Read this article by Paul Chipp, Personal Trainer in Clapham Junction, London, to find out how to best prevent and get over with backache.
Is your back aching? Then do this!
I have been trying to write some blogs that are relevant to my clients: what they would want to know and what they have challenges with. I also asked my girlfriend, and she said that she had a friend Jonathan, a writer out in LA, who has currently got a lot of back pain and wants to know what he should do about it.
So this blog is written with all the exercises I have included for Jonathan. I can only hope that you do not judge me heavily on my writing skills as I fear yours may be somewhat better than mine!
Why do I have back pain?
There are about a dozen of reasons as to why any of us would have back pain and I think it is important to understand that lifestyle plays a massive part in what is called a “general back pain”.
Most of us know of at least one horror story of that friend who had months off work with a slipped disc and pain killers, and I think whenever we get any discomfort in our back we all start to be a bit concerned!
A slipped disc is only one of the causes of really acute back pain. The discs that are between the vertebrae can become “conditioned” into a bulge and press onto the nerves in the spinal column. This can cause a lot of pain in the area and related pain which can travel down the leg, otherwise known as Sciatica. You can also get a form of sciatica from the muscles if your glutes are tightening the sciatic nerve, which will again give massive pain down the leg.
The treatment for Sciatica from the glutes is very different for the treatment from a Disc Bulge (Slipped Disc). It can happen over a long period of time (i.e sitting in a bad position for hours at your computer) or it can be sudden through lifting something badly or sometimes even caused by sneezing.
However, before you go diagnosing yourself with a slipped disc, mind that your spine is not just made up of discs and vertebrae. You have muscles, ligaments and tendons connecting everything together. Any one of these can become strained, sprained or overtrained. Any one of these can give similar pain to your lower back. You also have your organs, which could have low level infections, or be tender from a heavy weekend’s partying! Or, further down the spectrum, there may be something more sinister and something that requires way more treatment than any of the above!
Get a proper Diagnosis!
I think the point I am trying to make is that – without a good diagnosis from someone who is qualified (i.e a physiotherapist) – you cannot come up with a clear-cut and efficient strategy for reducing your back pain.
I have made mistakes, in the past, by training people without a clear diagnosis, and – if I am honest – I have probably not helped my client but rather have hindered their recovery! I always have to remind myself that I am a Personal Trainer, and as such, simply do not have the necessary medical knowledge to diagnose. However, once I have a clear diagnosis from someone who is able to tell me what the actual problem is, I can then “train” my clients accordingly.
As a Personal Trainer, I am more than happy to train someone with a Bulging Disc condition. I have a current client, who after following a strict plan, has actually got back into running, which – considering painkillers were needed just to get out of bed – is pretty cool.
The “Desk Athlete”
In my experience as a trainer, most of the people I train sit at their desks all day long. I think calling them “Desk Athletes” is not too far a stretch, because whatever you practice enough of you will eventually get good at!
If you practice sitting badly all day long, you will get very good at it! The only problem is that the skill of being good at sitting in a desk does not really transfer to other areas in our life! Lets face it, it’s all about transferable skills these days.
I think the same can be said for our sleeping posture, which most of us hold for a while, or even if you drive quite a lot in your car, to and from meetings.
So, I think, one of the best things to start with is to look at your working posture at your desk, make sure it’s set up for you, especially if you work at a computer for long periods.
Second, look at your bed and your mattress, and at your sleeping position. Make sure you are supported correctly.
Thirdly, check your driving position, if you spend a lot of time in the car.
I hope it goes without saying that our back is there to support our body, and that if we are carrying around excess weight in our body, that is going to put even more of strain on our back. Anything you can do to reduce that weight will be an advantage.
Personal Trainer Exercises for your Back
Obviously, being a Trainer, this is my favourite part. Once I have been cleared to train a client I can then put a plan together to strengthen the back and get it moving properly again. I think it is very important to explain why I have picked the exercises that I have.
Most of the joints in our body have the ability to move in three planes of motion, in time and space.
So, they can move forwards and backwards which we can call the “sagittal plane”. They can move from side to side which we can call “frontal plane”, and they can rotate left or right which we can call “transverse plane”.
The spine is no different from these joints, and as such can work in all three planes of motion. One of the things I see in the gym and is still left over from slightly “older thinking”, is that most exercises only work the joints in a front to back motion, or sagittal plane. My suggestion is that if a joint can move in three planes of motion, then use it in all three! One of my favourite Fitness sayings is still “Use it or lose it”.
The exercise video above includes exercises in all three planes of motion, and I think the exercises are a good start to getting your spine moving properly.
I would say that you should start off with a weight or intensity that – by the time you have done 45 seconds – makes you start feeling it. Being that the exercises are focussing on different planes, you could circuit the exercises with only a very short rest between them. Really push into the exercises so that the range of motion gives you a stretch. Learn how to listen to your body.
Frontal Plane exercises
- Side bends with a bar above head and your feet wide you should feel down your sides
- Side bends with a bar above head and your feet narrow you should feel in your hips
- Side bends with a bar above head and your feet in middle you should feel in hips and side
Transverse Plane exercises
- Cable wood chop From low to high
- Cable wood chop from middle to middle
- Cable wood chop from high to low
Sagittal plane exercises
- Reverse curl on the floor
- Floor and press behind head light weight
- Mountain climbers on a step or similar
This is obviously not an exhaustive list, but it is a good starting point. It gets your back moving in three planes of motion and – as long as you practice it – you will become better at it. Once you get to finding these exercises too easy, more intense ones can be added, if needed.
- Ask why you have back pain
- Get a proper diagnosis
- Once you have ruled out anything nasty, you can train
- Look at the positions you hold for long periods of time and change if necessary
- Pick tri-planer exercises
I have tried to simplify a very complex matter in a few hundred words. I hope this has been helpful but please: if you have pain or a problem, go and get it sorted, sooner rather than later, and take charge of your body!