By Anthony Bonazzo
Back pain has become a trendy ailment in American culture. Many people diagnose themselves with having back pain, but the problem is that the majority of self-diagnoses are wrong because most of the time, people don’t understand what is going on with their bodies. In many cases it is not the back that is causing the pain at all.
To understand the human body, it is important to understand that the body works as a kinetic chain. When one muscle is tight, it creates a domino effect, causing improper functioning of the rest of the body. What most people experience as so-called chronic back pain is often tight muscles elsewhere in the body. The pain felt in the back is often due to collateral damage of other muscles that are unable to fire properly—the victim of not-so-friendly fire.
In almost every instance of clients I have worked with in the seven years as a fitness professional/personal trainer, the ones with backaches follow three common behavioral trends. They assume it is their back that is the root of their problem and spend thousands of dollars a year on chiropractic visits and massages; they avoid activity for fear that it may exacerbate their symptoms; and finally, they know what they should be doing to treat their pain and still don’t do it.
And that’s the most important thing: staying proactive to avoid more pain. Whether you have a slipped disc, have been in an accident or have had a spinal fusion, there are basic treatments that give more than basic relief and are safe for everyone.
Move. Avoiding activity can actually make the condition worse. Light activity, like stretching and cardio, generates blood flow and oxygen to the tight and inhibited areas and can alleviate even the worst instances of back pain.
If you work at a sedentary job, order a dyna disc. It is predominantly used for balance. But sitting on it, if you are at a desk for hours a day, keeps the lower extremities balanced and active. It’s as if you have been walking around all day versus sitting. This will help avoid synergistic dominance where smaller muscles (in the lower back) are forced to then take on the workload of the larger muscles. It would be like asking a small child to carry a piece of furniture up a flight of stairs. It wasn’t designed to do it. Plus, it’s just cruel.
Swim or exercise in water. Being in water reduces the effect of gravity on the body and allows supporting muscles to relax and flex into positions you would not be able to reach on land. It is therapeutic and is a great release.
Foam roll/stretch/do yoga/get a massage: Choose one or all. Foam rolling will remove the knots from the muscles, making stretching more effective. Without doing this before stretching would be like pulling on a rope with knots in it. Even five minutes a day of yoga will aid in flexibility and allow for relief. Choose basic movements such as downward dog, child’s pose and the pigeon hold. Massage is excellent for relaxation and also for breaking up tight muscles.
Make sure your bed is compatible with the type of sleeper you are. Dr. Dylan Drynan, a chiropractor at Active Body Chiropractic, recommends examining your pillow and mattress as culprits of back pain. “Most people sleep with pillows that are too thick, and this pushes [the] head way too far forward throughout the night,” he says. “You need the pillow’s shape and design to match your sleeping pattern. Side sleepers may need a thicker pillow; stomach and back sleepers may need a thinner pillow. And if you feel like you are sleeping in a gully, it may be time for a new mattress.”
If you’re not getting any relief, visit a chiropractor. And this isn’t a sales pitch. Drynan says, “Spinal adjustments can help restore and maintain normal spinal-joint motion, which will often relieve back pain. [Seek] a chiropractor who combines adjustments with Active Release Technique (ART) or Graston Technique. This combination often speeds up recovery.”
Following these simple steps will greatly reduce your symptoms. And if you have not experienced a severe injury, they may eliminate them all together. Remember that the body is complicated, but sometimes the solutions are simple. Your body will thank you later.
Anthony Bonazzo is an NASM certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and fitness nutrition specialist. He has been a personal trainer for over seven years; and teaches and trains all over Chicago through his company AB Fit.