Back Pain and You – The 3 Things You Didn’t Know

Guest Blog by Jamie Atlas

I was 22 years old when the doctor told me I needed surgery to resolve my back pain.  On top of that, it would be a year before I could play basketball at a professional level [again].  I was devastated.  I wanted so badly to play, to be able to move around without feeling like I was carrying my upper body as a separate, slightly shifted to the right part of my lower body, but no matter what I tried my pain wouldn’t subside.

Thankfully, as a professional athlete, I had access to the Australian Institute of Sport, where I could start my journey into finding research and talking with rehabilitation experts from around the world as they came through town.  You might not be a professional athlete, you might just be wanting to get out of pain, but here are the tips I can give you to help you get out of (and stay out of) back pain:

3 Tips for Avoiding and Preventing Back Pain

1) Keep the body moving

No matter what you can or can’t do, find what you can do that is pain-free (both before and after) and keep doing it. Three activities that often don’t irritate the back but help keep blood flow and muscles active in that area are:

  1. a) Recumbent Cycling (otherwise known as the ‘leaning back’ bike)
  2. b) Swimming (whatever stroke you’d prefer – the low-gravity pool environment is often heaven on the back muscles)
  3. c) Gentle mat stretches (knee to chest, rock the knees, all the good old stretches your teacher made you do way back in PE class)

If you’re in motion, the other joints that support the movement and health of the back (the hips and shoulders) won’t also freeze up, which can further hinder your return to health – so find what you can do and do it for 20 minutes a day to get yourself back to back healthy again!

2) Check your surroundings

While it might sound like an airport security PSA, back pain can often be related to a work environment or bed issue.

  1. a) In bed – Do you sleep on your front? Ever wonder what that might be doing to your side turned neck for eight hours?  If you sleep on your side be sure to use a body pillow under your arms and knee so you are supported on your side lying position.  Sometimes a new mattress or sleeping position can also help with relief.
  1. b) At work – I’ve had more than a few clients report back pain following the purchase of a new chair or changing offices. Take a look at the correct ergonomic position you should be in and set up your screen and chair so you are in a better position.  Sometimes the creative use of a phone book for your screen or under your feet can help.  Every little bit counts when you’re spending more than a third of your day in one position.  Of course, every chance you get, move around.  Standing still is the backs worst enemy!

3) Check yourself before you wreck yourself!

Stress is a silent killer.  Consider whatever breathing, meditation or stress-relieving techniques you can use that are ‘active’ – that is, require you to remove distractions and concentrate on the task at hand.  Scientific research has shown that passive activities such as watching television might feel relieving, but do little to alleviate the stress when compared to other deep breathing related activities (if your back will allow it, an easy walk with a friend can do wonders!)

Most of all, be good to yourself, focus on getting better in small increments and congratulate yourself and take notes when things get better.  Back pain is something that affects all of us, chances are you’ll have it again, so knowing what you can do to get back out of pain is going to be helpful is that day ever comes again.

Jamie Atlas has been voted the 5280 Magazine Top of the town best personal trainer since 2009 and is our 9Health Ready Exercise Expert.  If you have questions about this article or personal training at his studio with himself or one of his certified personal trainers, please email [email protected].