About six weeks ago, I injured my back and I now have a herniated disc between my L5 & S1 (basically my tailbone). When I went in for my four week check-up, my orthopedist told me that I am one of the quickest recovery cases that he's seen! I was so happy to hear that because I did everything that I could do for a quick & safe recovery.
I have created a list of things that you can do to heal from or to prevent a back injury. I hear that bulging discs or herniated discs are quite common, so I hope that this article will help you or someone you know!
Let's get right into it!
GET HORIZONTAL. With a back injury, it is best to lay horizontal as much as possible to take the pressure off of your spine. You can also place a pillow under your knees to take the pressure off of your low back while laying down. I rested as much as possible for 2 weeks after the injury with ice, which leads me to the next task..
ICE. Icing is most important within the first 24 hours of getting injured because it helps reduce the inflammation to the injured area. I iced every day, 3X a day for at least 15 minutes, for 2 weeks. Then, once per day for the following two weeks.
MASSAGE or CUPPING. The massage will help bring blood flow to injured area, which aids in healing, while helping the muscles relax. Cupping will pull the stagnation out of the injured area and help relieve pain for a longer period of time than a massage will. I got a massage 1 week after the injury and cupping 3 weeks after it happened.
CORE STRENGTH. Core strength is crucial for everyone, injury or no injury. If you cut off your head, arms, & legs, everything left is considered to be parts of your core. Yes, this includes your glutes, chest, lats, and low back! All of the muscles of your core are what surround and protect your spine, so having a strong core muscles will help prevent worsening your current injury or causing other back injuries.
There are obviously loads of core exercises that you can do help improve your core strength, but here are my favorite ones that I used during my recovery process:
1) Bridge hold. This one is great because it will activate your glute muscles, which can help decrease low back pain.
Cues: Lay down face up with your legs bent at about a 90 degree angle and your feet flat on the ground. Your feet should be hip distance apart with your toes pointed forward. Engage your core and make sure that there is no space between your low back and the ground. While keeping your core engaged, push through your heels, squeeze your glutes, and lift your hips toward the ceiling. At the top of the movement, your body should be in a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold here for 30 seconds to 1 minute, squeezing your glutes and core the entire time without letting your hips drop. Once the time is up, slowly lower your hips back to the ground. You should feel this in your glutes with the secondary muscles being your hamstrings, quads, and abdominals. Repeat 3X.
2) Sumo Bridges w/ resistance band. This move will strengthen your glute muscles, helping to protect your lower portion of your spine, reducing your risk of back injury and back pain.
Cues: Put the band around your thighs just above your knees. Lay down face up with your legs bent at about a 90 degree angle and your feet flat on the ground. Your feet should be a little wider than hip distance apart with your toes pointed out slightly. Engage your core and make sure that there is no space between your low back and the ground. While keeping tension in the band with your knees in line with your ankles and your core engaged, push through your heels, squeeze your glutes, and lift your hips toward the ceiling. At the top of the movement, your body should be in a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Pause for a few seconds at the top and then proceed to slowly lower your hips back to the ground. Ensure that your spine is neutral and that there is no space between your low back and the floor at the bottom of each movement. You should feel this in your gluteus maximus & medius with the secondary muscles being your abducting muscles, hamstrings, quads, and abdominals. Perform 15-20 reps X3.
3) Deadbugs with alternating arm & leg extensions. This one is great because it activates and strengthens your rectus and transverse abdominis muscles, protecting your spine and reducing low back strain. If I ever feel any pain, I will do this move and feel immediate relief!
Cues: Lay down face up with your arms stacked above your shoulders and your finger tips pointed toward the ceiling. Bring your legs to a 90 degree angle with your knees stacked directly above your hips, shins parallel to the ground, and toes pointed to the ceiling. Pull your belly button in tight and fill up any space between your low back and the floor. Extend your right leg forward without letting your low back come off of the floor, while extending your left arm back overhead at the same time. For this deadbug variation, you will extend opposite limbs with each repetition. You should feel this in your abdominals - if you feel it in your low back then you need to make sure that you're pulling your belly button in to the floor and you can also extend your leg out at a 45 degree so that there is less chance of your low back lifting off of the ground. Perform 20-30 reps OR a 2-5 minute duration X3.
4) Side Lying Abduction. This move works your gluteus medius, which supports your pelvis while walking, so it's crucial to keep these muscles strong.
