So many people struggle with back pain, and I am unfortunately one of those people. I have struggled with lower back problems since I was a teenager. Two summers ago my world came crashing down when I figured out I had a herniated disc and I was forced to take 3 weeks off my very physical job as a Strength and Conditioning Coach. It has been almost two years and I have made significant progress and avoided back surgery. I have felt stronger than ever but earlier this year I had two “episodes” where I had a set back once again (nowhere close to my first one, but still frustrating and painful). I was frustrated because I felt like I was doing everything to prevent a flare up, but it turns out I wasn’t listening to my body which was telling me to slow down.
After I had a minor pity party I made sure I was doing what I needed to do to help speed up my recovery. And it seems simple enough but my first “go to” self-treatment is to JUST BREATHE! I can’t stress enough how important it is to practice deep breathing techniques when it comes to promoting a healthy back. Here are tips for deep breathing:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
- Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach
- Take a big breath in through your abdomen without using your chest
- Exhale and push your back into the floor lightly contracting your lower abdominals
- Do 10-15 breaths
CORE CORE CORE! I always considered myself to have a strong core, but when I hurt my back it became apparent that I still had a lot of work to do. Planks and side planks are great full body core exercises.
- Start with 20-30 seconds planks and work up from there. Do 2-3 sets every 2-3 days
- Make sure to keep your back flat and avoid the dip in your lower back. Pull your ribs down towards your pelvis so that your abs are contracted.
- Take pressure off your shoulders by keeping your shoulders right over your elbows and your hands apart and inline with your elbows. Pull your shoulder blades back and down.
- Make sure to squeeze your glutes.
- Wall- Bugs are one of my favourite core exercises for a healthy back. (2-3 sets of 8 each side)
- Lie on your back with your hands pressed up against the wall and your knees up in the air in a 90/90 position with toes pointed up towards your head.
- Press your lower back into the ground
- Keeping your hips and knees at 90 degrees slowly lower one heel towards the ground and continue to alternate heel taps slowly and controlled.
- Come back up to starting position if you can’t keep your back flat on the floor the entire way down.
- Take an inhale on the way down and big exhale on the way up, pushing your back into the ground and using your lower abdominals.
“It’s all about that bass”. Seriously though, another big aspect of my recovery is activating and strengthening my glutes. Glutes are a huge part of what supports your lower back so they need to be “turned on” in order to provide support. Lateral band walks and glute bridges are two of the best glute activation exercsies.
Lateral Band Walks (2-3 sets of 8 reps each direction)
- Place a small band around the mid part of your foot or around ankles
- Bend your knees and get into athletic stance, with your core tight
- Keeping hip width apart with the band take a lateral step with your outside foot and then follow with your inside foot
- Stay level and don’t bounce up and down while taking lateral steps
Glute Bridge: (2-3 sets of 10 reps)
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor (place your knees above your ankles)
- Pull your ribs down towards your pelvis to get your back flat on the ground
- Take a deep breath in and exhale as you lift your hips and squeeze your glutes.
Another thing that I make sure to do is to foam roll with a roller and a lacrosse ball: Make sure you roll quads, inner thigh, IT Band, hamstrings, glutes, and mid back. I also use a lacrosse or softball to get deeper into my glutes and hips as I feel they get really tight due to compromised posture with back injuries.
Along with these self-treatments I also receive chiropractic, massage acupuncture treatments, which provide me great relief. The worst thing to do is not to be proactive about injuries. Your mind-set plays a large role when it comes to injuries and your approach and although it may be hard to stay positive through pain it will make a difference in the long run to be optimistic with the healing process. There are always things you can be doing to help with recovery. Recovery is in your own hands.
Read “Back Health Part 2: Nutrition” HERE.