Are you experiencing frequent low back pain? if yes; then you know that it can be one of the hardest chronic injuries to deal with. It completely changes your life and the easiest daily tasks become the hardest to achieve.
Piriformis syndrome and herniated discs are the most common chronic injuries nowadays related to low back. Their most common symptoms are sciatica pain and muscle spasms. This most of the time also affect the Sacroiliac joint and destabilising the pelvis.
What you will learn from today’s Post
- Understanding the root cause of your love back pain. Not what you are thinking (your mattress is probably fine 😉
- Your back muscles probably don’t need strengthening. What you should be strengthening instead. Again not what you are thinking.
- What type of exercise can you do during the healing phase to stay active.
Let’s jump in!
Low back pain – Sciatica, Piriformis syndrome.
I have been dealing with all types of low back pains, from piriformis syndrome to SI joint dysfunction. So I understand your pain. If you are like me, and absolutely adore working out It can a major setback in your fitness journey.
You can read my blog post here talking more about how it started and what I did to accelerate the healing process. However, as you can see from the update, I did have another flare up that was caused by no particular reason. So I started to investigate more. I do recommend you always get into the root of all chronic pain you experience, and if you have constant flare ups, then you may be facing something else, such as a disc herniation for example.
First and foremost, quick disclaimer 🙂 I am a strength and fitness coach, not a doctor or injury specialist, so I am only sharing my own experience. So before trying anything I suggest, make sure you consult with your current physician to make sure it is appropriate for you.
Low back pain and posture.
Watch a person sitting on a desk for more than an hour. What do you see?
Very likely the following: Eyes locked on the computer, rounded shoulders, forward head, curved back. This is probably 90% of the times you observe someone sitting at their desk job for more than an hour.
Improving your posture is, in my opinion, the number one thing you should look into and correct. Working out with a bad posture is calling for injury, and you don’t have to workout to cause injury with a bad posture. Your back joints and muscles will start to give you symptoms even if you are not an active person. I highly suggest you check out “Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain” by Pete Egoscue where he talks about the importance of posture and how to be pain free by fixing it.
Having any kind of back pain should still not prevent you from moving. Moving plays a huge role in the healing process in that it promotes blood circulation, and thus nutrients and oxygen to get to those areas that need it the most. So moving is always a good thing.
Exercising with low back pain.
During the first 3-5 days following an acute injury, it is always good to pause all activities that can aggravate the injury and rest. However, for the sake of keeping his post short and to the point, we are only talking about chronic injuries. You know, those nagging ones that don’t wanna go away and make our lives hell.
How to stay active and in shape when you can’t workout just yet.
When the pain starts to improve and it is Okay for you to perform basic tasks; then before you go hard on yourself and do a workout. Start by going for walk. Walking is the best low impact physical exercise you can do during this phase. Walking will allow your joints to move, increase blood circulation, burn calories in addition to other numerous mental and physical benefits.
I read an interesting article on CHEK institute website “Journey to Happiness with a walk”. The article goes to describe walking as this:
“Walking is the balm for my soul.
Today, our modern culture is characterised by “sitting disease.” It is reported that a sedentary lifestyle is the single strongest predictor of death, ahead of smoking and hypertension.
Many busy adults sit far too long at desks in front of computer screens working or relaxing in front of mobile devices or a TV. We see the results in posture-poor bodies whose heads fall forward, shoulders that are hunched and backs that become rounded.
Physically, prolonged sitting shortens the frontal muscles of the body and the deeper psoas major muscle, along with the scalenes at the neck, creating inflexibility and soft bones at all levels. Worse, sitting compresses the diaphragm where breathing deeply becomes compromised, strangling blood innervation to the organs and glands, and putting the person at risk for developing all sorts of diseases.
Without pumping the body, we have a difficult time removing waste from tissues or stimulating peristalsis action in the bowel. When the body becomes stagnant, so do our thoughts and moods. As Paul reminds us, “Movement is life!” Stop moving and we slowly die.”
It is important to recognise lack of movement as a major source of disease, especially musculo-skeletal disorders. Take a walk today, go on your own pace, and give your joints a shot of oxygen 🙂
Next, I would like to draw your attention to core training. When core strengthening is neglected, a myriad of physical disorders start showing up, mainly back and pelvis related injuries. How so?
