In working with clients suffering from back pain, I have found the key to relief is identifying the source of the pain and creating a customized program to help relieve it.
When a client comes to me in pain, I inquire as to the cause. Did he or she have surgery? Was there an accident of any kind? Is this an overuse injury from a particular activity? I then contact the client’s doctor for medical clearance. Once the doctor gives the okay for the client to exercise, I determine the root cause(s) (if not already known) and create a specific program which brings relief. When pain is muscle-related, I look for muscle imbalances and identify which muscles are underused and which are overused. Discerning how the muscles are working is the first step. I then put the client on a program that focuses on flexibility for the overused muscles and strengthening the underused muscles.
One common source of back pain is an injury to the sacroiliac (SI) joint. (We have two; one on the right side and one on the left side where the sacrum meets the hip bone). There are effective exercises that quickly help relieve back pain related to the SI joint. A client came to me experiencing back pain when carrying things in front of her and also when she exercised, particularly when walking around the track. She could only go around the track three times and would have to stop because of pain. Her goal was to walk at least a mile during her lunch break which is twelve laps on that track. As I investigated her back pain, I was able to identify her muscle imbalances and taught her exercises to relieve her pain. She continued to do the exercises at home throughout the week. By the end of the week, she was able to carry things in front of her and walk with little or no pain. She still experiences occasional bouts of low back pain due to stress and having a sedentary job. When this happens, she does the exercises that I taught her and her back is once again pain-free.
One way that a muscle imbalance can occur is when the primary muscle for a specific movement does not engage. When this happens, a different muscle has to step in and do the work; such as when lifting something overhead. It is common to shrug our shoulders while lifting overhead. The primary muscles that should be doing the work in this example are the deltoid (shoulder) muscles. However, by shrugging, we are excessively using our upper trapezius (“traps”) muscle. We then tend to have upper back pain and headaches.
In addition to exercise, I have found two things that have helped my clients significantly reduce their pain. One is stress management. For those experiencing high levels of stress, my recommendation is to find and practice a relaxation technique (or several) that works for them. Try massage, meditation, breathing exercise, tai chi, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation.
Second, sound nutrition can have an immense impact on the body’s ability to heal. By adding more fresh fruits and vegetables regularly, you can greatly reduce inflammation and thus reduce pain. Not only does eating fresh fruits and vegetables decrease inflammation, but it helps to improve your immune system, supports your heart health, and offers many other health benefits.