Got Low Back Pain? Try these simple solutions

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Got Low Back Pain? Try these simple solutions

Have you ever suffered an episode of lower back pain? Chances are good that you have. In fact, 90% of the population suffers from back pain at some point of their lives. The good news is that back pain in cross country skiers and runners has lower prevalence than in non-active people. And luckily, most cases of low back pain resolve within 6 weeks.

But questions remain. What brings these episodes on? What provokes them? What can we do about it? You might ask, “Am I going to damage my back more?” or, “How do I prevent this from happening again?” To answer these questions, it helps to examine: 1) how low back injuries manifest, 2) what causes them, and 3) what we can do to prevent them.

There are three main complaints that skiers have regarding low back pain:

  1. Temporary muscular pain that may feel like muscle spasms can come on suddenly and feel as though your muscles have locked up or are gripping themselves tightly. Although the pain can be quite severe and distressing, it is isolated to the back with no pain radiating down your leg.

  2. Shooting or radiating pain that travels down the back or side of one or both legs is known as sciatica. This type of pain is often caused by an irritated nerve and may have underlying causes such as disc issue.

  3. Chronic pain or aching in the lower back can sometimes indicate arthritis, but it might also be a sign of overuse. You may feel an aching across your entire lower back or it might be pinpointed in a smaller area.

When assessing low back pain, physical therapists strive to identify a cause – what structure is causing pain - and also any contributing factors. Sometimes these factors are far removed from the location of the pain. Everything within our bodies is interconnected and needs to work in sync. The factors that contribute to the low back pain in cross country skiers are:

  • Poor hip mobility: can place increased stress on the lower back area.  

  • Decreased thoracic spine (mid-back) mobility: can also place unnecessary stress on the lower back area.

  • Core stability and strength:  the muscles surrounding the spinal column have a great impact on the function of the trunk. A strong midsection creates a beautifully strong base for the function of the rest of the body.

  • ‘Weekend Warrior’: regular physical activity makes the whole body and low back strong. It is big swings in activity that overload tissues and may cause pain.

  • Training errors: doing too much too soon, or not doing enough of the right things, inadequate ski technique, strength deficiencies, and mobility imbalances can cause undue stress on the low back.

Below are several methods to help combat low back pain. The activities fall into these categories:

Picture reference

Picture reference

  1. Strengthen core muscles. This is an example of a great core strength routine by Stu McGill, a renowned back expert (see image).

  2. Increase hip and mid/upper back mobility

  3. Keep moving and be smart about it. Know that even though you have pain, it is safe to move, and you will not inflict more damage. Inactivity, bed rest, and sitting are the worst enemies of your back! Get up and walk; even if you have to take your ski poles with you.

  4. Make sure you are moving well, then move often and add strength. Simple skill-based activity is great to assure that your body is moving well; this includes Yoga and Pilates. Then progress to your regular training and strength routines.

  5. Regular exercise – including skill (balance, technique training), mobility, endurance, and strength (work up to heavy loads, but work with a coach or a trainer to make sure your technique is adequate). You should exercise 3-4x/ week. Regular exercise in these categories builds resilience of the body and prevents injuries and pain.

  6. If you wish to progress faster or if the pain persists, have your back evaluated by a physical therapist that is skilled in your sport. A therapist can guide you to full recovery and get you back to doing what you love doing.

Do you want to learn more? Come see us at Advanced Physical Therapy!

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Written by By Zuzana Rogers, PT, ScD, SCS, COMT

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