Updated: Jan 24
Do you struggle with chronic back pain? Are you finding that no matter how much deadlifting you are doing, your back still feels weak and unstable? If you answered yes to either, or both, of these questions - you are not alone.
Today I want to explore some key reasons why your back may be hurting and how to strengthen your deep spinal stabilizers which will ultimately make the difference in back strength, stability, coordination and postural control.
Anatomy of the Spine
The spine is comprised of a series of individual bones or vertebrae from the base of the skull to the pelvis. Between each of the cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back) and lumbar (low-back) vertebrae there are fluid-filled discs that serve to protect, cushion and aid in spinal movement. Central to the spine is your spinal cord, which has multiple roots that arise from the spine and travel all parts of your body to help in sensory feedback and motor function. Ultimately, there is an intricate web of soft-tissues including ligaments, tendons, fascia and muscles that envelop the spine to further assist in protection, movement and support.
Common Causes of Back Pain - Postural debt - Weak postural muscles
- Weak core muscles - Disc herniations & degeneration - Scoliosis and other spinal misalignments - Muscle imbalances - Digestive & hormonal disruptions - High-stress - Over-training - Under-training - Trauma - Osteoarthiritis - Nerve impingement - Trigger points - Hypertonic muscles
Trauma vs. Slow Motion Injury
I've been a big advocate of CrossFit for over a decade. I love the movement approaches, functional training and transfer of fitness qualities to any sport or physical activity. One caveat I always add to my discussion with a friend or patient wanting to try CrossFit is - whatever may be underlying by way of injury potential or hormonal disruption (two common examples I frequently see manifest) will quickly come to the surface when you challenge the body with high-intensity, high volume, three dimensional movements of varying loads and positions.
It's not the CrossFit that was the problem per se, it was the lack of solid conditioning and preparation before commencing the program. Fill your boots - go do CrossFit or any other sport/activity you've not done for a period of time BUT start slow, with low intensity/volume, work on mobility, flexibility and stability as foundations to power, speed, strength and endurance. Without a strong foundation you are more likely to experience pain, frustration and, ultimately, having to walk away from that activity for an extended period of time.
Two of the most common causes of any kind of musculo-skeletal pain are: 1) Slow motion injuries which arise due to years of accumulating faulty posture, poor motor recruitment and improper joint mobility. For months or even years, you were not experiencing any symptoms or pain until that one day you bent over wrong, slept funny or decided to try CrossFit. Typically, it's due to the many years worth of accumulating postural debt. This predetermines a higher risk of injury which just happens to occur at a time and place when you are least expecting it!
2) Trauma such as a motor vehicle accident, fall down the stairs or an ankle roll whilst playing basketball. These speak for themselves.
Always expect the unexpected.
The key to leading a life of health, happiness and vitality is to prepare and condition your body and mind for endless possibilities that you may encounter. This is achieved by finding a balance within your four controllables of Movement, Food, Rest and Mindset.
Pay Down Your Postural Debt ASAP!
The #1 tool I use to help control my posture, without having to dedicate time every day for specific stretches and exercises, is to cultivate what I call postural awareness. This is a strict attention to your posture at any given moment and making the necessary, conscious adjustments to realign your body. Immediately, as you place your body in an ideal alignment, you optimize the muscle balance and activation, that will help sustain and endure this posture. As soon as they relax, the body deviates from an ideal alignment, and immediately the postural debt starts to re-accumulate.
If you wish to save yourself from thousands of dollars worth of unnecessary therapy, multiple doctor visits, pain, frustration and possible surgery, start right now to practice postural awareness.
Want to know more about postural debt, postural awareness and what an ideal alignment actually looks and feels like?
Email me and pre-order your copy of my soon-to-be released book 'The 15-Step Playbook to Pain Relief'.
Back Strong & Beltless
Important - review my previous article My Secret Sauce To Less Pain And Better Posture. This article shares a critical message of how to breathe correctly. Incorporate this breathing method into today's corrective exercise and you'll get more bang for your buck!
Here is my #1 corrective exercise choice to develop better posture, relieve back pain and strengthen your core and spine, all in one exercise. I learned this exercise, Horse Stance Vertical, from Paul Chek 15-years ago. You'll need your body and ideally some kind of dowel rod or foam roller. If you'd like to get feedback then either have a friend watch you do it, or video yourself and then review, and make corrections.
The video gives you all the necessary teaching points. The only additional comment I have is that when you begin to initiate the small movement of raising of the opposite hand and knee, exhale drawing your belly button inward and squeeze all your pelvic floor exercises. Then as you lower the hand/knee, take a belly breath in and repeat on the opposite side.
All of this is done with the dowel rod or foam roller placed upon your back and you must maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise. Any time you deviate from a neutral spine, the dowel/foam roller will move. This indicates that your spine has also moved and the goal is to keep the spine fixed and immobile. The muscles that keep the spine fixed during this exercise are the very muscles that will alleviate your back pain, strengthen your core and improve your posture.
Thereafter, have fun with this and be patient!
I suggest 3-10 repetitions each side, 2-3 times per day for the first week to build this new neuromuscular pattern. Then aim for 3-10 repetitions but hold each engagement for 5-10 seconds. Over time the goal is build up to doing 2-minutes each side for 1 repetition, maintaining a neutral spine and no movement of the dowel/foam roller. As you progress the hold time, aim to continue engaging your transversus abdominus (deep core muscle), thereby keeping your abdomen reasonable flat and engaged whilst accommodating small breathing cycles to oxygenate the muscles.
Any questions, you can reach me at my clinic by phone: 403 589 4645 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Yours In Muscle Health,
Jason Barlow, RMT
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