Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Vicious Cycle of Back Pain

There is no shortage of active people in New York City. From fitness enthusiasts to avid runners that run the entire bike path on the west side, everyone is trying to be active. However a de-conditioned person just getting back out after being shut indoors all winter, seething form the cold and the inactivity that comes along with it, may just be asking for pain and injuries.

Even people that are regularly active don't notice that over the winter and spring their activity levels fall, sometimes significantly. Making a conscious effort to be active and not let yourself get out of shape during the winter doesn't always mean that you didn't avoid a walk or just stayed in an extra night here and there, or cut your gym time short to stay warm under the covers just a little while longer.

And is it just the winter inactivity that leads to injury? Well, no, its sort of a complicated answer. Your body has an economy based around exercise, rest and nutrition. An increase in activity needs more fuel (nutrition), and time to recover. Rest, or inactivity requires less nutrition, so its also easy to over consume, if you over consume, you require more work to burn off the excess calories, that leads to more activity, and so on.

Exercise economy

As the previous statement went, theres also an exercise economy, where there is a risk/ reward system. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, The National Strength and Conditioning Association, and other evidence based training certifying bodies that research exercise and nutrition, low repetition, heavy, compound exercises build strength, while high repetition, light weight exercises build endurance. So weather you exercise to be strong or to increase your endurance, the trade off between training volume and exposure to injury is simple. The more you do, the more you risk. But if you don't do enough, you don't make many improvements.

Too much training?
Its hard to believe that most people do too much. Think about it, most people hit a wall in their training regimen, and to fix it they simply do more. Some people "run through pain" when they have shin splints, other people just start adding more sets to their weight training workouts. This upsets that aforementioned "exercise economy" because you are now simply giving your body more work to do, and probably with poor mechanics and execution.

Can I exercise with a bad back?
Yes, some people can actually keep exercising with a back injury. Now, any time you are starting an exercise regimen, or thinking about exercising on an injury, make sure you talk to your doctor, or if you are under the care of a Physical Therapist, make sure you clear any exercise you are planning o do. Everyone is different and therefore everyone's injuries are going to require a different approach if not treatment altogether.
You want to stay away from exercises that load the spine, making herniated and bulging discs even worse, so stay away from deadlifts, and bent rows. What you want to do is focus on exercises that require "core" stability, or exercises that require you to have your lumbar, hips, and abdominal/oblique muscles work as one unit.
Try this:
Low cable row: Sit down on the machine and grab the cable handle, go for the single handle. Keep your back straight, and tight, now flex your abdominals, flex the obliques, and try to keep your hip complex tight too, so squeeze your butt a bit too. Make sure you can breathe, and go light on the weight, be careful not to make any sharp jerky movement, and don't allow your trunk to turn during the exercise.
Supine Bridge: Lay flat on yours back, bend the knees, and keep your hands at your sides. Start slowly and raise your hips up keeping your back and hips tight, return to starting position slowly.
Bird Dog
This is a simple Yoga movement, and here is a quick video demo for it:

Remember that for back pain, there are come great options for finding relief. A chiropractor can help adjust your spine and a Physical Therapist will help you strengthen the surrounding musculature.

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