By DAVE JACK | Moonshine Ink
Have you ever experienced low back pain after a long day hiking, biking, skiing, boarding, or simply overdoing it on mountain? You’re not alone! Most of us who live and play in Tahoe have experienced low back pain. In fact, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says 4 out of 5 people experience low back pain, making it the second most common reason for visiting the doctor.
Acute low back pain can be caused from trauma (strain, sprain, compression, fracture, etc.) after an accident, overuse, or improper movement. All of us who like to play hard know how that feels and don’t want to experience it again. It could put you out for days or weeks at a time.
Chronic low back pain is a long-term soreness/tightness that doesn’t seem to get better with time. It’s typically more difficult to determine a cause and takes more understanding to prevent.
Whichever type of low back pain you’ve experienced, follow these steps and help prevent being sidelined from your fun Tahoe activities.
DETERMINE THE CAUSE
It’s important to determine the type and cause of your low back pain. When does it hurt the most and what might have happened recently that may have caused the pain?
Acute low back pain is typically easier to figure out than chronic low back pain. Things to consider are repetitive bending and twisting (you guessed it — SHOVELING), impact or compression (skiing bumps, falling down, etc.), or some kind of accident. Taking a couple of days or weeks of rest will help the pain subside.
Chronic low back pain can be caused from daily improper movements that can be a result of misalignment of the kinetic chain. Some causes include:
SITTING for long periods of time
POSTURE: tightness or imbalance of the hip flexors and extenders
IMPROPER LIFTING: lifting with back and not legs
BEING OVERWEIGHT OR OBESE: too much weight on your spine
POOR NUTRITION: not balancing your diet to keep weight and inflammation down
INADEQUATE SLEEP: sleep position and duration
SMOKING: habitual smoking restricts blood flow to spinal discs
DISEASE: arthritis, fibromyalgia, or spinal stenosis
Even skinny jeans that limit movement, a thick wallet you guys are sitting on, or heels you ladies are wearing may be the root cause of your pain.
Whatever your situation is, try to log what you’ve done each day so you can reflect back to it and determine what you’re doing wrong (or right). Either way, once you’ve determined the likely causes of your pain, continue to take a proactive and positive approach to solving the issue starting with Step 2.
Low back pain is typically associated with tightness in the hip flexors and/or hamstrings. It’s important to mobilize those with stretches such as:
KNEELING HIP FLEXOR STRETCH: one knee down and opposite foot forward, drop the hip toward the forward heel and raise the arm on the same side that the leg is back, squeeze the glute of the back leg.
SUPINE HAMSTRING STRETCH: on back, rope around foot, leg lifted and straight as you pull the rope.
If you’ve experienced low back pain from compression of the discs in the lumbar spine, and/or inflammation and nerve pain, you will want to do some lumbar traction exercises such as:
INVERSION TABLE: Hang upside down by the ankles on an inversion table letting gravity create separation in the discs.
NO INVERSION TABLE: Lay on your back with your feet and calves elevated by a high chair so your back is just slightly elevated off the floor.
STRENGTHEN THE CORE
Strengthening the core will help support the spine and allow for less vulnerability. Keep your core exercise light and controlled by beginning with planks and stomach vacuums. Remember that the core consists of all 29 muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the lumbo pelvic hip complex. It’s important to work the core all the way around the hips (not just sit ups). Balance out mobilizing those hip flexors with strengthening the hip extenders. Core strengthening exercises include:
FORWARD/SIDE/REVERSE PLANK: Balance on elbows holding hips up with straight line between shoulder, hips, and heels
STOMACH VACUUM: Exhale as you draw in your belly button to the back of your spine.
BIRD DOG: On hands and knees, extend back leg straight back as your extend the opposite arm straight overhead, reach and hold two seconds.
REVERSE HYPER ON STABILITY BALL: Lay belly down on ball with hands on the floor, extend both heels toward the ceiling with legs straight until body is parallel to the floor, hold two seconds and release back to the floor.
MOVE WELL AND OFTEN
Learn to move properly by practicing in a controlled environment (gym). Learning proper technique with functional movements such as the squat (lifting with legs not back) will help you move better in your everyday life therefore preventing muscle strain from happening.
Moving often will increase blood flow to help muscles recover. It will also keep your body weight managed and therefore reduce the amount of impact on the spine.
Avoid sitting for long periods by trying to stand every hour for at least five to 10 minutes. Plan ahead by following stretches from Step 2 before and after long flights, drives, or hours behind the desk.
CONSISTENCY AND MINDFUL AVOIDANCE
Low back pain is common for all of us. Being consistent with your mobility, core, and exercise every week will ensure your maintaining stability through your spine. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of light to moderate exercise and stretching three to five days a week. Each month, try to extend your exercise time and intensity by five minutes.
Focus on avoiding those activities from Step 1 that cause increased low back pain. Being mindful in moderation of those activities; not overdoing them will keep you on track to recovery. If you question whether to push through the pain on the bike, hiking trail, ski, or board, that means it’s time to slow down or stop. Don’t test your limit!
Be positive, proactive, and patient. Winter snow sports and shoveling season is coming soon, so start preparing the low back now. With time and consistency using these steps, you will feel less pain and reduce the likelihood for hurting yourself.