You can’t do the same shit everyday and expect things to get better, can you? I’ve heard the same problem over and over again,
“Dave, my back hurts all the time, I stretch and see my osteo/chiro/physio and it never seems to get better.”
Does this sound familiar? When I hear it, it immediately reminds me of myself about eight years ago. This is around the time I got injured on patrol in Afghanistan. It was a game changer but I didn’t know it at the time because I was a young, ass kicking infantry sergeant. I delayed any acceptance of what was finally diagnosed as a a double herniation of my L5, S1 intervertebral discs.
According to a study conducted by Schopflocher et al., 19 percent of Canadians over the age of 18 experience chronic pain; 32 percent of those individuals experience chronic back pain. Damn, that’s a lot of Canadians. Running some quick numbers, that’s roughly 1.7 million people! I suspect that this percentage is higher amongst military, police and EMS workers but I haven’t found any data to support it.
Our jobs are murder on our backs but it’s not just those hauling a hundred pounds of gear on our backs that are suffering, clearly the data shows that most Canadians are in this same boat too. Prolonged bouts of sitting, especially in awkward positions can lead to long term lower back pain . Even the Canadian Cancer Society has identified it as a significant contributor to increased rates of cancer. Can you guess how many hours the average Canadian sits on his ass?
The average Canadian sits for 10 hours per day.
That’s ridiculous but it explains why rates of back pain may be so high. Sitting causes your hip flexors to tighten which effectively turns off your gluteal muscles and causes a muscle imbalance around your hips and low back. This area is crucial for walking, lifting, twisting, you name it. It’s the junction point that connects top to bottom, it’s kind of important to have it moving properly. Not to mention, sitting compresses your discs in between your vertebrae that are supposed to allow for proper spinal flexion and extension and can lead to premature degeneration. This is usually compounded with two other issues:
- Having absolutely no idea how to lift something off the ground.
- Being weak as a newborn kitten.
If you didn’t receive an acute back injury, like in my case, a disc herniation, you can still be in just as much pain as I am and wonder what to do about it. Rest assured, there are plenty of things you can do but they’re going to require some of my favourite supplement, BHW, to get it done. BHW or Bloody Hard Work can be found and accessed for free, every day, all day. Here are the solutions that I came up with to get my pain under control and participating in the activities that bring me happiness again.
1. Stand Up
Yup, sounds easy right? Not if you have a desk and chair waiting for you at work. If that’s your case, plan a stand up and walk break every 30 to 45 mins. Program your alarm on your phone at first until you get the habit. I was a teacher during the height of my injury which was actually beneficial in the sense that I was always standing. Now, I built myself a standing desk to work at; I’m literally typing this out while standing. It took me a while to get the strength back to stand for an hour at a time. At first, I could only stand for 15 minutes before my back hurt too badly before I had to sit or lie down. The benefits of standing all day are improved immune system function, reduced body fat, decrease in chance of metabolic disorder and reduced rates of cancer. Need I convince you more?
2. Get Strong AF
Enough said? From now on, your pain medication is going to have to be throwing iron around. Find a trainer that knows how to manage your back pain (preferably one that’s ruggedly handsome and sorted out his own back issues after fighting the Taliban).
3. Train Your Core
Odds are your core is probably like a limp pool noodle. Mine was. I thought I was rock solid but a few tests showed me this wasn’t the case at all. Sure I could do 50 crunches but couldn’t contract my psoas or transverse abdominus or hold a hollow position for more than 15 seconds. Here are my 3 favourites for getting my core rock solid:
Transverse Abdominus Contractions
Side Plank Roll Outs
4. Open Up Your Hips
TFL SMR with foam roller
Tight hips were the bane of my existence. It prevented me from squatting properly and led to a messed up back. I look at my 2 yr old son when he effortlessly pops a squat and think, “Man, I wish I could do that.” Clean up your hips and you’ll definitely feel a reduction in pain in your low back. Here are a some daily exercises you can apply:
Tensor Fascia Latae SMR
Perform this exercise with a soft foam roller at first. Hold on a really “sticky” spot for at least 30 seconds. You should experience a “pain face” to know it’s working. This face is similar to your “O” face but without any of the fun. You can progress to a harder roller or lacrosse ball once you’re ready to get at deeper layers of tissue. Make sure to contract your glute while your doing this as well.
Bread and butter static or dynamic stretch. Important that you flex your glute while you move into the stretch. Avoid over extension in your spine. You should feel the stretch in your hip flexors. Keep your rear foot on the ground to start, turn it outwards after 10-15 seconds to hit a different part of the hip complex, hold for 30 seconds total for 3 total rounds.
5. Assemble an “A Team” of Therapists
Not all therapists are created equal. Find one that suits your needs and actually improves your ability to move and provides you with a lot of info and correctional exercises to do on your own. Ask around and get recommendations from friends. I use three go to therapies, osteopathy, chiropractic and physiotherapy. Occasionally, I’ll use massage therapy as well. Find the ones that work best for you and find a good insurance plan…
6. Find a Suitable Pain Med for the Bad Days
I’m not an advocate for heavy pain med use by any means. The complete opposite actually. Pain meds can mask the issue. That’s the path I started with and it sucked. Pain meds the rest of your life isn’t a solution, it’s a prison sentence. What I am saying, is that some days, on your road to recovery, you’re going to have flare ups that can knock you out for the day or week. I used a lot of naproxen but recently have found that higher CBD cannabis has done a real good job at keeping me able to function during the day, reduce pain and not get me high as a kite.
It would please me to no end if you were to share this post with everyone in your network that might be hurting and can gain a bit of control back in their lives. Suffering is always more bearable in teams.
Dave is a retired infantry officer and Afghanistan war veteran. He’s the creator of the HRD2KILL training program that was built on the principles that got him from not being able to get out of bed to competing in the Crossfit Open, Spartan Races and the Montreal Gaelic Sports Association. You can find more mobility based exercises in his new book, “The Nimble Warrior“, now available on Apple Books.