Back problems are a major frustration when you love being active. But don’t let back pain defeat you.
Once upon a time, a bad back was treated with complete rest but now we know different. You may not be able to continue your usual workouts, but it doesn’t mean having to stop completely.
Get a second opinion
Your GP may tell you to ‘rest’ or do very little, but a back specialist may offer different advice. Invest in a few sessions with a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath. Choose a clinic that specialises in sports injury and back pain. A reputable practice will list its practitioners’ qualifications, and should offer a range of services so they can tailor your treatment to your needs.
When you see a specialist, be savvy and make the most of your appointment – it’s your back, not theirs, so find out as much as you can. The more you ask, the more informed and capable you’ll be of managing your injury. Here are some questions to ask…
-What exactly is wrong with my back and what’s the likely cause?
-How can I stop it happening again?
-You don’t recommend cardiovascular exercise – can you be more specific?
-Is it okay to do other types of exercise?
-What can I do to speed up my recovery?
Write down what the experts say and plan how to adjust your exercise accordingly.
Strengthen your core
Whatever your back condition, core strengthening will help. Learning to connect effectively to your core muscles will help support your back now and prevent future injury. To help locate your core muscles, think of your spine running through a drum, the drum being your torso. Your drum has four core areas that seal around your spine to support and protect it.
Pelvic floor: This is the base of your drum. It runs from the pubic bone at the front to your tail bone at the back, and attaches around the sides of your pelvis too. To connect to it, imagine you could gather all the sides in like a purse string and draw them up inside you.
Deep abdominals: The main muscle is called the transversus abdominis (TA). It runs around the front of your torso like a corset, attaching into fascia around the back. Think of the TA as the strings you tighten and the fascia as the material around the back of the corset that the strings thread into and pull tight as you draw them in.
Deep back muscles: The main deep back muscle is the multifidus. It runs up most of your spine, spanning two to four vertebrae at a time. It’s difficult to feel this muscle but when you connect to the above muscles effectively, the multifidus will connect too.
Diaphragm: This is the muscle that sits at the top of your drum and controls your breathing. When you inhale, it flattens, increasing the space above to allow the lungs to fill with air. The action of drawing your shoulder blades back and down encourages good upper back and spinal alignment and increases the effectiveness of your diaphragm. Aim to connect to your core muscles as you breathe out.
Switch your focus
If you’re missing high-impact exercise, remember that working your core muscles will make you stronger in the long run, so you’ll be able to train longer and harder and with less risk of getting injured. It’s a lesson learnt the hard way but spending time now on gentle, focused exercise will pay off later. A more muscular body means a higher metabolism, so by working on building your strength now, you’ll build a body that’s not only more efficient at exercising but also at burning off energy.
Energy in/energy out
If you’re used to exercising regularly, chances are you’re used to eating what you want. Now’s the time to focus on quality rather than quantity in your diet. Write a food diary and consider what you could remove and what you could add to make it more nutritionally balanced. Aim for your meals to comprise 50 per cent vegetables and/or fruit, 25 per cent protein (pulses, lean meat or fish) and 25 per cent unrefined carbs (such as brown rice or potatoes).