Back Pain - It Sucks, and How to Fix It

Downton Abbey + The Godfather = Peaky Blinders

Downton Abbey + The Godfather = Peaky Blinders

I'm going to venture out on a limb and say that you've had lower back pain.

No, I'm not an oracle.  Nor am I one of those fortune telling gypsies in my new favorite Netflix show, "Peaky Blinders."  Great show, horrible name.  

It's just an honest fact - 80% of Americans will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives.  Like most of you, I'm not the exception, as I've dealt with my own share of lower back pain....and I'm just now getting to the point where I'm not constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Now, I haven't really documented how much back pain I had on a regular basis (*notice the past tense*).  I'm not talking "my low back is a little sore" type pain....I'm talking "I can't put my socks on" type of pain, or "how in the world am I going to unload the dishwasher" type of pain.  But fast forward to today, and I'd give a spry chicken a run for it's money.

So, how did I manage to get out of it?  While deadlifts were part of the answer, I'm reminded of the most notable quote from Dirty Dancing: "Nobody puts baby in a corner....unless it's to do her breathing."

....unless it's to optimize her zone of apposition.

....unless it's to optimize her zone of apposition.

Or something like that?

Anywhoooo, I'd have to say that the whole topic of breathing is pretty complicated and boring unless you're a nerd like me.  And, there are a ton of people out there that know way more about breathing and PRI (the Postural Restoration Institute) than I do.  But, what I can tell you is that breathing is important for the following reasons:

  1. By forcing a full exhale, we're turning on our abzzz and resetting our core musculature.
  2. It reduces "bad stiffness," while increasing "good stiffness."  All stiffness is not created equal, see this article for why.
  3. Deep breathing actually makes us less stressed out.  It turns on our parasympathetic nervous system, and we go from "fight or flight" to "rest and digest."  In our busy lives, it's something we all need.

So, how do you do it?  As I mentioned, there are many people smarter than I, so here's are a few great video/tutorials:

Learning these resets has been an absolute game-changer for my back and quality of life.  Car rides, plane rides....I used to dread them because how it would leave me in pain for the rest of the day.  While there are a few others that are specific to my own issues, mastering and implementing the ones above are going to catch much of the bell curve (*self-five for that AP Statistics reference..*)

The other part that's really helped my back is deadlifting.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The cure for my back pain was exactly what you think would exacerbate it.

Dat. Bootay.

Dat. Bootay.

The question is why?  Why would something so contrary to a "bad back" actually be good for it?  First, it forces me out of extension, because I have a serious case of anterior pelvic tilt (aka "dat ghetto bootay"). The heavy weight forces me to brace my abs and return my spine back to my own version of "neutral."  In a similar way, one of Dr. Stuart McGill's (THE guy for back problems) favorite activities for someone with this type of pain is to go for a long walk on uneven terrain....only with a heavy back pack that sits right above their butt.  Once again, it forces their posture forward, and forces them to use their abs getting them out of extension.

The word of caution here is that you have to actually know how to deadlift in the first place.  Far too often, improper deadlifts will exacerbate lower back issues due to a litany of different reasons.  If you have any pain in your back the day after a deadlift, it's a signal that something isn't right.

OK, so what?  What's the big pieces you can actually take from this article?

1) If there's hope for me, there's hope for you.  Back pain is not a life sentence, but the onus is on you to take charge and see someone about it.  

2) Learn how to breathe, but  most importantly, learn how to EXHALE.  See above.

3) Dead bugs - do them.  They are the most important "core" exercise you can possibly do for back health.

While the above will not cure everyone's ills, it should help a large majority.  Who knows, maybe you too can be deadlifting 506 pounds and have less back pain than before.