According to the World Health Organization , back pain
- Is a major cause of disability worldwide
- Affects people of all ages
- Is the leading cause of missed work
- Is responsible for most doctor visits
- Is treated mainly with analgesics
- Causes are rarely addressed
- Surgery remains a last option with disappointing results
My first major injury was an L2 compression fracture. A broken back. It was a horrific accident where I fell at work and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. This injury could have been worse in so many ways, but luckily, the only treatment required was six weeks of bed rest. When I was ready to be released back to 100%, I was only given 94%. I was evaluated by an orthopedic specialist and told that, because of my back injury, I was 6% permanently disabled.
Because of my injury, I figured I was doomed to a lifetime of chronic back pain. I actually already had low back pain, even before the injury. For years after, my low back pain would act up out of nowhere. I would miss days and sometimes weeks of work and could never point to a specific cause as to why it was acting up.
I saw many chiropractors, did weeks of physical therapy, and hours of at-home prescribed exercises all to no avail. Nothing helped. It wasn’t until I discovered functional fitness, performing it consistently, that one day I realized I didn’t have back pain anymore!
The following is in reference to chronic back pain. If you’ve had a recent or acute back injury, a bulging or slipped disk, this is not for you. After addressing and treating your injury, however, the following practices will help you.
What is functional fitness?
Functional fitness wasn’t invented to end back pain. It was invented by nature as a way for man to relate to the environment; a way to accomplish work to sustain and progress life. Moving external objects. Moving the body. Fighting and running from danger. Protecting the family and tribe. And for me, it wasn’t functional fitness that ended my back pain, it was the results of my functional fitness training. Strength and mobility in the core, hips, glutes, and legs.
Convenience in society
Through natural life and day-to-day living, nature added strength, power, and mobility to the human body. With the progression of society and the conveniences we have added into it, these abilities nature gave us disappeared.
In modern society, sitting is the way we spend the majority of our lives. We sit during transportation, meals, work, entertainment, social gatherings, and nearly everything else. To make matters worse, the chairs we sit in encourage bad posture, and destroy strength and mobility in the core and hips. Sitting also tacks down the tissues of the glutes and hamstrings.
As a result, the spine no longer has strong muscles around it to brace its movement. It is now supported by frozen joints that lack a full range of motion and flexibility. The fascia and muscle tissue no longer slide or move properly in their tacked-down state. The spine has lost its natural support system, and the nerves inside are now assaulted from even the simplicity of normal daily movement.
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We must undo what we have done
We are born with a full range of motion and an instinct for what proper human movement is. As we age, as we spend time in chairs and other unhealthy sitting positions, this range of motion gets lost. As a consequence, moving properly gets lost as well. It is time to undo what we have done, but it will take a lot of work!
It will take a lot of work to undo years of unhealthy habits, but the good news is, the human body is adaptable to change. Whether the change is positive or negative, it will adapt to that stimulus.
To begin to make healthy change, the best place to begin is with mobility. Sitting in the bottom of the squat position will begin to put mobility back into the hips and lower back. It will lengthen the hip flexor muscles that have been shortened by years of sitting. Accumulate ten minutes in this position per day. Other great hip-openers are the Samson stretch, and the couch stretch.
Restore Sliding Surfaces
Along with mobility, it is also time to start restoring the matted down tissues in the low back, glutes, and hips. Foam rolling works well for this. Other options include a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, softball, or baseball. Anything to get into the facia, break up the scar tissue, and restore the sliding surfaces so that they no longer stick together.
Once you have a solid daily mobility routine, the next step is strength training. Unfortunately, the term strength training scares many people away. The type of strength training you should do is at your level; to strengthen your body. These are simple exercises anyone can do. You are not training for the olympics or a strong man competition.
A strong core, strong hips, strong glutes, and strong hamstrings are vital to support normal day-to-day movement. Dynamic, functional movements are needed to strengthen the core, hips, glutes, and hamstrings. Any type of squat or deadlift will work. Even an air-squat with no weight. Just be sure to squat to the proper depth (hips below knees). Set up something low such as a chair or stack of books to give you a target to hit.
These functional movements not only strengthen your core, hips, glutes, and hamstrings, they also promote healthy mobility because they are done with proper range of motion. Walking is also good daily practice, because it adds movement and stimulation to the hip joints and lower back.
Another contributor to back pain is excessive abdominal fat. An abnormal amount of weight at the midsection is a strain on the core and the spine. Adjustments in diet should be made to reduce this size.
Dehydration can also be a factor with back pain. The shock absorbers between the spinal vertebrae, called disks, need to be hydrated to properly do their job. Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water everyday. Read more about hydration here.
The conveniences of modern society have damaged our normal human existence. Chronic low-back pain is a result of years of sitting causing deterioration of strength and mobility in the core, hips, glutes, and hamstrings. Thankfully, we can undo this damage with a purposeful strength and mobility routine while staying hydrated and eating a healthy diet.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and is not intended for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your physician.