7 Ways to Repair Low Back Pain
Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, you’ve likely experienced low back pain (LBP) at some point in your life. So, what can you do?
Even if you’ve never had LBP, you probably know someone who has had it. In fact, research reported in the National Library of Medicine confirms nine out of 10 Olympians, two out of three athletes, and 60 to 80% of the general population experience LBP; it’s a leading cause of disability globally. Athletes may experience chronic symptoms due to either excessive workouts without breaks or inconsistent ones from undertraining. The good news, however, is that both are treatable with the help of a sports medicine provider.
“Everyone gets low back pain. Professional and elite athletes often overtrain and don’t rest enough after injuries. People coming back from a long period off, like following the pandemic, tend to hit their workouts with too much intensity and hurt themselves,” says Jake Fisher, DC, CCSP, CSCS, Sports Medicine Provider at Canyon Ranch.
Fisher has treated many clients over the years and has experienced his own LBP while playing soccer and wrestling. He says that, while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to healing or preventing LBP, it helps to meet with a training expert who can assess your workout and/or injury recovery strategy. In general, these tips can help prevent LBP for anyone:
- Get Enough Sleep. Did you know that not getting enough sleep is a big risk factor for developing LBP? Think about it: Sleep deprivation causes cognitive abilities to decline and slows down reaction times. This can cause accidents in the game for professionals or bad decisions such as deadlifting too much weight after a year away from gym.
- Reduce Stress. A little stress is a good thing. Ask any athlete about the ability to move quickly when adrenaline hits. But chronic stress floods cortisol through the body all the time. This is linked to the development of autoimmune disorders, joint inflammation, reactivity, aggression, overdrinking or overeating, and more. Stressed people are more prone to accidents, have cognitive decline, and erratic decision-making – which can relate to more accidents, or poor choices.
- Pay Attention to Nutrition. Extra pounds add extra pressure everywhere in the body. While managing a healthy weight can feel challenging when resting after an injury, a healthy meal strategy can keep the weight off and help when you get back to your fitness regimen. Just remember, more weight around the middle puts pressure on the spine and the muscles of the low back.
- Rest After Injury. Don’t push yourself too quickly or too intensely for a recovery. It’s critical to listen to what your sports medicine provider recommends – and to take it easy.
- Incrementally Increase Workouts After Recovery Period or Time Off. This is especially important because it’s easy to reinjure your lower back. If you’ve had time off, Fisher advises lifting only small amounts and slowly increasing. Same thing goes for running: Don’t run 15 miles when you haven’t run in six months or your last run was only five miles. “People often push themselves too much when getting back into their training. Aim for a 5-to-10 percent increase in volume and intensity each week. Do not go from 0 to 60 in one week,” advises Fisher.
- Be Consistent. Taking long breaks from your fitness routine puts you at risk for injury. Why? Because it can be too tempting to workout at previous levels when you do return. For example, someone who takes six months off from tennis, then plays in a tournament, can easily pull an Achilles tendon. Plus, stepping away from exercise often leads to more pounds, which adds pressure to the body.
- Assess Your Training Program. This is equally important for the professional athlete and for the person getting back into a fitness regimen. For the elite athlete, Fisher says it’s critical to monitor rest, nutrition, recovery, workload, and decide whether the training program is too intense. For anyone stepping back into a workout, talk with a professional to address previous injuries, future goals, and determine which training modalities are right for you today – and where you want to go.