Back Pain…muscle imbalances

From 2000 to 2006, I had debilitating back pain. There was no memorable accident that brought it on. I had back surgery in 2002. It didn’t fix it. I had two problems.

  1. Pain down the leg so bad I couldn’t stand for more than 3 minutes without throbbing pain. It would go away if I sat down for a few minutes. Then I could walk or stand a few minutes more.
  2. If I lifted something or did any kind of exerting full body movement, I would have a feeling of broken glass in my lower glute. It would come on slowly for a couple of days and peak on about day 3 and taper off another 3 days. On the peak days, I would rather urinate in my bed than get up and walk to the bathroom. Although, I chose to make the walk, it was that painful.

Either of these pains could appear on either side of my body. I saw many Doctors. I saw multiple physical therapists. When finally an orthopedic surgeon saw a herniated disc in an MRI and recommended surgery, I was elated. I was ecstatic! I believed that must be the cause and was happy to finally have found out what this pain was from.

After the surgery, I was in incredible pain. I was so weak. I laid in bed for 2 months. As I began to feel good enough, I began to walk around and do more. It was month 3 when pain #2 came back. I couldn’t believe the surgery didn’t correct it. I was glad to be rid of pain #1 at least. However, when pain #1 came back, I became seriously depressed. My back began to spasm just from sitting. It was horrible.

It seemed that pain #1 was manageable as long as I didn’t lift anything over 30lbs. As my twin girls were around a year old, I could carry one of them at a time. Pain #2 would come about every 3 weeks it seemed. One week out of a month, I would be bedridden. Did I mention I was 27? How did this come to be? How could I be disabled and not have had any accident?

In 2005, I decided to see a Rolfer. In fact, I saw this man right here. It was incredibly painful. However, I felt quite different afterwards. He said things like Tensor Fasciae Latae and Ilio Psoas. He also said I had no butt and that was part of the problem. Huh?

As I said, I felt different. Also, I decided this pain wasn’t going to keep me from living. I figured I do whatever I wanted and if it wanted to hurt it just would. About this time, I saw the circus Cavalia. I realized I missed my calling when I saw these crazy feats of strength and agility. It was so far from where I was physically at the time, but so close to me in another way. I searched in San Francisco and found the San Francisco Circus Center.

I couldn’t believe that a premier circus school was 10 blocks from my house and that they had master chinese circus instructors teaching classes! I signed up immediately. I took beginning chinese acrobatics and I didn’t have any back pain whatsoever during that class. I was rolling, flipping and doing handstands. It was fantasic. I was in that for about a year and didn’t have any of pain #1 or #2 show up at all.

Things got hectic and I stopped taking classes and just focused on commuting to work and working long hours. I was sitting for about 16 hours a day at the computer. It was about a month after I stopped taking those classes that I got and episode with pain #2. I was completely pissed off as I thought I had it figured out. I needed to be active to keep the pain at bay. So I had a clue.

I figured I needed to not sit anymore. That was hard as being a software engineer requires long hours at the computer. At least in this day and age. So, I decided to transition to a different career as a personal trainer. In a previous post, I talk about the school I chose.

I’ve completed the school now, but during one of our practical sessions. I was being trained by a really functionally strong person. He recommended that I do 100lbs for my stiff-legged deadlift. I hadn’t had any pain for a long time and figured I was ready. I normally did 60lbs at that weight, keeping it light given my history. After doing a couple of sets for 20 reps, I felt the pain #2 starting in my glutes. I thought, “Oh, you dummy! You knew it was too heavy.”

However, things were a little bit different now. I had 6 months of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology under my belt. I began to think about the movement and the muscles involved. I headed straight for the foam roller and began to work the hamstrings. I found a tender spot on the biceps femoris right at the ishial tuberosity. I focused the pressure on the tender spot and worked around it as well. It was not comfortable. However, when I finished and stood up. I had NO PAIN. IT WAS TOTALLY GONE.

I couldn’t believe it. It was totally fantastico! It had been close to 7 years that this illusive bugger had caused me so much pain. I had seen multiple doctors and multiple physical therapists and the cause was revealed to me at the National Personal Training Institute. I couldn’t believe it. But, then again, I could.

I had been learning about the agonists and antagonists in movements and what happens neurologically when the agonist is concentrically contracted and the antagonist is eccentrically contracted. I had been learning proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (say that 3 times fast). I had been learning about anterior pelvic tilt and synergistic dominance. I learned that I had it.

All my back pain was caused by sitting too long. When one sits for long periods, even in an ergonomically correct position, things begin to change. The hips are about 80 percent contracted and so are the hamstrings. This puts those muscles into an isometric contraction for long periods. They stick that way. There are more technical ways to say that and one could go into the inflammation that occurs from continually firing muscles fibers, but I’ve already written a book in this post. The glutes are stretched which makes them week. The abdominal muscles are mostly turned OFF and the erector spinae (your low back mucles) are also isometrically contracted. So, when the body sits for long periods, the hip flexors get really tight, the back gets really tight and the hamstrings get really tight. Those hip flexors are strong and will hold the pelvis in the same position as sitting when standing. Add the hamstrings (which are like iron cords when they are tight) with the erector spinae and one has to arch the back to stand up straight.

It’s not a good thing for the body and it’s totally correctable. I should note that I can now lift plenty of weight and any time I have the pain come on, I work the tender spots in my hamstrings. It goes away. I’m so greateful to have this knowledge.

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