Back pain can range from something as simple as a slight irritation or annoyance – a niggle that you might feel at the end of a long day – to a completely debilitating, agonising injury that leaves you in bed for days.
More than 80% of us suffer from back pain at some point in our lives, and very few people ever get the right treatment. As a result, we often experience old injures coming back to haunt us, or the same pain on and off for years on end.
So here’s a few things that nobody ever told you about your back pain, and how to make some positives steps towards living your life exactly how you wish!
1) You are flexible but not stable
On the whole, women have much better flexibility than men. In fact, I’d even say that I’ve only ever trained one female who did not have sufficient flexibility. That’s why it always baffles me why so many women take yoga classes; yoga was originally a mental and spiritual practice, not an exercise class, and works to develop movement that is useful only if you are aiming to be the next olympic gymnast!
The problem here is this – the more flexible you are, the more movement you have at each of your joints. Some range is good, but the more movement you have, the stronger you need to be to control it. Most back injuries in women are down to lack of stability (not being strong enough) and flexibility will actually exacerbate these issues further. If you have back pain, yoga is one of the worst things you could possibly do! Coming back to the example of the gymnast – yes they have long limbs that can bend and twist, but they are also phenomenally strong. They can support huge amounts of weight due to the fantastic stability they can create in their joints.
2) You sit at your desk with bad posture
So you spend hours of your day hunched over a computer, on the phone perhaps and slouching forward staring into your screen. You’re putting your body into an unnatural position, one that puts some muscles under too much tension, and some under too little tension. The muscles across your back and shoulders become weak and underworked, your chair switches off your core and as a result your muscles no longer support your body weight – your joints and your disks in your back will then start to take a lot of the load your muscles should be carrying. Not only that, but your bent legs put your bum (gluteus maximus) muscles into a lengthened position and stop those working too – so by the end of the day, you’ve switched off every muscle that should secure your back. Unless you are working hard in the gym to work those muscles, this sitting position gets exaggerated over time, causing a hunched posture and back pain even when sitting.
3) It might not be your back!
Just because it’s your back that hurts, doesn’t mean it’s your back that’s the cause. In fact, when it comes to back pain, the lower back muscles are rarely the culprits – usually they are your bodies response to something not working properly elsewhere. You need strong global muscles; a solid foundation to support your back and protect it from injury. Strong muscles allow for less compression and tension on your disks and vertebrae – they are the support network that stops your back from taking too much load. Often weak glutes, or lat muscles are responsible for referred pain into the back – a back spasm is after all just your bodies protection mechanism, to stop you from taking too much load in the wrong place.
As a slight caveat to this, there are a very small percentage of cases where your back pain may be something more serious. For example, if you have been diagnosed specifically with a herniated disk or degeneration in the lumbar vertebrae, you need to be more careful. The suggestions in this article will certainly help, but should be approached with more caution, and it’s always better to work with an experienced professional to help you regain your strength.
So what to do?
Stop the yoga – see above, little further explanation needed.
Don’t get bogged down with ‘crunches’ – most people who come to our studio with back pain have been told they need a better ‘core’. Your ‘core’ actually refers to every single muscle that attaches in some way to your spine – an enormously large group of muscles. The problem with this is that ‘core’ is a very ambiguous term – what most people end up doing is thousands of crunches, working their ‘six pack’ or abs which are the muscles that run straight down the front of your body. What you really need to focus on is the ones down the side of your body, and down your back. This involves doing extension based and lateral movements, the exact opposite of the flexion motion of a crunch. The best exercises for these are a deadlift, and a side bridge.
Develop overall muscular strength & endurance. Your body is a complex web of muscles and connective tissues, and not one single piece works in isolation. So it is little good challenging your energy on specific muscle groups – you need to work on developing overall muscular strength across your whole body – your legs, back, chest, shoulders, the list goes on. Any weakness in any of these chains of muscle groups can be the cause of injury – or pain – and we should focus on using weights to strengthen our muscles, and tendons. Often, our clients are amazed after just a few weeks of working on basic movement patterns like rows, how the back pain starts to dissipate.
If you would like to ask me specific questions, or there are any topics surrounding nutrition, health and fitness that you would like covering, feel free to email me at [email protected]. You can also visit our website www.salecca.co.uk where you can register for our blog!