Think of your core as your spine safety belt!
Okay let’s talk about why your back is messed up and why you should not go buy a more expensive mattress..just yet!
When we say core, first thing that comes to most people’s mind is probably a 6 pack of abs 😉 The core is much more than that.
Core is made of an inner and outer units. Both these units work together so that we are able to accomplish simple daily tasks and more advanced athletic performance.
The inner core unit.
The inner core stabilises the spine. Without the inner core, our spine, pelvis, joints and will be constantly under stress leading to injury.
If you are interested in learning more about the core, I suggest reading The Pelvic Girdle: An integration of clinical expertise and research by Diane Lee.
The muscles responsible for stabilising the spine, that are part of the inner core are:
- Transverse abdominis: a deep abdominal muscle that acts as a belt around your waist to protect your spine – let’s imagine you want to pick a box from the floor, and your transverse abdominis (the belt) does not activate to stabilise you, all that is left to do the work is your spine and pelvis. Once they are overloaded they can get injured.
- The other important stabilisers in the inner unit are the pelvic floor (connected to your pelvis), diaphragm and multifidus.
How do you activate these super important muscles that protect your low back and spine? a simple exercise is to draw your belly button up and in toward your spine. Make it a conscious choice to start with this next time you lift anything up the floor or lift anything in general. Programming your mind to activate the transverse abdominis and the rest of your inner core muscles through everyday tasks until it becomes automatic.
Are you wondering what you can do to strengthen your inner unit and be a master of your spine safety belt and get rid of low back pain? 😉
I am sharing one of Paul Chek’s videos where he does a great job describing how to strengthen the deep abdominals. Paul chek he helped me tremendously understand physiology and I am looking forward to taking his course scientific back training next fall.
This exercise allows you to really target the deep abdominal wall. If you are a total beginner start in a crawling position without adding the stability ball.
I highly suggest you watch the video and get an understanding of how to do it properly.
Engaging your mind with your core muscles should be part of every exercise you perform at the gym.
Before moving on to work on the outer core unit, you will need to make sure your have a stable and strong inner unit. Think of it this way; the inner unit as your house foundation, if the foundation is week then no matter how nice your house looks like as you are building it up, it will end up collapsing at some point. Build a strong foundation first, then move on to the next level. Or as Paul Chek puts it “You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe.”
The Core – Outer Unit.
The outer core unit is responsible for movement. What is the outer core unit composed of? Primer movers – the muscles that move your trunk – in addition to obliques, rectus abdominis, and, shoulder girdle, back, legs and the rest of your body 🙂 I hope you get the picture and understand how much CORE is an integration of many systems.
I hope you remember this next time you go on a machine and sit down to isolate a bicep and do bicep curls. An unstable system is quickly heading towards to dysfunction, injury and pain.
Working on your core will lead to better results than just working on your abs alone. Avoid the old school isolating crunches and focus on training your body the way it was designed to move.
Can machine training contribute to low back pain and/or weak inner and outer core units?
PS: don’t forget the ultimate checklist to investigate your pain back. It will help you figure out the real cause of your aches.[ulp id=’ASNUxHVxvRQeC8hh’]
Machines are a good way to supplement your training or as a way to introduce yourself to working out. HOWEVER it should be used in moderation. The main program you are following should be based on functional exercises that integrate all systems.
The downside of using machines most of the time is the nervous system being restricted and also neurological engagement between isolated muscles and the brain diminishes.
An example of a functional program should include:
- 3-ways lunges
- Squat (hip hinge)
A functional program will get you the foundation you need to get stronger by maintaining structural integrity which will help prevent injury and ultimately low back pain and piriformis syndrome.
I hope this post provided some useful information for you to understand how much a proper functioning core can go a long way to prevent low back pain, piriformis syndrome and sciatica.
Disclaimer: In the spirit of full disclosure, affiliate links are used on this page, which means that I may get a commission if you decide to purchase anything from this page or website. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link. I only recommend products that I use and love myself, so you’re in good hands 🙂