OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, MY BACK!

Monday, July 29, 2013

 Shane McLean, ACE Certified Personal Trainer with the T. Boone Pickens YMCA

 

Recently my kids challenged me to wrestle. How could I resist? This is a regular activity in our house and is something we have done countless times before, without incident. However this time was different.

As we were tussling, I suddenly felt an intense, sharp stabbing pain in my lower back. My back locked up, and I could barely get up off the ground. My kids looked confused. “Daddy hurt his back again,” I explained. “No more wrestling. Sorry.”

Is back pain familiar to you? If so, you’re not alone. Eighty percent of the population of the US, at some point in their lives, with suffer from chronic or acute low back pain. That’s a frightening statistic. About 2% to 10% of people who experience low back pain develop chronic low back pain, which affects daily living for at least 3 months.

Before we get any further into the causes and what we can do for low back pain, let’s quickly go over the anatomy of the spine.  Your spine is made up of 24 small bones (vertebrae) that are stacked on top of each other to create the spinal column. Between each vertebrae is a soft gel-like substance called a disc, to help the spine move and to stop the vertebrae from rubbing against each other. Each vertebra is held together by groups of ligaments. There are also tendons that fasten muscles to the vertebrae.

The part of the spine that we are concerned with is the lumbar spine. This area has 5 vertebrae, and the shape of this is meant to look like a backwards C. The vertebrae in the lumbar spine area are the largest of the entire spine, and because of its size the lumbar spine has more room for the nerves to move about. What has this to do with your pain, you ask?

Low back pain is a common complaint for a simple reason.  The lumbar spine is connected to your pelvis, and this is where most of your weight bearing and body movement takes place. Typically, this is where people tend to place too much pressure when they lift heavy things incorrectly and sit with poor posture for long periods of time.

Think of your spine as a credit card. If you keep bending your card back and forth it will snap. Sometimes, unfortunately, that is what happens to the lower back.  

In my case, my lower back pain comes from a herniated disk. This is when the material from inside the disk ruptures, pressing on sensitive nerves which sends messages to the brain, causing the sudden jolt of pain that I referred to before. A herniated disc in the lower back can put pressure on the sciatic nerve that extends down the spinal column. This causes pain to radiate down through the buttocks and sometimes all the way down the leg. We know this as sciatica.

Other conditions that cause low back pain are:

  1. Spondylolisthesis. This happens when a vertebrae moves more that it should. It can slide forward and on top of another. When this happens, bones can press on the spinal nerves and cause lower back pain. Degenerative spondylolisthesis happens as we age.
  2. Vertebral fractures caused by osteoporosis.
  3. Disc tear.

If you have suffered from low back pain for 3 months or more, please see a specialist who can diagnose conditions like these.

Being a personal trainer, I have come across people from all walks of life who suffer from low back pain. Not being a doctor, I don’t have the benefit of an x-ray or MRI machine to see what is really going on. But with the naked eye and a few questions, I can often make an educated guess.

Firstly I look at posture. Does the person stand up straight? Is his or her head forward from the body? Getting the person to stand up straighter and do exercises for the forward head position would be a priority. Watch this video for three simple exercises: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o5pjJwKnMs

Does the person spend most of the day sitting down?  In this position the gluteus are weakened, and the front of one’s hips and hamstrings get tight, pulling one into poor posture and putting unnecessary stress on the lumbar spine. Strengthening the gluteus and working on hip mobility would be a priority. Watch this video for a great demonstration:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wH5inK4WKXo

Next, I concentrate on core stability, which is defined as the “bodily region bounded by the abdominal wall, the pelvis, the lower back and the diaphragm and its ability to stabilize the body during movement.” The main function of abdominals and the lumbar spine is to resist movement during activity, not to initiate movement. Yes, that means most crunches you see on TV commercials are bad!

People also get into trouble with lifting heavy things off the ground, rotating suddenly or starting an exercise program after a long period of inactivity. Remember that credit card!  Working on core stability is a must for any exercise program, and it takes on increased significance when dealing with low back pain. Strengthening this region will help minimize back discomfort.

These videos will demonstrate safe crunches and core stability that can be done in the home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RDun7d1jK4 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RDun7d1jK4

Instructions: For side planks, hold for 10 seconds and rest for 20 seconds and repeat 3 times on both sides. For front planks, hold for 10 seconds and rest for 20 seconds and repeat 6 times. For the crunch, do 30 seconds with each position. Do these 3 /4 times per week.

Prevention of back pain is better than trying to find a cure. Even if you don’t currently suffer from low back pain, an exercise program that works on your hip mobility and core stability, using the exercises above, will help keep you active in the future. If you’re like me and it’s too late for prevention, these exercises will keep your core strong, help minimize your pain, and allow many more years of wrestling fun. See you on Sundays, sitting up straight!

For any questions on low back pain email me at shanemcleantraining@gmail.com