One of the reasons I wanted to study Chiropractic was because of chronic lower back pain. When I was a teenager at highschool I was very sporty and athletic. I loved moving and playing around as much as possible. If there was a social touch rugby game I was in. I was apart of the school team for rowing, field hockey and athletics. However, ever now and then I would end up with a severe lower back muscle spasm.
Low back pain is so frustrating because it just stops you in your tracks. There is no lump, red spot or visible problem, but it hurts like nothing else. It brings grown men to tears and buckles your knees without warning. So I began my journey on trying to fix my lower back. Today I want to tell you some of the things I have discovered on my lower back pain journey. I have included my personal low back pain tale and 10 lower back pain tips that help me a lot in time of need.
My Lower Back Pain Story
As I mentioned earlier, I began suffering low back pain episodes when I was as young as 14 years old. I went to an all-boys highschool in South Africa and it was renowned for producing national sporting stars. So sport was a major part of my school time.
Personally I found I did very well at rowing. I also did field hockey and athletic field events, like long jump and shot put.
Basically, for the entire year I was either training for sport or I was competing in a sport. I loved it.
The low back pain I would suffer really got me when I played hockey. Maybe because I had a major growth spurt between 13-15 years old, and grew to 6 foot 3 inches, my body didn’t like running in a bent over position. Whatever the initial trigger was, I used to find after a practice or game when sitting cooling down it became quite difficult to stand up straight and run easily. In the begin this was maybe funny, but then it became quite sore after time.
I guess I complained enough to my mum at the time that she ended up taking me to doctors to get a solution to my back pain.
So I did the GP consultation first who said I should see a physiotherapist. The physiotherapist I saw thought the problem was coming from my knees. They felt I needed to do the McConnell Taping technique and knee muscle rehabilitation to build up strength.
I got given my theraband, tape and my exercise prescription booklet, which I followed religiously for several months. Time went by and hockey season came around again. Again I would end up with the same back pain.
Looking back I can see why the physiotherapist at the time was focusing on my knees with my height growth spurt. Unfortunately, it didn’t help me at the time.
My First Time to the Chiropractor
My parents decided to go the coast for a holiday and for whatever reason my mum thought to take me to a chiropractor for my lower back pain.
I had never heard of a chiropractor before and knew nothing about what they would do to me.
I can’t really remember too much of my first time with a chiropractor, but what I do remember is the treatment I received.
The chiropractor had me in a side-lying position on the treatment table and I was looking at my mum sitting in the chair. The chiropractor then did a spinal manipulation on my lower back/pelvis and it was an almighty crack that came from my back. My eyes lit up and my mum had that amazed face friends and relatives have when the hear someones back crack. Man did it make my back feel good though.
We then finished the holiday and went back home where I asked my mum if I could see the chiropractor near to where we lived at the time.
I found I would go see the chiropractor from time to time, whilst still doing my sports. At the time they really helped me get some relief for that low back pain that would interfere with my sports.
So with my sporting, keep healthy interest and liking how the chiropractor made my back feel I decided to apply to become a chiropractor.
So my journey to managing my own back pain carried on.
Here are some of the things I have found to help me over time to manage back pain episodes and frequency.
How I Help My Lower Back Pain
These are just some of the tips and observations that have helped get me out of a lower back pain episode:
- Easing off the Intense Training – I went to gym as soon as I was old enough to and started weight training when I was 16. For rowing, your legs need to be strong. So I did lots of quad extensions, squats, leg press and calf raises. I did find after a heavy weight training session my lower back was at risk of going into a spasm within the next 1-3 days. I was gaining muscle strength, but not sorting out muscle imbalances in my core group. Specific back rehabilitation exercises for help in the short and long-term.
- Figure of Four Stretch – I have talked about the figure of four muscle stretch before. It is one of my favourites cos it has saved me quite a few times. I find the figure of four stretch for your gluts or piriformis muscle help to loosen off excessive tightness around the hip and pelvis. This in my case was intense on my left so I would have mainly left lower back pain.
- Trigger Point Therapy – Like most people I have seen, when your in pain you are willing to hurt yourself to get back pain relief. I am prone to a muscle trigger point in my left quadratus lumborum area. There is a spot in this muscle that when you push into it it, can refer back pain down to where the dimple is in your lower back/pelvis. Holding this trigger point on the left would cause my back pain, but also give me some relief from the relenting spasm.
