Get Back In Shape

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By: Michael Katz Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers

Back pain is the worst. And getting in shape is tough! Being able to deal with both simultaneously can be overwhelming, and may seem impossible. I am here to tell you it can be done. Even under the most unlikely of circumstances.

My story

Always being extremely active, I loved sports such as basketball, volleyball, and hockey. Eight years ago, it was crushing to hear from medical specialists that I would no longer be able to participate in these kinds of activities. After being rushed to the hospital following a sports injury in my lower back, I spent over a year trying every medical, therapeutic, and holistic method imaginable to improve my condition. Even following my experimental surgery, another year of physical therapy and other treatment modalities, my back was still nowhere close to being able to live my active lifestyle. I was determined to find a way.

Throughout this whole process, I dedicated myself to learning everything I could about back pain and overall injury prevention. This also fueled me into going back to school for a Masters in Health Science. However, I could not take on that challenge until my physical health was intact. Two years of inactivity causes a lot of muscle atrophy and I knew I needed a strong core to be able to work out pain free. But how? Those of who have had back pain have probably struggled with the double-edged sword of how to strengthen the core without hurting the back.

Where to start

One of the keys is a muscle called the transverse abdominis, or TVA. This is a deep core muscle that plays a major factor with trunk stability. This TVA muscle runs horizontally across the abdomen and attaches into the lumbar spine. Some professionals even describe this muscle as a corset or girdle. There are numerous exercises to strengthen the TVA but before getting started with a fitness specialist, make sure to understand the details of your specific condition.

I strongly advise visiting a medical professional if the problem has been ongoing and is more than mild discomfort or tightness. Do your research and find someone with a solid track record.  Once cleared for exercise, that’s exactly what will be needed. Inactivity will almost certainly worsen your condition so getting started with a program is crucial. However, don’t just throw things at the wall and see what sticks. Back pain can be originated from a variety of sources and you don’t want to exacerbate your condition. Have a plan. Talk with someone who is familiar with your situation and is an expert in orthopedic exercise. Find out what would be good for you because it may not be the same thing recommended to your friend down the block.

Answer these questions

For those with back pain take into consideration: 1) Where are your sources of pain? and 2) What positions bother you the most? A child’s pose and a cobra pose are two well-known yoga positions but you are likely to be more uncomfortable in one than the other. This can be a helpful piece of information for whoever is in charge of your exercise programming.

Lastly, be mindful of strength. Are you aware of any weaknesses that you have?  Most people are aware of the link between tight hamstrings and back pain. However the strength aspect of the opposing muscle group(in this case, the quad) is often ignored.  When improving your strength and/or range of motion, you will also see improvement in your weight distribution and posture.  This alone will likely lead to decreased discomfort. Added leg strength and body awareness also improves activities of daily living such as picking something up off the ground.

Michael Katz is a Master Trainer at Pūrlife Delray.  Originally from the Philadelphia area, he earned a Masters in Health Science Education at Hofstra University in Long Island NY.  He is a certified personal trainer through the American Council of Exercise as well as the leader in golf fitness, Titleist Performance Institute. Michael is proud to be a licensed school teacher in the field of health.  Always looking to learn more to help his clients, Michael enrolled in industry leader, Precision Nutrition and is certified by Functional Movement Systems, a screen designed to identify compensatory movements patterns to reduce the risk of injury.