Cues: Lay on your side with your body in a straight line and your head resting in your arm so that your neck is neutral. Your shoulders, hips, and feet should be stacked. With the leg that is on top, point your toe toward your face and your heel to the ceiling (pigeon toe your foot). With your heel always pointed to the ceiling, raise your leg up and slowly lower it back down until it is parallel with the ground. You should feel this in your gluteus medius (side of your glutes) and the lateral muscles of your hamstrings & quads (outside of your leg). Perform 15-20 reps X3 on each side. Optional: Place a band on your thighs at least 3 inches above the crease of your knees to make this more challenging.
5) Press ups. Your lumbar spine (low back) is naturally has a lordotic curve so it's great for the low back to stretch out the abdominals and activate the low back muscles - this move does just that.
Cues: Lay down on the ground face down with your hands next to your armpits and elbows close to the sides of your body. Squeeze your glutes and push your hips into the floor while pushing your chest off of the ground using your triceps while keeping your elbows glued your sides. As you do this movement, your back should arch and the goal is to fully extend your arms. You are using your triceps to push yourself up, not your low back. You should feel some relief in your low back when doing this, if you feel any pain at all then discontinue the movement. Perform 10-15 reps 1-3X.
6) Supermans. Just as it important to have your abdominals strong to protect your back, it's important to have strong back muscles to protect your spine all around. This move strengthens your low back muscles, helping further reduce your risk of getting injured.
Cues: Lay down face down with your arms extended out in front of you, legs extended back behind you, and looking at the floor so that your neck is in neutral position. Squeeze your lower back muscles, lats, and glutes to lift your legs and chest off of the ground. Pause for a second at the top and lower everything back down in a slow and controlled tempo. Perform 15-20 reps 3X.
Do these moves 3-4 times per week on non-consecutive days during recovery.
STRETCHES. These are the stretches that I performed the most during my recovery and still continue presently.
Many of the muscles in your body are connected. Tight hamstrings and glutes may pull on your low back muscles, causing tightness and pain. To reduce low back pain, work on stretching your hamstrings and glutes.
1) Standing hamstring stretch.
Cues: Stand up tall with your left leg slightly bent and with your right leg straight out in front of you with your foot flexed toward your face. While keeping a neutral spine, push your hips back and lower your shoulders toward the ground until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then switch and repeat other side.
2) Supine piriformis stretch.
Cues: Lay down on the ground face up with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Take your right leg and cross it over your left. Your right leg should be resting on your left thigh without any pressure on the ankle joint. Next, grab your left thigh under the crease of your knee and pull it toward your chest. You should feel a nice stretch on your right glute. If you would like to feel even more of a stretch, then gently push your right knee away from your chest while continuing to pull your left knee towards you. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute each side.
3) Downward dog.
Cues: Start in arm plank position with your wrists under your shoulders, core engaged, & body in a straight line from your head to your feet. Next, drive through your heels, lift your hips toward the ceiling, and bring your ears between your biceps while keeping your core tight and spine neutral. You should feel this stretch in the back of your legs and possibly into your back. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
4) Child's pose.
Cues: Start on your hands and knees. While keeping your big toes touching, spread your knees apart until they're outside of your hips. Next, push your hips back onto your heels, keep a neutral spine, and lower your chest down to the ground until your stomach is between your thighs and your forehead is on the ground. Extend your arms out in front of you and inch your fingers forward while pushing your chest and shoulders to the floor. You should feel a stretch throughout your back. Take deep breaths and hold here for at least 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Do these stretches 1-3 times daily. Even without a back injury or pain, these stretches are great for flexibility and pain free movement!
PHYSICAL THERAPY. If your orthopedist writes an order for physical therapy, then I would highly recommend that you go. The physical therapist will provide you with a list of exercises and stretches to do and will adjust your back and hips if needed. Going to physical therapy will also ensure that you are doing your exercises and stretches consistently for a quick recovery! After all, consistency is always key.
TURMERIC. Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory and reduces inflammation throughout your entire body! If you are in a lot of pain, you can use a more aggressive anti-inflammatory and pain-killer such as Advil or a pain medication prescribed by your doctor.
AVOID. Things to avoid for at least 12 weeks post injury!
1) Rotation or twisting.
2) Spinal compression. This includes weighted barbels on shoulders, sit ups, & overhead pressing movements. Add resistance around your hips instead of placing a bar on your shoulders or holding weights in your hands.
3) Plyometrics or jumping.
By putting these into place, you will greatly reduce your risk of injuring your back and if you are if you are reading this because you have a back injury, then please feel free to reach out to me with any further questions!
Love & wellness,
DISCLAIMER: I have my degree in Health Science, but am by no means a doctor. Please consult with your doctor or orthopedist before performing any of the above.