- Try Not Overstretch – You may heard it before to stretch your hamstrings lots cos they are pulling on your back. Well for me lots of typical standing or on the floor hamstring stretches would put me at risk of getting a back pain episode. I have found the safest way to target hamstring tightness is to do the hip hinge movement. You’ll get a great stretch without flexing your spine.
- Orthotics – As a chiropractic student I was lucky enough to get a free pair of custom made orthotics. They were weird to get used to in the begining, but they seemed to make my lower back feel better. If I walked around lots in flip-flops I would make my low back tired. It was sore to get up from sitting after walking in flops all day. Orthotics made walking feel better. I have gone through different orthotics over the years but wear them everyday still.
- Realising The Left Side – Maybe because I’m right handed I have developed my left lower back muscles more than my right. When you stand on your right leg only you will feel your left lower back muscles tighten to balance you. For me, a specific spinal manipulation into the left lumbar spine helps release that lower back on the left side.
- Bum Squeezes – Yup it can be very embarrassing and will probably make you laugh 🙂 Try clench/squeeze just your left bum cheek. Now try squeeze just the right. It is easiest to do this laying on your back in bed. In my case my left bum cheek is weaker than my right. I can feel the left side doesn’t quite hold the contraction as solidly as the right does. For my back pain, doing multiple left bum squeezes stabilizes my pelvis and gives me some back pain relief. Lower back pain strikes you fast and bad especially when you lean over to brush your teeth or wash the dishes at the sink. Clenching both bum muscles together and holding the squeeze would allow me to bend over without hurting my lower back and avoiding the paralysing lighting bolt of pain in my lumbar spine.
- Lumbar Support in the Car – I love driving and don’t mind long distance drives. What I didn’t like about long drives was trying to get out the car seat at the rest point. All you want to do is have a good stretch when you get out the car. I would find sometimes doing a stretch suddenly, whamm, that left muscle twinge hit me. It creates an “oh oh” moment making you move very cautiously hoping the low back pain wont set in, but it does. Using a rolled up towel or a cushion in the small of my back in the car seat helped to put my lumbar spine in a lordosis position. This helps me to stop that prolonged low back flexion problem I would get in hockey and doing typical hamstring stretches. Check out my best lumbar support cushions page for more info.
- Ice The Pain – An ice pack to this day can be my ultimate fast low back pain treatment saviour. If I get that “oh oh low back twinge moment” first thing I do is start cryotherapy. I use one of those blue gel packs that stays soft even in the freezer. Using a protective cover, so it doesn’t freezer burn my skin, sitting quietly or laying down on the ice pack. I ice for 20 mins On 1 hour OFF 2-3 times in a row so my back feels numb and movement feels safer. If I haven’t created too much inflammation in the area this helps my back pain fast.
- Lazy Boy Sleeping – Getting a good night sleep is vital in the healing process. If you don’t sleep well you feel pain more, feel grouchy and it makes life unpleasant. My back pain at its worst didn’t like me sleeping in a bed. Trying to be flat on my back or on my side could be too uncomfortable. Also trying to get out of bed was a nightmare thinking how was I going to get up. The 90-90 recumbent position is a recommended rest position for back pain. You cant sleep all night like this though. Lucky for me, we had recliner seats in the lounge. These are those lazy boy type chairs with a button or a lever on the side of the chair to make it recline. Least I could ice my back, watch TV and recline the seat to sleep and use it to pull me up into a sitting position.
These are just some of the low back pain treatments and tips I have found beneficial for my own lower back pain case over the years.
Low back pain can be so different between people and depends on what anatomy causing the back pain. It is important you get the right diagnoses in order to treat the back correctly.
Managing my back pain, I can do sport without pain and have learnt to listen to my body when I feel the back twinge. I don’t try push through any back pain. I have also learnt you don’t always cure lower back pain forever, you manage it. You continuously manage back pain throughout your life. Sometimes it takes intense periods of management, other times you can be more relaxed. I don’t let fear of another lower back pain stop me personally.
If you are going through an irritating chronic, intermittent lower back pain I know what it can be like, and it is frustrating. I hope you find you solution(s) to solving your own lower back pain.