Back pain is a certainty for all of us at some point in time…
In fact, somewhere in the region of 90% of clients I work with will have experienced back pain before coming to see me.
You’ll no doubt have come across this article in search of a solution to your own back pain.
Rest assured you’re not alone.
More importantly you have the chance to go about changing the health of your back by the end of this article.
Understanding why your back pain has occurred is where we need to start.
Before we start I need to make you aware that loading up on painkillers and waiting for it to pass is not a solution.
Merely a short term fix that will lead to continued back pain in the future.
The advice within this article is based on what I see in my own clients as the most common causes of back pain.
The steps that follow are best practice and fully research driven.
Following this approach for just 1 week will give you everything needed to keep your back in good health.
Better still, you can do all of this from the comfort of your own home.
A bold claim I know but let me talk you through exactly what to do before you dismiss it.
It’s important to note that back pain can be brought on by all manner things. Whilst we focus on fixing the most common causes you should also be aware that if no progress is made after 7 days I highly recommend you seek further guidance from either a physiotherapist, chiropractor or sports massage therapist.
If you need any help finding a physiotherapist or Chiropractor local to you follow the links below.
Understanding Back Pain
This stat was somewhat surprising to many people I spoke to when discussing the idea of writing this article.
I have to admit in the last 1o years working within the health and fitness industry it certainly didn’t come as too much of a shock to me.
With life expectancy rates on the rise it’s thought many of us will be spending our later years with some form of disability (a limitation to activity whether that is physical, cognitive or sensory).
Back pain seems to be climbing its way up the list of disabilities each year.
We’ve seen some huge advancements in lifestyles and technology over the last few decades and with that in mind our home and work environments have evolved drastically.
Consider that humans evolved over time from being on all fours to be hunter gathers who were stood upright on their feet and remained mobile until…
The Daily Reality and Back Pain
The backs of vertebrates evolved as a kind of horizontal pole under which guts were slung. It was arched in the way a bridge might be arched, to support weight. Then, for reasons anthropologists debate long into the night, our hominid ancestors stood upright, which was the bodily equivalent of tipping a bridge on end. Standing on hind legs offered advantages—seeing long distances, for one, or freeing the hands to do other things—but it also turned our backs from an arched bridge to an S shape. The letter S, for all its beauty, is not meant to support weight and so our backs fail, consistently and painfully – Rob Dunn, Smithsonian.com
Ironically the chances are you’ll be reading this article either sat at your computer or relaxing on the sofa on your phone…
Instead of working the land and being physically active on a daily basis the vast majority of us now sit at a desk, rounded over a computer screen.
Or have done for the majority of our working lives.
At night we sit on comfortable sofas.
We drive here there and everywhere in a seated position, even for the shortest of journeys.
After all who wants to carry those heavy shopping bags all the way home?
Now, when we do venture outside maybe to do some gardening or for a walk in the countryside our bodies are so out of alignment they tell us about it pretty soon afterwards.
How many times have you spent a few minutes crouched down clearing the weeds from your patio only to feel your lower back tighten up?
Cleared the snow in winter to wake up the next morning in agony?
Bent over to put your socks on and found you’ve become stuck, unable to move…
Got out of the car after a long commute to find yourself in discomfort when you try to walk?
The thing is none of this is uncommon.
Clients come to me every week with issues just like this, and it’s my job as a biomechanics coach to start rebuilding them again.
So, the question is, how exactly do you go about fixing back pain?
The Imbalance Issue and Back Pain
Back pain ALWAYS has a cause – Dr. Stuart Mcgill
The first objective is to understand what’s going on in that wonderfully intricate body of yours.
Let’s take a look a little deeper into what I see on a daily basis…
And more importantly for you, how to go about fixing these issues starting today.
We start our journey with muscular imbalances…
Consider that we all have a certain level of imbalance within our body.
It could be the pelvis tracking out of its natural position leading to one leg being longer than the other.
Or your vertebrae (sections of the spine) not loading in their natural position causing the muscles on one side of the spine to work harder than those on the other.
Some low-level imbalances can go undetected for many years without actually causing pain or discomfort.
But at some point, the issue will become exaggerated.
The simplest of movements (bending over to put your socks on) can result in debilitating pain.
Unfortunately for most the first real sign of a muscle imbalance is the point at which injury and pain are present.
Muscle imbalances can occur all over the body, but with back pain in mind the most common are;
- Tight Hips & Weak Glutes
- Tight Lower Back & Weak Abdominals
Considering the amount of time we spend seated nowadays it’s little surprise our buttocks (Glutes) have become weak and lazy.
Weak glutes can’t do their job of stabilising the pelvis…
Being seated for prolonged periods of time also tightens up your hips, pulling the pelvis forward.
This combination leads to one of the most common types of imbalances causing strain on the lower back.
This imbalance also leads to the lower back (Erector) muscles becoming overactive and tight whilst the muscles on the front of your stomach (Abdominals) tend to be weak.
These imbalances are known as cross pelvic syndrome.
Cross syndromes aren’t just limited to the hip and pelvis area either…
It’s sometimes hard to imagine how your chest and shoulders can directly impact your back…but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve worked to release someone’s shoulder only to find their hips start moving much more freely almost immediately.
What Makes Muscles Tight?
When a muscle contracts to create movement the fibres within the muscle have to shorten by sliding over each other.
Postural imbalances, stress and physical activity can cause the muscle to stay in the shortened position creating a ‘knot’.
Muscles in this shortened state are referred to as being tight.
Knots, also known as trigger points are displayed by an area of tightness which can lead to tightness in other parts of the body.
Remember the Cross Syndromes we covered above?
