Back Pain

Also check out 5 Tips for Relieving Back Pain.

Unfortunately, one of my nicknames is “last resort Chris.” I seem to attract people who have tried “everything” to help their pain, especially low back pain. Then they hear about me and come to see me as a last resort so they can avoid surgery or because nobody is left to try. And you know what? With a very simple evaluation of muscle function and posture, I constantly help people INSTANTLY relieve their pain that has been there for years.

Sounds impossible I know. But that is the beauty of muscle issues. While they can cause a lot of pain, they also can be relieved sometimes instantly with the simplest of strategies. Most of which I will show you throughout blog posts here.

Poor diagnosis of muscular issues by physicians and the medical world is partially responsible for this back pain epidemic we have. Their main treatment plan right now for muscular issues is drugs and rest, both of which are proven to actually prolong the healing process!

Is that because they don’t care? No of course not. It is because they don’t know how to assess your muscular system for imbalances and therefore cannot create a treatment program based on what will actually help you and prevent future problems.

I plan on showing you things here that you can do yourself for relieving your own back pain and become stronger than you ever imagined, PAIN FREE too.

Facts

  • Doctors and physicians are not well-trained in evaluating muscular imbalances or designing programs that bring balance to the muscles in the low back.
  • The most common treatment plans of pain killers and anti-inflammatories do not heal, they actually slow the healing process.
  • We are trained to work with your diagnosis and show you how to relieve your pain with specific exercises tailored for your type of low back disorder.
  • Although most cases of back pain resolve themselves, if nothing is done to improve the supporting muscles, then the recurrence of pain is up to 12 times as high compared to those who do specific exercises for the spinal muscles and core.
  • Endurance is more important than strength in the spinal muscles.
  • Pain does not necessarily mean damage. Severe low back pain is often from trigger points in the muscles.
  • Pain caused by muscles can persist for years and even indefinitely.
  • It is possible to get rid of low back pain by balancing the muscles that support the spine.

Myths

  • Rest is best.
  • The pain will always be there and I have to learn to live with it
  • The pain is all in my head
  • An MRI or high-tech imaging test can always identify the cause of pain.
  • I will never be able to do some of my favorite activities ever again, such as hiking, swimming, running, gardening, etc.
  • An MRI is necessary to diagnose back pain.
  • It is usually one incident that causes the pain.
  • There is a standard cure for low back pain.
  • The spine is delicate and easily injured.
  • If I have a herniated disc then I need surgery.
  • My herniated disc must be causing my symptoms.

There is no such thing as magic exercises that cure back pain. The magic is in what you do daily and most importantly what you DON’T do daily.

5 Tips for Relieving Back Pain

  1. If you have been sitting for longer than 5 minutes, make sure you do some back extension movements before you lift things, i.e. boxes, kids, groceries. This will help push the discs away from the spinal cord and create space for safer movement.
  2. Prop yourself up on your elbows while lying on your stomach a few times per day to relocate the disc back to a more natural position. When we sit the discs are forced backwards towards the spinal cord and nerves and therefore can cause painful symptoms.
  3. Use a lumbar support when you sit. This will keep the natural curve going and prevent the spaces that hold nerves from narrowing.
  4. Use arm rests when you are at the desk. They now will take the weight of the arms instead of the low back. That could be 10-20 pounds!
  5. Create length throughout your spine as often as possible. You can do this simply by trying to make yourself taller/longer in just about any position you are in. Keep your abdominals active to support spinal stability and lengthen through the back of your neck.

Back Pain Lesson #1

Please note that these are not just general opinion’s on low back pain (LBP). Everything here is based on clinical evidence and facts you can find in my book, Exercise Progression for Low Back Disorders – A Professional’s Manual, over 18 years of experience dealing with low back pain, and over 12 years of working in clinics and seeing clients for low back pain. This stuff is proven to work! References have been left out so as to not fill up space, but please inquire about any facts I have stated that you would like further research on.

Today’s lesson: Low back pain does NOT  improve from exercise  faster than nature’s healing course. In other words, it will heal itself just as fast as any exercise program we have ever documented. That being said, exercise and daily activity modifications (D.A.M.’s) are essential in preventing further incidences, increasing general function,  and reducing the intensity of recurrences.  Due to the wide variety of disorders and therefore great many solutions, we will stick to general concepts here. Please feel free to contact chris@exerciseprogression.com for specific questions about your situation.

