10 Ways To Stop Back Pain!

Back pain, back pain, back pain!!! Chances are if you do sport, lift weights, work in a manual job,  or even sit on your ass every day, then you will have suffered back pain. We all know how painful a simple back ache can be? But despite the fact that most back pain sorts itself out after 6 to 8 weeks, there are some ways to speed up this process, and not suffer from a relapse of the symptoms again in the future. So before I give you all the ‘magic formulas’ to do this, let me give you some history…
It’s a little know fact that at 22 years old I trained in MMA with some bad ass dudes called the Dinky Ninjas, who in time have come to dominate the Scottish MMA scene. Up until this point in my sports ‘career’ I had experienced some ankle sprains, and some pulled muscles, but generally speaking these injuries were not a big deal, and sorted themselves out after a few weeks. 
Before I became a strongman, training with the DNFT circa 2002

All that changed when a dude who I was sparring with decided to jump onto my back, and try to sink in a rear-naked choke. My immediate reaction was to flex forward, and try to reduce some of the pressure on my throat…this as it turned out was a bad idea! You see, as I bent my back forward, he simultaneously shimmied further up my back, and then bang…suddenly I experienced a sharp, severe stabbing pain in my lower back. I dropped to the mat like a rock, and reached around to my back, expecting to feel a Rambo sized knife sticking out of my spine! Within 2 hours I had burning pain running down my right leg, with pins and needles in my foot. Being a physio student at the time, I knew that I had prolapsed a disc in my lumbar spine, and so I set about trying to get myself in one piece again. 
After 72 hours of severe pain, ice baths, anti-inflammatory’s, and lying on my front doing countless McKenzie extensions I ventured back to University, and work stacking the shelves in Tesco. I gradually built up my walking distance, worked on my mobility, and slowly began to work on my core strength. After a month I started deadlifitng in the gym with light weights, and gradually built this up over the next six months.  13 years later I am proud to say that this was my first, and only episode of ‘sciatica’, and low back pain. Since this time I have gone on to squat 270kg, and deadlift 320kg in competition as a strongman. I have performed Yoke races with 450kg on my back, and loaded heavy atlas stones to 6 foot platforms. Not for one second have I ever worried about my back ‘giving out’, and going back to the way it was in 2002!  My business partner Mark McKenzie, is famous for saying “There’s a reason for everything” so here’s my top 10 tips on how I recovered from this back injury, and more importantly how you can to:
1. Early management is crucial!
Within the first 3 days you must work very hard to speed up the inflammatory cycle. This includes relative rest to let the body begin to repair the damaged tissues. So don’t be pushing into too much pain at this point, let your body rest! Use ice packs for 10 minutes at a time to help reduce your pain, and also decrease the amount of inflammation at the spine. Heat packs, and Tens units can also be used to calm down muscle spasm, and get you moving a bit better. Visit your pharmacist for some pain killers, and an anti-inflammatory to help you sleep better, and when it comes to sleep lie on the good side, with the sore leg on top, and a pillow between your knees.
2. Centralise any disc problems!
Often in a lumbar disc injury the disc will ‘push backwards’. The simplest way to tackle this is to create a pressure that will drive the disc content forwards. This is where your McKenzie extension exercises come into play. So lie on your front, relax your glutes, and let your legs sink into the floor. From here prop up onto your elbows, and hold this position for 10 seconds to a minute. Repeat this for a few sets, and perform every hour.
The McKenzie Extension
3. WALK!
Due to the pain you’ll be tempted to lie down, and sit in the early phases. Make sure you lie several times in the day to sleep for 45 minutes or so, as this will speed up the repair of tissues, but avoid sitting altogether! If you must sit then use a lumbar roll in at the base of your back to support the extension of the spine. Try as early as you can to get out walking. You may only manage 10-15 minutes, but it will increase blood flow to the low back, and help mobilise the body in a therapeutic way.
4. Regain full mobility. If you never had it, get it!
From day 3 onwards you should be trying to get normal movement in the lumbar spine. This includes flexion, extension, side flexion and rotation movements. Don’t get greedy with these, and force them, instead do them little and often throughout the day. These don’t need to be complicated…a few movements that I liked are a seated flexion stretch, McKenzie extensions, wall side glides, and lumbar rotations.
5. Build a bullet proof core!
A strong back is much less likely to get hurt. So as your pain begins to settle a little, and as your movement improves it’s time to build some strength in your core muscles. Exercises that I would recommend at this stage are dead bugs, half/front planks, supermen, and back raises. As the weeks go past you can add in more challenging exercises like side planks, bowls, saucers, roll outs and half candle sticks. Remember though that the most important thing here is to keep a neutral spine, and BRACE the core throughout the movement.
Deadbuggin’ with a Physio ball
6. Have good posture in sitting, standing, and working.
A big percentage of people with back pain have poor movement patterns, and essentially slouch their lower back in sitting. So remember when you pick things up from the floor use your legs to squat down, and pick it up with a flat/neutral spine. If you work at a desk then make sure your chair supports the lower back. Also try to get up from your desk every 20-30 minutes, and walk about the room, maybe even do some stretches or mobility movements.
7. Squat, and deadlift with excellent form!
If you have never squatted , or deadlifted before then learn to squat, and deadlift! Start with a barbell, and light weights only, and MASTER the form. Keep the spine in neutral as much as possible. Learn to BRACE the core on each, and every lift. Once the technique is solid, then gradually start to increase the weight. From my own personal experience, for the average Joe, a 1x body weight squat, and a 1.5x body weight deadlift is a good level for daily function. 
8. Build a strong back!
As Mark Bell says, “Strength is never a Weakness”. Spend some time building up your lower, and upper back. Make sure you can do pull-ups! Hammer the back with 45 degree extensions, glute-ham raises, and kettle bell swings. Keep the reps, and sets high with lighter loads and go for a good ole pump!
9. Squat, and deadlift with excellent form!
This is in here twice, just in case you missed it the first time! Don’t be that guy who says, “Nah I can’t, squat or deadlift because my back hurts!” The truth is that this douchebags back hurts because he doesn’t squat, and deadlift!!!
Never skip legs and core!
10. Don’t be lazy!
Last but by no means least, don’t sit about on the sofa, watching TV, popping pain killers, and complaining to your wife about your bad back. Get off your ass, train at a gym, go for a swim, walk in the fresh air, do some stretches, use a foam roller, drink lots of water, and eat a healthy diet. In other words don’t procrastinate, don’t make excuses and stop being weak…be strong!

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