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My Journey With Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is in the top two musculoskeletal issues that come through the doors at the Centre. Myotherapy can help with both the acute and chronic phases of this common problem. I was 18mths into my new career as a Myotherapist and it was going really well. Then I hurt my lower back. Luckily for me I had the knowledge on what was happening and how to go about overcoming it. Here is the journey that I went through, what I think was contributing and what I did to overcome it. Hopefully someone in a similar position can gain some hope from my experience.

It was six months into our very tiresome journey of our first dependant. This was nothing like we expected. Fiona and I openly admit to not really enjoying the first six months of parenthood. We had a very head strong girl that was crying a lot and it was wearing us down.

As a new age hands on Dad, I was getting my hands dirty in the middle of the night changing nappies and doing some feeds with the bottle. After months of being very tired, I started to change our little girl on the bed in the middle of the night. It didn’t take long for me to start feeling a fatigue sensation in my lower back from successive nights, bleary eyed, bending over and changing nappies on our low bed.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to a chilly Sunday afternoon at the hockey field. It was in the warm up where I bent forward and twisted slightly and I felt like something had given way in my lower back and experienced pain immediately in the right sacroiliac joint (where your spine and pelvis meets) region. Nothing too bad but something was definitely not right.

I have played hockey for over 32 years, it is my outlet, the thing that I love to do to take my mind off everything else. I hadn’t been able to really get the body moving in weeks, so I played most of the game.  Definitely not the smartest thing to do but I really needed to keep my mental health in check.

Once I cooled down after the game I knew it wasn’t good. I struggled to get out of the car when I arrived home and had to roll myself out of bed the next morning. For those of you who have been through lower back pain, you know exactly what I mean.

Being a Myotherapist I took it upon myself to self treat and see if the advice that I give to people nearly every day would hold true. Here’s how my recovery unfolded.

At this stage in my professional development, I was only just starting to delve into Pain Science. Why we experience pain, where it comes from, what influences it. Which allowed me to really understand what was going on and to not be so afraid of pain and movement.

It took me a about three weeks of heat packs, gentle movement, self massage, stretching, muscle cream and positive thinking to get me to a point where I was confident in ramping up the exercises. In this three week period I had bad days and better days. I was quickly finding out that recovery is never linear.

The exercises that I found really helped me the most in the beginning were Pilates based exercises (see below) like clamshells, toe taps and lateral leg lifts. As well as some single leg standing, standing knee to chest stretches, assisted squat stretches.

After the five week mark I was feeling more confident in my day to day activities and exercise so I wanted to test it out a bit. I was very keen to get back to playing hockey so 2-3 times per day I would mimic movements in hockey to gradually expose my body back into playing. After two weeks of  this (again some days good, some better) I played my first game of hockey since the injury. I only played half a game and took my warm up very seriously with the possibility of flaring it up again and being back to the start.

I can’t remember if we won the game that day but I was just happy to be with my teammates having fun and not feeling so restricted both physically and mentally. To my surprise my back had some tightness but it was a different feeling. It was a feeling of muscles that had done a hard workout not one of pain.

It took about a year for me to be in a position where I wasn’t getting little reminders (clients have often refer to them as twinges) from my back that something had happened to it. Even 4yrs later I still get an awareness in my lower back when I have really pushed it.

I am aware that my experience is no where near as bad as what it can be for some people. I am thankful that I had the knowledge to deal with it. It is easy to see how this kind of situation can really get on top of people. If I was unable to get back into hockey I am sure it would have been a lot harder.

So here are my key takeaways from my experience:

  1. Learn about Pain, why we feel it, what influences it and what tools/services you can use to manage/overcome it.
  2. Relate that same Pain information to your situation, arm yourself with knowledge rather than being afraid of it.
  3. The Psycho and Social factors were definitely a big part of my recovery. Getting back into doing something I loved and being around teammates helped.
  4. Pain doesn’t equal tissue damage
  5. Don’t be afraid to move. I felt a lot of pain in the early stages of trying to keep my back moving. As long as the pain didn’t feel like I was making it worse, I felt better the next day or soon after the exercises.
  6. Gradually expose your body to movement that is going to be relevant to things you want to get back to doing
  7. Flare ups don’t always mean you have re-injured your back. They can be your body saying, OK we found our threshold for today.
  8. Sometimes it’s really shit and you wonder what is it going to take to recover.
  9. You need to make your recovery/rehab fun or in a way that is going to keep you interested.
  10. Goals are important, as a measuring stick for where you are in recovery but also as a motivator
  11. Take note of all the little improvements, not just pain levels but functionally and mentally.
  12. Myotherapy/self treatment helped me to perform my exercises to a greater capacity

Here are the exercises that I used in my early stages of recovery. Use these as a guide and consult a Myotherapist to see if these are right for you.

