3 questions you should ask about exercise and back pain

What questions should you be asking about exercise and back pain if you’ve hurt your back? Of all the aches, pains and injuries we suffer from back pain is the one that is clouded in the most mystery. Spoken of like a death sentence in newspapers, magazines, on the news and social media nothing could further from the truth.

If you happen to have hurt your back what questions should you be asking about what to do?

1. Why is back pain different from the pain we experience anywhere else?

The answer is it isn’t!

All the same, processes are involved as when you hurt your knee. The problem comes from how it is spoken of, as I alluded to at the beginning and this has a big impact on how we perceive it.

It is amazing how much the general consensus affects how we perceive pain.

How we perceive pain is based on many different factors ranging from what we’ve been told to expect to how you are feeling that day. The thing is physically back pain is no different from any other area.

We regularly see stories about violent crime in the news plus stories about wars around the globe. As a result, we think the streets are less safe than they used to be. However violent violent crime is on the decrease with figures dropping year on year from 2003 to 2017.

2. Should I stop exercising when I’ve hurt my back?

As per #1 back pain is no different from any other pain and you need to treat it in exactly the same manner.

My protocol, and it is a very common one, is to use a scale of 0-10. 0 is no pain and 10 is hospitalisation type pain. 0-3 is ok. Even 4 & 5 are ok to a point but much much less so than 0-3. Over 5 is the red zone and a no go area.

Personally, have had a 5 after something went wrong when I was squatting during a Saturday gym session. I made the of trying to make a form adjustment at full training weight, a mistake I should have known better not to do. I struggled to get out of bed on Sunday morning but was training normally on the Tuesday pain free.

Rather than panic I treated it in exactly the same way I would any other injury. I moved as much as I could with the guideline of a little pain, 1-3/10, being ok. The goal was to reassure myself that there was nothing seriously wrong, that all I had done was strained something.

When I went training on Tuesday I took my time warming up, both generally and specifically, and trained lighter than planned for the day but still not “light”. Again this is the same process as any other injury. Once the pain is gone start back easy. Within a couple of weeks, I was back to normal training.

3. Should I do lots of core work to protect my back?

No, there is no need to. There is nothing magical about training the “core” when it comes to back pain. More does not equal better and you don’t need to treat it any differently to any other area.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do any. What it does mean is you don’t need to give it any special emphasis.

If you are squatting, deadlifting, pressing etc the muscles of the trunk get a lot of heavy stimulation. Therefore using McGill’s big 3 of side plank, bird dog and curl up, in your warm ups is about as specific as you need. 

What now?

Stop thinking of back pain as somehow different to any other area.

If you have hurt it back off. If it is really sore then really back off just as you would any other area.

Start back light with low volume and intensity then build up slowly.

If it isn’t significantly better after 7-10 days go and see a professional. This isn’t doom and gloom, simply that, as with any other injury, you are going to need some help to get things moving along. 

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