In general:

  • It’s not what you DO, it’s what you DON’T do that helps LBP. You can do all the right exercises and stretches in the world, but if you bend at your back instead of your legs and hips when you; do laundry, pick up the kids, groceries, vacuum, toilet seat, water jug, suitcase, dog, cat…get the picture? Life is the gym! I will post videos and pictures later about the proper form for daily activities. The beauty of proper form is that once you do it all the time, life becomes a workout and you hardly need to exercise unless you desire specific results for sports and cardio.
  • Don’t try to stretch yourself out of pain. It won’t work, trust me. It didn’t work for me and it hasn’t worked for any of the 1000’s of clients I’ve seen. In fact it usually makes things WORSE. Keep it simple and subtle. Don’t stretch as far as you can, rather as far as you should (it’s a fine line I know and only practice will teach you). It may feel great as you’re doing it, but inflammation in the spine can take up to 3 days to show up and therefore seem a mystery once it appears.
  • Find positions of relief and assume them as often as possible. In general, sitting, flexing, forward bends and the like are BAD for the spine. It prefers to be vertical and extended (low back). The low back is naturally extended about 35 degrees and sitting tends to flex it and add a lot of stress to all the local tissues (discs, ligaments, joints, etc.), so in general, positions such as the following are great for relief*; 1. lying on stomach propped up on elbows 2. hip flexor stretches (see below) 3. walking 4. anything vertical and weightbearing. *Exceptions are stenosis and spondylolisthesis and other unique instances which prefer flexed positions.  

Hip Flexor Stretch

Hip Flexor Stretch 2

  •  Sit-ups, crunches, and the like are ABSOLUTELY AWFUL for LBP!  Please observe how the human body works in daily life so you can be armed with knowledge the next time someone tells you to do crunches to help your LBP. I can’t remember the last time any of my clients or I needed to lay on our backs and repetitively crunch up and down. It just doesn’t happen in real life. Not to mention the huge amounts of stress it puts on the spine (here’s that flexion force again…BAD!). The key is to keep stress low in the spine and strengthen it in ways that transfer directly over to daily life, such as standing lifts and twists using the stomach and hips as the power, not the back.

Please stay tuned for the next lesson; “Exercises for the Chair Jockey” and how to reverse the effects of sitting.

Visit us at WWW.EXERCISEPROGRESSION.COM

Back Pain Lesson #2 – SITTING

One of the biggest contributers to low back pain (LBP) is prolonged and repetitive sitting. Lesson 2 offers a simple remedy to prevent and improve LBP. Just follow these easy tips, stretches and movements to a life with much less pain and even increased energy from a more efficient body.

Meet the Chair Jockey

A chair jockey is someone who spends too much time sitting on a daily basis. Prolonged sitting causes “deloading” of the tissues, which occurs from lack of gravity stress on the body and results in a weakening of the stabilizing muscles. This deloading reduces the body’s ability to resist gravity during sports or simply standing, and works on the following principles;

 Sitting = non-weight bearing = poor muscle recruitment & posture = ↓ energy/productivity = ↑ injuries

 Standing = weight bearing = ↑ leg and spine strength = ↑ energy & mental capacity = ↓ pain & injuries

 The Chair Jockey Workout is designed to be simple and time efficient. It can be used throughout the day in the office or at home to keep the body’s stabilizing muscles strong and activated. This routine improves posture and reduces stress at the precise areas needed to reverse the harmful effects of sitting and repetitive movements, which add up at the end of the day and week and cause dull aches or even pain in the low back, neck, and shoulders. It is the best answer to a busy schedule of sitting and a life full of aches and pains.

It should take no more than 6 or 7 minutes each time and should be done in the order shown. They can be repeated throughout the day to break up the constant strain of non-gravity induced poor posture. These exercises are also ideal for traveling because they can be done in a hotel room without any equipment, although exercise tubing is good to have.

 Exercise Descriptions

  • Hold all stretches for 20-30 seconds with relaxed breathing

 

#1 - Squats

 #1 – Squats

  • Squats can be done with the arms pointing upward or straight in front of the chest. 
  • Suck in the stomach, squat down, and stick the hips backwards as if sitting into a chair.
  • Don’t let the knees go past the toes. 
  • Move slowly and pause at the bottom, stretching the arms away from the body.
  • Keep the shoulders relaxed and the head in-line with the spine (pointing downward)
  • Repeat as many as time or effort permits. 

 

IMG_5430 copy

 #2 – Front Thigh Stretch

  • This stretch can also be done with the back knee on the ground.
  • Suck in the stomach and squeeze the buttocks on the side of the leg in back.
  • Reach upward, don’t arch the low back, and slightly twist the torso away from the front leg.       

 Chest Stretch

#3 – Chest Stretch

  • Stand tall, stomach sucked in slightly, and relax the rest of the body.
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold 5-10 seconds, continue breathing. Repeat 5-10 times.

 

A

 #4 - Thoracic Spine Extension

B

#4 - Upper Spine Extension
#4 – Upper Spine Extension
 
  •  Kneeling on a pad, suck in the stomach and brace the upper body with hands on knees. 
  • Slouch forward to assume the rest position. 
  • Keeping the lower back stationary and stable, use the vertical muscles along the spine to push the chest outward (extending the mid/upper back). 
  • Keep the head in line with the spine. 
  • Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 5-10 times.  

 

Toe Raises

#5 – Toe Raises

  • Using 1 or 2 legs, (reaching upward is optional), raise yourself up onto the ball of your foot and repeat up and down slowly 15-30 times.
  • Keep the stomach sucked in and stay on the inside of the ball of the foot.     
 