 

Clamshells

Setup

Lying on the side with the knees bent, feet back in line with the body, arm extended long under the head, head relaxed on the arm. One long line between the hand, hip and feet. Hips stacked one on top of each other. Create a small gap between the waist and the floor, neutral spine.

Breathing and Movement

INHALE, T-Zone, squeeze the heels together and squeeze the top buttock

EXHALE, open the top knee up toward the ceiling, keeping the feet together

Concentration Points

Only raise the knee as high as you can without rolling backward

Activate T-Zone to prevent hips from rocking

***Always seek advice from a Health Professional to see if this exercise is right for you***

Description: Studio Pilates

 

Single Leg Stance

Movement

Standing on your right leg, slightly bend at the knee and hip.

Hands in front of you to balance if needed.

Slightly drop you left hip below level.

Contract your right glute to bring your L hip up to level and hold that position/contraction for 30-40 secs.

Then switch sides if needed.

Concentration Points

You should feel this in the upper-back portion of your gluteus medius.

If not you might need to play around with the amount of bend in your knee and hip.

***Always seek advice from a Health Professional to see if this exercise is right for you***

 

Lateral Leg Lifts

Breathing and Movement

Laying on your side with your feet, ankles and knees together (and slightly bent). Straighten your top leg in line with your body.

INHALE, activate your T-Zone

EXHALE as you lift your top leg to the ceiling and slightly back to really engage your gluteus medius.

Making sure you don’t roll your body back or side bend with the movement.

Control the movement as you inhale and bring your leg back to the starting position.

Concentration Points

Only lift your leg as high is available to you without compromising your position.

T-Zone activation will reduce hips rocking

Make it Easier/Harder

Lift your leg higher to make it harder and lower to make it easier. Use your top hand gently on the floor to balance if needed. Do not push through your hand.

***Always seek advice from a Health Professional to see if this exercise is right for you.***

 

Standing Knee To Chest Stretches

Movement
Standing, lift your right knee towards your chest.
Grabbing onto your knee with both hands pull your knee towards your chest.
Hold for 20secs the gently lower your leg back to the starting position.
Do the same with the left leg.

Stretch
You should feel this in the lower back if there is some restriction

Tip
Focus on one spot to help keep your balance.
If you are unable to do this stretch standing you can do it on the floor on your back.

***Always seek advice from a Health Professional to see if this exercise is right for you***

 

Assisted Squat Stretches

Movement

Keep your feet flat on the floor and only go as deep as is tolerable.

Holding onto something will allow you to go deeper into the squat than usual.

Alternate dropping your knees inwards to gain further movement in your hips and lower back.

Tip

It’s OK if you feels some discomfort in your lower back. As long as it’s not making it worse.

***Always seek advice from a Health Professional to see if this exercise is right for you***

 

Modified Side Bend

Movement

To stretch the left side, step the left foot back, keep your toes pointing forward on both feet.

Rest your right forearm on your right thigh.

Put the majority of your weight on your right forearm as you reach over your head with your left arm.

Reach your left arm and fingers as far as you can.

Repeat on the other side

Stretch

You should be feeling this down the left side of your body through your lats and possibly into the side of your hip if you have some restriction.

You can turn your upper body so your shoulders are more parallel with the ground to move the stretch more to your lower back.

Concentration Points Putting the majority of your weight on your forearm will allow you to relax your back muscles a little more.

With each exhale try and reach your fingers a little further each time.

Tip

If you can anchor yourself onto something like a door handle, you can make this a really nice deep stretch.

While anchored shift your weight backwards and try to relax your side/back as much as possible.

***Always seek advice from a Health Professional to see if this exercise is right for you***