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Low Back Pain? Here's Three Steps to Fixing It

One of the more universal experiences of being a human is having low back pain. According to some studies, as many as 84% of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lives. So how do we combat this phenomena and return to our normal lives? Here's three steps to fix low back pain when it arrives:

Quickly, a story: In 2021, when preparing for a powerlifting meet, I loaded a squat too heavy and had to set the bar down on the safeties. The safeties were set too low, and my back got very rounded and crunched at the bottom of the movement, and the pain was instant. Thankfully, there were no bulging discs, or worse. The eventual diagnosis was a strain or tear (my doctor decided against an MRI) and the prescription was rehab exercises. (Side note: Strength training has an exceptionally low injury rate - competing in a strength sport and lifting to be healthy are two very different endeavors.) It took me just under 2 years before I hit another Deadlift PR, and had many setbacks and tweaks in between. I tell you this story not for sympathy, but to explain that yes, even as a 31-year-old, I've had my share of back tweak and pains. In fact, due to my injury history I'm probably more likely to get them than the average person, and have more experience in dealing with and overcoming them, so the following advice comes from lived experience.

First, I fully believe that how we view the pain is as important as any approach we take to fixing it. In all the back tweaks and injuries I've had, when I've catastrophized the pain, it's become more intense and stayed around longer. You read that right - in the events where I treated the pain as extremely intense and life-changing, my symptoms have actually gotten worse. The good news is, the reverse is also true. By now, I've had several of these tweaks (all for different reasons - different exercises, sleeping wrong, one time loading my dishwasher) and each one of them has gotten shorter in duration and less intense, mostly because my understanding of the pain and perspective on the injury have changed. So step one will always be to acknowledge that there is pain, but that it is temporary, and manageable. A positive outlook will help you overcome the pain faster.

Step two is to strengthen the back. Weak backs hurt, and sometimes, so do strong backs, but a stronger back is probably less likely to hurt (or get hurt) than a weak one. So while above you see a video called "The 'Back Tweak' Fixer", understand that there are many exercises that help fix back tweaks, including but not limited to the Deadlift, Snatch-Grip Deadlift, RDL, Rows, etc. Funnily enough, these are exercises that have contributed to back tweaks at one time or another as well! The same movements that sometimes harm us can heal us. Movement is medicine, but even medicines have doses you aren't supposed to take, so keep that in mind. How do you 'dose' healing in a tweaked back? Well, going back to the last paragraph about your perspective on the pain, you simply find movements that are tolerable, keep them light enough to be doable, and slowly build your way back to where you were. Sometimes, these tweaks can take several weeks, other times, a few days or even hours. You do need to move though, which brings me to the third step in this list.

Step three is to get out and WALK. I don't know what it is about it, but walking seems to have some magical properties. For me, it's helped regulate my appetite, mood, keeps my heart in condition, and helped keep me lean. More importantly, though, is that it has always helped facilitate recovery. Sore muscles, tweaked backs, shoulders, and elbows all seem to benefit from getting 8-12k steps on a consistent basis. The blood flow that occurs by taking 1-2 twenty minute walks or 2-3 ten minute walks on a daily basis seems to do wonders for my ability to recover workout to workout, and alleviate those random aches and pains (like back tweaks) that pop up from life.

There is still so much for us to learn about back pain but following these three steps can improve your circumstances quickly and drastically.

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