When you feel your back pain come on, there is an entire mental shift from whatever you were doing before to the now all encompassing and limiting world of back pain.
Clouds roll in, thoughts of joy and fun fade away. The day’s plan is assessed and frustration takes over your mind when you realize you won’t be able to get comfortable standing up, sitting down or lying in your bed for the next few days let alone even lift a single thing.
The thought of putting your socks on, untying your shoes, or picking up that tiny piece of trash on the floor will keep you immobile as a statue and the limitation of your movement will circle your every moment of consciousness.
If you’ve had a stint of back pain, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The days grow dark. You don’t notice the sun except that you have to get up to close the shade and getting up sucks. It sucks a lot.
Over 80% of people will experience back pain in their lifetime and many will not have ever had an injury. These people, I was one of them, will hear things like “normal wear and tear” and “arthritis”. These are the terms given when there is no clear evidence as to why there is a persistent terrible no good back pain that comes and goes at it’s own schedule.
However! There is a way out of this complete and awful crud. I’ve spent near twenty years now navigating this myself. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. Trust me now and believe me later. Here’s what you need to do.
Step 1: Educate yourself ASAP
- For herniated discs, the #1 strategy to get healed is an aggressive physical rehabilitation program consisting of back school and stabilization exercise training. We are talking about a “90% good or excellent outcome with a 92% return to work rate”. source
- For chronic low back pain, “intensive, specific exercise using firm pelvic stabilization to isolate and rehabilitate the lumbar spine musculature” resulted in over a 90% positive outcome. source
- Take care with back surgery. It should be your ultimate last resort unless you’ve been in an accident. “Lumbar fusion for the diagnoses of disc degeneration, disc herniation, and/or radiculopathy … associated with significant increase in disability, opiate use, prolonged work loss…” – source
- Herniated discs can disappear and MRIs do not predict your need for surgery. “MRI assessment of disk herniation did not distinguish between patients with a favorable outcome and those with an unfavorable outcome”. – source
Step 2: Have a doctor check you out
Go see a doctor about your back pain. Make sure that there isn’t some godawful problem that’s making your back hurt. Doc’s will do blood tests and check you out. Hopefully, you get a physical therapy prescription.
Physical Therapists really know their stuff and their exercises will be targeted. It’s likely that you’ll get a sheet of paper with the exercises badly illustrated and be instructed to do the routine a few times a week. Definitely do this. It will be a piece of your plan. Even if there is some kind of disc issue, back specific exercises are very effective and very likely in your future.
Step 3: Correct any postural issue
Go see a postural specialist. Don’t try to do this yourself. You probably don’t remember what you ate during lunch two days ago. Go find an expert. Put effort into it. Treat it like a project where you are the client and you have already paid to see results.
The one I found that was really, really good was an Egoscue clinic. There may be other folks in your area who are really good. Find them, take action!
Step 4: Take corrective action every day
Listen, it will take a bit of time and work. Maybe it’s 4 weeks of concerted aggressive effort, more or less. Take the knowledge and the exercises from the Doc, the PT and the Postural Specialist and use it daily. Do it for 6 weeks. Do it every day. On top of that, get the foundation exercise program. Hands down, this will strengthen your back generally and specifically.
There are many psychological tricks you can do to keep yourself doing the corrective actions. More on those later. Check James Clear if you are hankering to apply concepts now. However, the number one thing to do is to commit to do these exercises every morning and every evening.
Get out your calendar and put a 45 day reminder in. Once you’ve been doing this corrective action and you’ve stayed on it doing effectively 45 consecutive days of back focused rehabilitation, your back should have no reason to hurt.
Understand this, you will have worked the back muscles into a new habit of movement patterns and retrained the muscle memory to not hurt. You’ll find that when you sit, you strengthen the back because your posture has changed. You’ll find when you lay down, you can relax. You’ll find that you are stronger when you stand. Now, you can put this behind you and get back to your life and goals.