Gyms are opening back up here in California! It's come as a huge relief to those of us who have been itching to get some pent-up quarantine energy out! But, most people don't realize that they may be doing more harm than good to their bodies by jumping right back into old routines at the gym.
At one point or another, pretty much everyone will experience back pain in their lives. Of course, everyone has an opinion on posture tricks or exercises to fix your back. And if you know me at all, you probably know that I'm saying all of this in preparation for telling you that a lot of the things people do to treat their backs is WRONG. So here we go...
Most people think that they have to fix their lower backs using strengthening. It's not a bad first thought. There's semi sound logic behind it. It's natural to think that if something is hurting, it's probably because it was weak and then overused. This is NOT USUALLY THE CASE. By doing activities like back extensions or those horrid seated back machines, seated leg presses and that weird twisty machine at the gym, you are in fact making things WORSE. These exercises typically compress those precious discs and cause stress to the rear of the spine. Over time, the spine can get angrier and angrier and lead to arthritis! Now, why would you do that to yourself?
So if it's not a strength thing, what is it? The idea of the muscles being overused isn't entirely wrong. The problem is that we often don't realize they are overused because the WRONG MUSCLES are working. For example, when you have poor posture, your muscles get lazy and only some of them have to work. The few muscles that are working are forced to pick up the slack of the others the second you stand up. This means that only a few muscles are working when all of them should be taking part of the weight. A grape would be hard for a single ant to haul back to its anthill. But get a colony of ants and it's no problem. What you're doing is tiring out one single ant and letting all of the others go on vacation.
Now let's connect that back to how strengthening is not necessarily the answer. When you strengthen the sore muscle, what you're doing is making an already fatigued muscle even more tired. You're telling that single ant that, sure, it's hard to pick up a grape all by yourself. But instead of having the other ants help, you just send the one to the gym... I'd be a pretty upset ant...
So what you really need to do is rely on other muscle groups! Achieving the perfect balance for your back comes from good core strength and, no, that doesn't mean crunches. Planks and abdominal bracing exercises are best to trigger those deep core muscles. Stretch and strengthen your hips. Your hips are, after all, the foundation that your back rests upon.
On another note, back pain is a serious matter. NEVER EVER rely on aspirin or other pain relievers. Your body is telling you that something is wrong. These medications don't solve the problem, they just turn off your body's ability to tell you something isn't right.
So if the pain persists longer than a week, go get it checked out by your primary doctor or your physical therapist. It's always better to air on the side of caution. You only get one body, so take care of it!
If you're a lucky someone who has not experienced back pain, try implementing these ideas to keep you from getting yourself in pain. If you already experience back pain, these ideas may be able to help you bring your body back to a good place.
Hoping you all are remaining safe and healthy and can enjoy getting a little piece of normalcy returned to us!
Remember, we heal smarter, not harder.
Dr. Justin C. Lin