 
Front Thigh Stretch 
 
#6 – Front Thigh Stretch
  • See # 2, but use a chair.  
 
Calve Stretch 
B

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 #7 – Push-up/Calve Stretch

  • Starting in the calve stretch, try to push the heels into the floor and the chest towards the thighs.
  • Keep the stomach sucked in with relaxed breathing.
  • Transition into a push-up position (on knees or straight legs), and move up and down as slow as possible in order to work the back also.
  • Do as many as time or effort permits.

   Rotator Cuff

#8 – Rotator Cuff Strengthening

  • Tubing is optional, but optimal.
  • Keeping the elbows at your side, start with the hands in front of the belly button and rotate the arms so that the fists go away from the body.
  • Hold at the end point for a few seconds and repeat slowly 15-30 times.

 Shoulder Blade Squeeze

      # 9 –  Shoulder blade squeezes

  • Tubing is optional, but optimal.
  • Palms can face up or down.
  • Keeping the stomach sucked in with upright, yet relaxed posture, start with the arms in front of the chest and squeeze the shoulder blades together and bring the arms backwards, posture should not change.
  • Hold at the end point for a few seconds and repeat 10-15 times slowly.

 

One Leg Balance 

     #10 – One leg balance

  • Keeping the hips level, stand on 1 leg for 30-60 seconds, progressing to eyes closed.
  • Focus on good body and foot posture.

 

Posterior leg Stretch

     #11 – Leg stretch

  • This can be done facing (not shown) and or twisting away from the chair.
  • Place the foot up on a chair, keep the spine upright and slightly lean towards the foot.
  • Stretch the foot up and down to add a stretch to the calves.
  • Keep the stomach sucked in and don’t slouch the low back.

 

One Leg Flying 

     #12 – Spine/Back exercise

  • Keeping the stomach sucked in without slouching the low back, squeeze both glutes and raise one leg.
  • Hold the arms outward by squeezing the shoulder blades together.
  • Keep the head in line with spine.
  • Push the raised leg and arms out and away from the body. Hold for 15-30 seconds each side.

Relaxing Head Rub Neck Stretch

                    A                                                        B

    #13 – Neck stretching and facial relaxation

  • Sitting, gently tug on the back of the head in all directions searching for tight spots in the neck muscles.
  • Hold each tight spot for 20-30 seconds and focus on breathing.
  • The other hand can be used to massage the area being stretched.
  • After the neck is stretched, massage the temples while making every possible facial expression in order to energize and relax tension in the head.
  • Lastly, focus the eyes on something distant to relax them.

 

#14 – Neck stability pushes & temple rubs

There are 4 main directions that the neck moves; rotation, side bending, forward flexion and extension, plus left and right adds two more. Your goal is to lightly activate the neck muscles by pushing your head in each direction, 10 reps at a time, into your hand. The hand will resist your head so it doesn’t actually move, it just pushes in the direction.

  • Keep the pushes light, don’t strain.
  • Do 10 reps of 3-5 second pushes in each direction.
  • The palm of your hand is on the front of your head for forward flexion, the back of head for extension, the temple for rotation, and the side of the head for side bending.
  • This exercise often results in instant relief of head and neck pain because it activates the small muscles needed to hold the head properly.
  
  
Sitting and Low Back Pain

Tips for Sitting

  1. ALWAYS use a lumbar support for the low back.
  2. Shift position constantly to distribute stress to various areas.
  3. When picking something off the floor or bending down, place one hand on a knee and slightly lift up the buttocks while maintain an arched low back.
  4. Don’t twist. Always face whatever task is at hand by turning the body as a unit.
  5. Don’t read papers that are flat on the desk. Prop them up so the head isn’t flexed all the way forward and down.
  6. Have the keyboard and mouse at the same level as the elbows when they are naturally hanging at your side. Also keep them at a forearms distance away from your body so that no reaching occurs.
  7. Use arm rests to take pressure off the low back.
  8. Keep the monitor about 18 inches from your eyes and make sure lighting is sufficient so that they are more relaxed.
  9. If you are on the phone a lot, support your “phone arm” with an elbow on the desk and switch sides often.

     10.  Posture is an attitude that creates a physical state. Be aware of deadlines and stress weighing down the body into poor posture. Use relaxed breathing and thoughts of what you are grateful for           to  improve posture and reduce stress.

     11.  Take frequent breaks to introduce movement to the body and keep its systems working efficiently, i.e. The Chair Jockey Workout.

     12.  Drink plenty of water.

     13.  Do the following exercises at the end of the day to reverse some of the damages caused by sitting.

Leg Elevation

Leg Elevation on Wall

  •  Laying on a flat surface, scoot the buttocks as close as possible to a wall and prop the legs up.
  • Lay in this position for 5-10 minutes to facilitate circulation of stagnant blood. 

 

Wall Posture Practice 

Standing Wall Posture Exercise

  • Standing with feet 3 inches from wall, keep the entire spine, back, and neck touching the wall by using the lower abdominals to “tuck in your tail”.
  • Hold for 3 minutes in a natural manner.