Nothing can derail your training like back pain—address the weaknesses at the source to avoid unnecessary downtime and discomfort.
Muscular back pain usually comes on instantly. Pain radiates from both sides of the spine and the muscles feel as though they’re locked up. It can be severe and debilitating.
What’s Going On In There?
Muscular back pain is the most common type of back pain. It involves the paraspinal muscles, which are strong muscles on either side of the spine that enable you to move, twist and bend the spine.
So what brings on the pain? In general, the paraspinous muscles are too tight, too weak or both. A sudden twisting or wrenching, bending forward, and even a direct impact on the muscle can set it off.
Employ dynamic rest. Stay mobile. During the acute stage, avoid straining your back, but do simple stretches to loosen your hamstrings, hip flexors and glutes (see examples below). All of these can help alleviate the spasms.
Ice it, then heat it. Apply ice for 15 minutes four to six times a day for the first two days. After 48 hours, using a heating pad at the same time intervals can help relieve the spasms.
Try an NSAID. An anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen or naproxen can help with pain and inflammation.
Vary your therapies. Effective back pain therapies are very individualized. For example, some of my patients respond well to massage therapy. Acupuncture and chiropractic can also be effective for muscular back pain. Try different therapies until you get results.
Stretch and strengthen your kinetic chain. As the pain subsides, start the reconditioning process with basic core strengthening and stretching exercises. Go slow. Stretch your hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes and core.
Your back is working in combination with the rest of your core and your glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings and quads for optimal performance. If you have weakness or imbalance in one of those areas, you can develop back pain. Your best results come when you target all of those areas.
Exercise #1: Lying Glute Stretch
Lie face-up on the floor with your knees and hips bent. Cross your right leg over your left so that your right ankle sits across your left thigh. Grab your right knee with both hands and pull it toward the middle of your chest until you feel a comfortable stretch in your glutes. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.
Exercise #2: Plank
Get into pushup position, but bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Brace your core and hold. Let your fitness level determine how long you hold the plank, but 30 seconds to a minute is good, while I recommend three to six minutes of total plank time.
Exercise #3: Prone Cobra
Lie face-down on the floor with your legs straight and your arms next to your sides, palms down. Contract your glutes and the muscles of your lower back, and raise your head, chest, arms and legs off the floor. Simultaneously rotate your arms so that your thumbs point toward the ceiling. At this time, your hips should be the only parts of your body touching the floor. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute.
New York City sports medicine specialist Jordan D. Metzl, M.D. is a 29-time marathon finisher and 10-time Ironman. His book, The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies, has more than 1,000 tips to fix all types of injuries and medical conditions.
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