Think about the last time you had a massage and everything was fine until…
Ouch the masseuses thumb or elbow found a tight knotted area.
That right there was a trigger point.
If tight muscles remain untreated and bunched up for too long they start to change their natural composition.
Untreated tight muscles are harder and less likely to release without some help, at this point to muscle has become fibrotic.
Fibrotic muscles cannot contract or relax properly, therefore the joint they support becomes vulnerable.
At this point your risk of injury increases.
Fibrotic muscles are a key cause of injury, with the spine being a particularly prone area to pain.
Now we’ve got a greater insight and understanding into how and why back pain occurs lets get practical.
The 5 Step Solution For Back Pain
The steps covered in this section are based on the work I personally put my clients through to get the best results possible.
Each step will help in realigning the body and correcting muscular imbalances.
Not forgetting about gaining strength in the new realigned posture.
Following these steps on a regular basis you too can rid yourself of back pain and get substantially stronger.
No gym membership needed!
Step One – Foam Rolling
When muscles get tight they restrict and limit movement, so with this in mind they need to be released.
Imagine the rubber band in this video clip as your muscle…when the tightness occurs it’s like having a knot in the band.
Stretching a muscle with knots is like stretching the elastic band, it simply gets tighter then returns to its shortened state afterwards.
Therefore, If you can get to see a physiotherapist or sports masseuse then that should be your first port of call for some hands-on therapy.
Alternatively a great way of reducing and managing the level of tightness in muscles come from foam rolling.
Foam roller’s come in all different shapes and sizes nowadays but I recommend this one to all my clients.
You can also pick up good quality foam rollers a little cheaper at sports shops such as Decathlon.
They work by helping to breakdown the knots you will have built up in the muscles.
The breakdown of knots start the process of bringing your muscles back to their original more flexible state.
Step Two – Muscle Release & Stretch
The theory of stretching muscles that are tight is good, but it certainly isn’t great…
Keep in mind the elastic band clip from Step One.
For the last 18 months I’ve been practising a different approach with all my clients.
The method has seen their overall movement quality and level of back pain reduce substantially.
You’ll be working with this method in the 7 Day Back Recovery Program.
Before that, here’s why I challenge the preconceived perception that stretching is the way to release tight muscles…
We all have little receptors in our muscles that sense when things are working too hard. They respond by putting the muscle into a protective state, this is also known as a low-grade muscle spasm.
You don’t necessarily feel the muscle go into spasm but it will be limiting your movement on a lower level.
Bringing muscles out of protective spasms should be our second stage on the list right behind foam rolling.
And just before stretching.
Muscle spasm releases work by giving the muscle enough energy to activate and release from its protective state.
Once out of its protective state the muscle can be stretched effectively.
Step Three – Muscle Activation
When a muscle has been in spasm we need to re-train it to work properly again.
Here we put muscle activation into practice.
Muscle activation works on connecting the neuromuscular signals from the brain to the muscle fibres.
Effective communication between brain and muscle allows for strength and stability to build.
Without the re-training of key muscles to activate correctly you’ll only ever be working with weak muscles.
Remember that weak muscles can’t stabilise the joint correctly, which brought on the issue to start with.
The 7 Day Back Rehab Program covers specific muscle activation techniques to regain strength once more.
Pay this phase the attention it deserves to regain your strength and stability.
Step Four – Core Stability & Strength
Having addressed any imbalances it’s important we work to strengthen the new correct postural positions.
The term core stability refers to the muscles connecting into and around the Pelvis, Hips and Spine that provide a stable foundation for movement to start from.
Without a good level of core stability your back issues could continue to be a persistent problem.
It’s important to get the balance right here.
Research by Stuart McGill (back pain specialist) suggests the strength of all four sides (front, back, left, right) of your core need to be within certain parameters for reduced risk of back pain issues occurring.
Here’s a quick test you can do right now at home…
The test will show the strength of your right vs left when it comes to core stability…
All you need is a stopwatch (phones work well here) and something to write on.
Assume the position shown in the image below.
Right elbow and forearm on the floor fixed under the shoulder.
Left leg in front of right, both feet fixed on the floor.
Straight line through the body.
When you lift the hips off the floor start the timer.
Place your left hand across the body on your right shoulder.
Hold for as long as you can.
Stop the timer as soon as your hips start to drop or you lose position and start to wobble.
Make a note of the time.
Repeat on the left side.
Compare your times against these ideal ranges.
Side Plank Test
|Men (target time seconds)||Women (target time seconds)|
|Ride Side Plank||95||75|
|Left Side Plank||99||78|
How to understand your results…
If your results are lower than those in the table we have something to work on.
Alternatively, if results show a large variation between left & right this is also something to work on…
I suggest following the 7 Day Lower Back Recovery Program before retesting again.
Step Five – Bodyweight Movement & Balance
The overall goal of each previous step in this series is to get your back moving pain free.
Step 5 focuses on the key movements that occur throughout every day that will make you stronger.
Imagine being able to go out walking and climb hills without aches or pains.
Carry your children & grandchildren around without paying for it the next day.
Being strong is one of the most empowering feelings we can benefit from.
Being strong is also something you have to work on…there’s no short cut here.
There is no shortcut to being strong, but there is a route to follow.
A simple way to build both balance and strength into good movement is to test yourself with your own bodyweight.
Bodyweight exercise can improve your balance and strength to directly improve your ability to stay back pain free.
Bodyweight exercise can also empower you and make you feel great.
The step by step guide included in the 7 Day Back Rehab Program teaches you exactly what to do, when and how.
Forget about putting up with those twinges and niggles, it’s time to invest a little in yourself.
What’s better still?
Imagine only committing to 15-20 minutes exercise each day to start seeing results within the first 7 days.