Up to 80 percent of the world suffers from back pain, specifically lower back pain, at one point or another. Although leading an athletic lifestyle usually protects people from common sedentary-caused ailments, weight training or sporting activities actually increase your chances for lower back pain. As the popularity of high intensity workouts grows, so does the risk of improperly performed workouts. As an athlete, there are some rehab tips that you must know to ensure you’re not only healing low back pain, but also protecting your low back from unnecessary harm.
Low Back Composition
The lower portion of your back has the fewest number of muscles, meaning its main source of stability is the spinal cord and vertebrae. This is why the lower back is the easiest part of the body to injure. Another major contributor is incorrect posture, which adds difficultly to remedying this type of injury.
Although the parts the body are separate, a kinetic chain actually connects them together. For instance, when we have tight shoulders, it can affect our upper back and scapula. If this region stays tight and uncomfortable for too long, other areas of the body (like the core) have to take over to relieve the extra stress. This easily and quickly leads to the low back taking the majority of the stress. In this example, the low back pain originated in the shoulders. (See Flexibility Fridays: Improve Back Mobility With Yoga.) Anthony Carey, CSCS, suggests that our feet affect the biomechanics of the lumbar spine, impacting the low back as well, because of what appeared as unrelated injuries. To further prevent overall body aches, we must take steps to be healthy throughout the body instead of just spot training. It is important to:
1. Stabilize the Base: Since the low back is the base of the trunk, stretching, massaging and (in some serious cases) foam rolling the neck will immediately alleviate pain and tightness in the shoulders.
2. Relearn correct posture: This is an important task to ensure against perpetual problems in the shoulders. The authors of “Evidence-Based Management of Low Back Pain” suggest correcting your posture before beginning a strengthening routine. (See Straighten Out Posture Issues With Minnesota Swimming.)
3. Strengthen: Fast jerking motions exacerbate the issue, so when strengthening back muscles, use controlled motions on both the concentric and eccentric phases of the lift. Pay particular attention to the lumbar spine region of the lower back. While you are still in pain, engage in lumbar extension movements; then, later, upgrade to flexion and lateral flexion movements. Extension motions effectively work the erector spinae, strengthening your trunk base.
After the strengthening phase of the rehab cycle, proprioception and neuromuscular facilitation must be reemphasized. This can be accomplished by engaging in exercises like Bodyweight Squats and Kneeling Shoulder Presses on a vibrating machine like the Vibacore. Most of your focus should be on multi-joint exercises to ensure proper internal electrical communication.
4. Inflammation Control: Acute injury is best treated by ice, according to Pain Physician Journal. Since inflammation is generally associated with joint and muscle pain, anti-inflammatory foods and supplements become very important. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish, seeds or nut oils are a great alternative for those wishing to avoid NSAIDs like aspirin and ibuprofen. The yellow Indian spice called turmeric is also an effective anti-inflammatory food. It can either be used as an additional spice in food preparation or taken as a supplement in pill form.
Vitamin C is also important for rehab, since it is used mainly in the body for cellular repair. Finally, the amino acids ornithine, arginine, gaba, leucine and valine are all used by the body for muscle tissue repair.
To ensure that you are stretching properly and understand foam rolling and rehab strengthening techniques, I advise you to consult with a certified personal trainer or physical therapist before beginning a new workout regimen. Also, speak with your physician before adding supplements to your daily intake. Low back pain can be alleviated, but patience, consistency and proper long-term care are needed for it to be truly managed.