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Treating and dealing with back pain

Most Americans, athletes or not, have some form of back pain. They wake up with it hoping that as the day goes on it gets better. This pain affects athletic performance and limits outcomes.

I was always amazed when working with athletes how it seemed that lower back pain was accepted as the norm. Most people brush off the sore back that they wake up with and hope that by moving around, it will get better. While there is some truth to that statement, just moving around and not really doing anything to help or fix it can lead to compensation issues—which can cause greater pain in the future or lead to time away from sports and activities that you love.

Most Americans, athletes or not, have some form of back pain. They wake up with it hoping that as the day goes on it gets better. This pain affects athletic performance and limits outcomes, whether you realize it or not. This pain can be the difference between attaining your best time or personal record… or just being able to complete a distance. Ignoring the pain can lead to hip pain, knee pain and ankle pain. Unfortunately, back pain rarely goes away on its own and only gets progressively worse.

I most often hear that people have had back pain for years. They finally just came to see me because they could not get out of bed or it finally prevented them from doing an activity. By this time, it is months of therapy to get you back to your sport. The time to deal with back pain is when you feel it, the first time—not when you can't get out of bed. And back pain is NOT hereditary. Just because you father had back pain does not mean that you will have back pain.

For anyone who gets out of bed and has back pain or has 'kinks' in their back, starting a foam rolling program and gentle stretching and movements will help ease your back into the day. Forcing your back into movements when they are painful will only create further problems down the road. Compensation issues and knots arise in the muscles when the muscles are forced to react while in pain. It is important to take the time to decrease the back pain and sometimes that can be done with just a hot shower.

If you wake up in the morning and you find that you have a stiff back there are a few things you can do. If you get up and get into the shower first thing, allow the hot water to go onto your back. You can crouch down into a ball and get a gentle stretch while the hot water is running on your back.  If you wake up and do not go in for a shower but rather head out for a run or to the gym then hop on the foam roller for a few minutes. Perform the techniques seen in the video to help loosen up the lower back before exercising. If you do not wake up and shower or go to work out and you do not own a foam roller before getting out of bed grab your knees and hug them a few times, the sit on the edge of the bed and just rotate from side to side to get the blood flowing.

When you get up and you feel stiff, whether it is from sleeping or from laying on the couch there are a few things you should not do. The first is you should not sit back down. You get stiff because you are not moving. Your muscles need blood to flow them so getting up and doing some gentle walking. Take it slow. You do not want to do any fast, jerky movements. And you want to avoid lifting anything until your back has loosened up. Many people I see report that the stiffness they felt in the beginning just kept getting worse or coming more frequently. This is your back tightening up and forming more trigger points.

People underestimate how much that kink or stiffness in your back interferes with athletic performance and leads to much larger problems down the road. If you take just a few minutes to allow the muscles to loosen up, you will save yourself from greater injury in the future.

Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.