07 Mar How To Beat Low Back Pain (A Bulletproof Plan To Speed Recovery And Forge A Strong Back)
I’ve got quite a backstory. Literally.
I’ll give you the abbreviated “cliff notes version” if you haven’t heard me discuss this before. I had a major low back injury many years ago in my training career (*severe L4-5 disc herniation with persistent radiculopathy that required surgery. Indeed, it did require surgery after conservative measures failed and symptoms worsened quickly and progressively).
Fast forward to today.
My back is doing extremely well, although it will never be 100%. In my opinion, you are never 100% anytime you have had a major injury.
What was one of the worst experiences of my life ended up completely reshaping my training and my entire life in many ways that go way beyond the scope of this article.
My injury was one of the key factors that led to me becoming a physical therapist (although I have since retired my role as a active clinician). Today, I’m strength coach and movement teacher that integrates my education and background as a PT.
Because of the history with my back injury, I have to always remember that my back is something I need to pay attention to. I can never ignore that history.
Even though my back to be healthy and strong today, I have had some minor issues here and there through the years (remember what I said about not being 100%).
Unfortunately, I do know a thing or two about dealing with and overcoming low back pain (LBP) at a very intimate level.
Here’s some “tough love” for you if you have LBP and are searching for answers.
Managing back pain is about actively taking control.
It’s not about passive treatment modalities or finding someone to “fix” your LBP. Certainly, there is a point that you need help and professional guidance or intervention, but it’s up to you to be your own healer and proactively approach your unique situation in the best way possible.
If you have LBP, your situation is different from mine. That’s because we’re all individuals and each situation is different. But the rules I’ll share with you – the bulletproof plan – still applies as universal.
There is no one who cares as deeply and intimately about your low back pain as you do.
You have to be your own advocate to restore your back health. You have to own it.
Some of the worst advice I ever received for low back pain and certainly still continue to hear about is to simply “rest.” More specifically this is when someone calls for strict bed rest and to avoid activity, as much as possible.
To avoid movement is some of the worst advice I can think of for LBP.
Movement that causes pain should definitely be avoided – yes, absolutely!
However, movement in itself, Will help to speed recovery and keep our body operating and avoid the negative effects of inactivity and worsening of symptoms.
Pain-free movements should be encouraged and something as simple as a walking program is highly effective for many back pain patients, misled included.
We should be moving we just have to do the right movement and avoid the rings that cause pain. Pretty simple, right?
Three steps it all out line with you right now are literally what I consider a bullet proof plan to effectively manage low back pain. They can easily be followed by anyone that is dealing with a low back pain related issue.
THE 3 STEP BULLETPROOF PLAN
Here are my 3 simple steps (let’s call them rules) that comprise this simple bulletproof plan:
STEP #1-ELIMINATE PROVOCATIVE MOVEMENTS
The first step is to eliminate painful and provocative movements. You might be surprised, but often times this can be hard to do for the strength athlete who wants to keep training and thinks that they can somehow “work through” a bad situation.
For example, if you got hurt training, there are going to be some movements and exercises that you’re not going to be able to do without reproducing pain. Well, those movements have to be tossed out.
Let’s just say that a deadlift is now painful even with pristine technical proficiency. If the movement causes pain – it is eliminated in the short term. It has to be.
You could say the same thing about a squat. If a squat causes pain, it is put on the back burner for the time being. Any exercise that reproduces pain is gone, at least for now.
If sitting is exacerbating the pain, then you will stand more or move more to eliminate or minimize provoking pain.
You will eliminate or reduce the provocative movements or positions. This is simple and should be common knowledge, but I know this step is not always followed.
This step usually means that a lot of what I had been doing in my training program has to be put on “hold.”
Pain-free movement is essential which leads me to step #2.
STEP #2-KEEP MOVING
Next, you will do a lot more of what makes you feel better. That means movement.
Movement heals. But didn’t I just tell you to eliminate movements? Yes, avoid painful movements.
Walking tends to be an almost perfect example in this situation as most low back pain related circumstances will tend to feel better with some sort of walking program (I did say “most’).
This is specific to the individual and it will depend on several factors but, the right kind of movement will be beneficial for nearly all scenarios as long as it does not violate the first rule above.
Any movement that is pain-free should be reinforced and increased to help resolve the low back pain issue.
For me personally, walking and a series of simple exercises will do wonders for making my back feel better and getting me back to peak performance as quickly as possible.
I’ll give more specific examples in just a minute.
STEP #3-TRAINING BECOMES REHAB
The third part of the plan is critical, especially for the strength athlete.
If you have LBP, recognize that training is now rehabilitative until all pain is resolved.
I want to repeat that once again so it sticks.
Training is rehabilitative until the pain is resolved.
What this means is that I don’t try to continue and work through my strength program.
The program is “nixed” until my symptoms are resolved, end of story. This means that “training is now rehab,” but it may not mean that I’m discontinuing some of my strength training exercises or lifts – as long as they are pain-free. This is key to understand.
Please remember this important point if you want to continue to train for the long term, as I’m sure you do.
Anytime I’ve had a low back “issue” during my programming, I immediately shift my training objective to restoring and optimizing back health above everything else.
The great thing about doing this is that it’s usually very short term when done correctly. This means I can get back to my training fairly quick after I go into “rehab” mode.
It’s taking a small step backward to take a huge step forward.
When you shift your training purpose to restore and optimize your back health through rehabilitation, it usually greatly accelerates things so that you can “leap frog” your progress and get back to your regular training regimen as soon as possible – which is what you and I want.
Once again, this step just means to shift your training into a rehab mode for as long at it takes to resolve pain.
Here’s just a few examples of what I do when I shift into rehab mode for my back:
- McGill’s “Big 3” – (curl-up, side plank, and bird dogs)
- Hip Bridges – I’m a big fan of the simple hip bridge it’s worked wonderful for me
- Foundation Training – “The Founder“(breathing and hip hinge)
- A daily walking program – long daily walks are essential
- Other specific stabilization or movement exercises that are pain-free
Is there a secret to back health?
Once all pain is resolved, my secret to a strong, powerful back is this.
Hardstyle kettlebell swings.
Without any shred of doubt, the hardstyle kettlebell swing is probably the single most important contributor to keeping my back healthy and strong.
I have to laugh when I hear anyone suggest that the properly executed kettlebell swing is bad for the back because it has been one of the most effective exercises for optimizing back health out of anything I do.
Granted there is a small population (true instability issue or those with spondylolisthesis) that could experience discomfort with the kettlebell swing, the actual number of people here is infinitely small compared to the vast majority that would benefit from executing a Hardstyle swing.
It’s a unique exercise that I have written about extensively and can forge stronger, resilient backs when performed and programmed correctly.
Here’s the 3-step bulletproof plan once again:
- Eliminate Provocative Movements
- Keep moving
- Training becomes rehab
If you have low back pain or work with anyone that has low back pain, this plan is about as bulletproof as it gets, if it followed.
This has worked for me time and time again.
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