I am fascinated by how well our bodies are designed to operate. The intricate detail around the construction of our musculoskeletal system is astounding not only in its design but also in its ability to compensate and heal. Most day to day injuries occur because of compensation that we don't even perceive is happening until the system gives out and the effects of our bad habits overtake us.
Before becoming a corrective exercise specialist, I noticed that my incidences of sudden and acute back pain that could land me in bed for days, were becoming more rare the more I engaged in total body weighted activities. Then when I went into straight running season and skipped weights, I would invariably get injured again. I was curious as to how I could be in great shape and still get injured during basic daily activities. Often it gets dismissed as being part and parcel with motherhood or just plain getting older. But I'm only old by a caveman's standards, right? So, then why the injuries?
What I learned makes complete sense. Our muscles operate in synergy. In order to bend your elbow to touch your nose, the muscles in the outer portion of the arm (triceps) loosen so that they will allow the inner muscles (biceps and brachioradialis) to tighten so that you can actually touch your nose. This type of synergy happens throughout the body all the time.
So what is happening when our back gets stiff?
When I was pulling my back out a lot, I was in good cardio shape but not in good muscular shape. This means the length tension relationships in my muscles were not working together cooperatively. Some muscles were over working (lower back and hamstrings) while others were slacking (my core). This isn’t immediately obvious *because* our bodies can be really good at compensating, so I still ran races and cycled. The imbalance progressed imperceptibly yet incrementally until, bam! I was out of commission.
On one of those occasions the moment befell me when I dropped a bar of soap in the shower. Time stopped as I found myself stuck in between bending to pick up said bar of soap and trying to get up in a vain effort to "undo! undo! undo!" while water cascaded over my agony. None of it worked of course - I was stuck bent over. Eventually I crawled out of the shower and into bed where I stayed for 3 days.
If you have a sensitive lower back and are prone to injuries like mine the best thing is prevention by incorporating weight training that addresses multiple muscle groups and engages the core. And if you are actively training, please, do not forget to stretch. Make your rest day a yoga day. It is the best recovery because it restores length tension relationships where worked muscles may be a little tight.
It’s also important to know your limitations. Modify or work your target group without aggravating sensitive areas. You can isolate the core and get amazing results without doing moves that look like they are from the circus. It’s ok. We all have a different range of motion and different strengths and weaknesses can still be in *amazing* shape! That thing about comparing ourselves to our *selves*? Yeah! Use a mirror and have a trainer check you periodically for posture and progression.
Also check your lifestyle. Prolonged sitting, improper lifting, and jumping into a workout with the same vigor you remember having 3 months 3, or 13 years ago, can lead to strain and injury.
The following is a sequence I have used to complete my own recovery from back stiffness or injury that I also use with clients. You can use a foam roller or soft medicine ball like the one I'm holding above. It's heavy yet squishy so it doesn't hurt the spine.
The idea is to 1) release the tightened muscles in the back by applying pressure for 20-30 seconds. Sitting on the floor you will lay back on the roller and roll up and down your back until you find the tense spot and hold for 20-30 seconds, breathing into it. Do this 3-4 times with 30 second breaks.
2) Stretch these muscles by laying on the floor on your back and hugging your knees again at 20-30 second intervals, 3-4 times. You can add some twists lowering your knees from side to side.
After this the tightened muscles will be released allowing for activation of the core muscles so we can restore that synergy we were talking about.
3) Laying on the floor with knees up and feet to the ground, back flat, bring knees up one at a time as though you are marching. Do 3 sets of 10 with 30 second breaks or put a song on and go for a minute focusing on form and breathing. Pull your navel in to engage the core.
Your core is activated and will now be able to work more efficiently and ease some of that load off of your back! This is a 5 minute routine you can do a couple of times a day. Add in some stretching and eventually weight or body weight exercises like planks and you are well on your way!
If you have severe or worsening symptoms, consult your physician. You should not be experiencing pain during any of this so set your intention to be kind to yourself and enjoy!
If you have more questions about corrective exercise and implementing a holistic approach for transformative, lasting results, message me here.
Be well. <3
TheresaWV offers at-home, boutique, personal training and coaching interventions to help individuals overcome their own barriers to success. To do this we need to get parts unstuck physically as well as mentally. Using Corrective Exercise Techniques, Internal Family Systems, and nutrient dense foods, coaching is individually tailored for efficient and lasting results that will have a transformative ripple effect on your life. Sessions can be both in person and virtual. Become aligned, tap into self energy, nourish your body & mind and thrive. Namaste.