The Recipe for a Back Injury

80% of us will, at some point, suffer a back injury. Back injuries can range from mild muscular soreness to severe hip and radiating leg pain, but no matter the extent of the pain and injury, back injuries can be avoided with some self care and vigilance. Back injuries do have many common causes and “set-ups” that  you have control of.  With a little forethought, you can markedly decrease your frequency of injury, your pain level and your recovery time.

Just after Christmas, I suffered a mild to moderate back injury that really surprised me. ME? A trainer!? Suffer a back injury? I should know better!  That’s what went through my mind when I could not get out of bed the day after I shoveled a foot of snow from a major snowstorm  here in Massachusetts. With self evaluation and a bit of “looking back” I discovered the recipe for my back injury. It’s classic. It’s common.  And, everyone is susceptible!

Start with an extended period of no exercise or little or no physical activity. For me, this came after minor knee surgery. For the two weeks prior to the surgery, and two weeks after, I had only walked for exercise. I had not been able to do my regular strength workouts, and then found excuses to not do my core strengthening. Big mistake!

Add several hours or several days of sitting.   Extended periods of sitting are a big set-up for a back injury. Whether you sit for work every day, or while attending a conference, or just to do work on your computer or watch TV, sitting shuts off core muscles and shortens the hip muscles, putting your back at great risk.  Be very careful after sitting for extended periods of time… this is when you are at most risk!

Bend over without proper posture or lift something heavy without proper lifting technique.  You may have done this a hundred times, but eventually, this will cause injury. If you do this after extended periods of sitting, when some muscles are tight, others weak, your luck may just run out.

Add a Workout without proper warm-up or perform exercises that are risky for the back .  These can include gym exercises like dead lifts, heavy leg press,  rotary torso or other ab machines or , the ultimate strength training exercise, shoveling snow! One big lesson I learned from my injury was to take 5 minutes prior to shoveling to foam roll and warm-up my muscles. Shoveling can be an incredibly exertional exercise. Do not underestimate the stress it can put on the human body, both  to the cardiovascular system as well as the  musculoskeletal system.

Eat a diet rich in inflammatory foods and ignore dehydration.  Most people do not truly understand the role that good nutrition and hydration play in the health of your muscle tissue, tendons and ligaments. I have found a direct correlation between the frequency of injury and severity of injury with the degree of healthy nutrition. Poor eating/poor hydration= more muscular dysfunction, more pain, longer recuperation.

While there are many wonderful recipes that I love to share with my clients, this is not one of them! I learned a huge lesson this winter, and I hope once you read this recipe, you too can begin to recognize the role that  YOU can play in decreasing your risk of injury!