Back spasms and strains are common injuries that can happen any time. All it takes is improper technique or using excessive weight during lifting, or an awkward movement during a game, to set your back out of whack. If you throw your back out, you may not even be able to stand up straight or sit down without extreme discomfort.
To help keep you in the game, here are some tips to prevent and fix back pain. If you're experiencing severe back pain, however, you'll need to see a health professional first.
1. Ice It
Douse a fire with water. The same goes for inflammation in the body. Health professionals generally recommend repeated ice applications during the first 24 to 48 hours for back injuries to ease pain and inflammation.
2. Stay Hydrated
Consuming anti-inflammatory water and water-based fruits and veggies helps keep the spinal discs hydrated. Dehydrated discs contribute to back stiffness and lingering pain.
3. Keep Moving
With a back issue, it's tempting to sit or lie down, but prolonged sitting or standing accentuates the problem by causing hamstring and hip tightness, which triggers low back pain or stiffness. The sports cliché "walk it off" works especially well for minor back issues. Think of walking and moving around as ironing out the tight kinks in your back.
4. Massage Therapy
A licensed massage therapist can eliminate painful trigger points and knots in the back muscles, hamstrings and hips that cause back problems. Or try self-massage by lying on your back and using a tennis ball or a foam roller over knots and trigger points along the lower back, hamstrings and hips to relieve muscle tension and soreness.
5. Strengthen Core and Back Muscles
Weak core muscles (lower, middle and upper back, abdomen, inner thighs) also contribute to back injuries and stiffness. Regularly include some of these core and back-strengthening exercises in your workouts: Prone, Side and Supine Planks, Supermans, Standing Back Extensions, Med Ball Side Chops, Side Lunges and Twists, Cable, DB or BB Rows, Inverted Rows, Stiff-Legged Deadlifts.
6. Perform Daily "Animal" Stretches
Perform the Cat and Dog Stretch and the Bird Dog Stretch every day to erase low and middle back soreness and tightness. Both are done starting on your hands and knees on an exercise mat.
For the Cat and Dog Stretch, raise your back while simultaneously drawing your abdomen in toward your spine. Hold for 10 seconds, then lower your back to a sagging position toward the floor with your hips extended (dog position) for 10 seconds and repeat.
For the Bird Dog Stretch, raise your left arm off the mat and extend it forward while simultaneously raising your right leg and extending it. Following a 10-second hold, switch by raising your right arm/left leg. Repeat.
7. Static Stretching
Daily static stretching for the hamstrings, groin and hips can help minimize back stiffness. It's best to perform them as a cool-down routine after workouts, games or practices.
Static stretching is not a cure-all or prevention for back injuries. It is designed to improve lower- and upper-body flexibility and range of motion and enhance lower-, middle- and upper-back flexibility for bending and twisting movements. Check out the video player above for additional stretches for fixing back pain from strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle.
8. Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic upper- and lower-body warm-up stretches (also known as moving stretches) such as Multi-Directional Lunges and Twists, Arm Circles, and Frankenstein Walks (high step foot-to-hand walking) ideally warm up the muscles to help reduce the chance of back strain, pulled hamstrings, etc.
Learn more about stretching to relieve back pain.
9. Use An Additional Pillow
Placing a pillow under your knees when you sleep on your back or between your knees if you sleep on your side helps support the spine so you're less likely to awaken with back stiffness
10. Practice Good Lifting Technique
When lifting a barbell off the floor during Deadlifts or Bent-Over Rows, make sure your back is not rounded, and begin the lift using your legs and hips, not your back. When lifting a box or furniture, position yourself close to the object. Don't bend over with a rounded back and reach for the box/furniture. Start the lift with your legs bent and your back straight. Slowly lift using your legs and hips first to help bring the object up. Hastily picking up a heavy object with bad form can cause a bad back injury.
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