Back pain is like a horrible house guest: it comes in uninvited, disrupts everything, stays too long, and has a nasty habit of coming back. Back pain is no different than a lot of other diseases, like diabetes or heart disease. Seventeen percent of people having low back fusion surgery in the US this year had a previous fusion within the last four years. Once you have an episode of back pain, there is a 70% chance you’re going to have it again within one year. Taking the steps to prevent back pain is a real necessity.
Treatment vs. Prevention
There’s a big difference between preventing back pain and then treating it once it starts. The best treatments for existing back pain are light activity, moist heat, and NSAIDs like Aleve or Ibuprofen. But once the pain has settled down, it’s time to think about preventing it from coming back.
Do More Get More
Some people try to prevent back pain by doing the least amount of movement possible. But this approach never works. The less you do, the weaker you get, and the more likely you are to experience back pain again. It doesn’t help to act like you’re handicapped.
What would you do if you didn’t have back pain?
Whether your game is to travel the globe, work harder, compete in a sport like golf, or get out in the garden, you need to build the strength and versatility in your back to win. Our experience matches the best data that shows that you can reduce the risk of having back pain through appropriate exercise. The key is building a regimen that strengthens your back without aggravating it.
You can develop your own exercise program with a very limited investment. There are two components of any great exercise regimen: strength and cardio training.
The key to strength training is to involve your core. The easiest way to engage your core muscles is with muscle confusion. The goal isn’t to isolate a single muscle and break it down; it’s to engage as many muscles as possible at once. So we do curls, but not sitting on a bench to isolate the arms. We sit on a balance ball while curling the weight. The exercise isn’t just the curl, — it’s staying on the ball while the weights are moving.
A schedule is also critical. Strength comes from muscle repair that happens the day after you work out. You need to give your muscles a day off to get the best results. For more information on strength training check out Bill Phillip’s site.
The goal of cardio training for your back is to build the wind and endurance you need. Wind is your breath. Fit bodies are better at extracting oxygen in the lungs to the blood for use throughout the body. Endurance is having enough power to complete your game. Start by building your endurance. Pick a non-impact exercise (walking, treadmill, elliptical bike, stationary bike, recumbent bike) and see how long you can do it without pain. Increase your time 5 minutes per week until you can do 45 min. Then add intervals. Start with one interval every 10 minutes. Start your exercise at a leisurely pace for 9 minutes, the go all out for 1 minutes. Work so hard that at the end of sixty seconds you really could not have done one more second. Rest for the next nine minutes, then go again. As you get stronger and stronger, do the intervals more frequently, up to one every 4 minutes.
Exercise gives you the tools you need to prevent back pain, as well as expand your physical limits. Over the years we’ve found the best way to show someone an exercise is by video. So we decided to create a video to demonstrate a few exercises for our patients.