YouTube video. Other things can be learned by going to a class. Some things for some people take one-on-one instruction and lots of practice. Others just need to post it on facebook to make it a reality. You get the idea.
Trick to get more H2O in you:
Trust me, you’re dehydrated. Drink a giant glass of water right before bed and right when you wake up. Help out your kidneys with this trick. Your kidneys get more water to filter junk out of you when you lie horizontal. This also keeps your body (which is smarter than your brain) from dehydrating your muscles to keep the heart and lungs hydrated while you sleep.