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On back injuries and how to prevent them

Running and Fitness
Saturday, October 6, 2018

Next Saturday, (Oct. 13),  the Kiwanis Pumpkin Dash 5K will be held out at San Marcos Toyota.  The race starts at 9 a.m. and is the only race that is held at that location.  A nice out and back course that is nice for runners that like an easy downhill to finish strong for supporters. Runners will get a nice long sleeved shirt to wear for Halloween. Shirt is high tech and very soft to the touch. The race is chip timed by Athlete Guild.  Registration up until day of race is $25. Day of race registration costs $35. The race benefits the Kiwanis Club’s charities and scholarships. Contact Kelli Whigham at: kwhigham@mvbalaw.conm for information.  Athlete Guild has online registration for runners to register early.  A nice race along a county road with very little traffic and away from the busy city streets.

This week was a little unusual for meeting people I know and learning about the latest injury report. Three friends have had back surgery and a few others are having problems with their back. The thing that made this stand out was that all three were visited in such a short time frame. It seems bad backs are the latest problem of the day. The majority of the group were classified as senior citizens with a couple young folks in the total.  

When I was teaching I had a number of individuals come to me with back problems. I went over a few exercises and tests to see if I could help them out. The hard part of a verbal meeting is trying to remember all that was said after they left the office. With limited sketching skills I drew a handout to give them as a reminder of the progression of exercises.  

Most programs for bad backs include stretching, and more stretching. The logic behind this is that many of the problems are not a structural problem. The usual cause is one from a bad lifting form, a slight twist lifting something, or stepping off a curb unexpectedly. A pulled, or strained, muscle is injured and feels like the muscle is “tight."  To correct a tight muscle the recommendation is to stretch it out and try and relax the spasm of the muscle.  

If the back is very sore any movement is almost impossible.  You can’t sit down, you can’t stand up, and even trying to lie down is difficult.  When I had my bad back the worst thing I had was trying to get into a car to drive someplace.  And getting out was a delay as you tried to think if the problem of getting out, and the associated pain, was worth what you went to the store for.  The funniest (I look back at it now as funny) was as a quarterback in football I hit wrong after being tackled and hurt my back.  When I bent over the center for the snap of the ball I found I couldn’t stand up or move after I got the ball.  The defensive lineman had a field day on a stationary real live dummy to tackle.  

Most exercises involve movement of stretching the low back.  This can be as simple as lying on your back and bringing your knees up to your chest.  If you can manage to sit on the edge of a chair, spread your legs, and leaning forward with the upper body is a good way to isolate the low back muscles.

I had a text book that had a list of “do not do’s” for the neck and back.  Do not do neck rolls, do not lean forward without support, do not twist or do a circle movement with the upper body, and do not hyper extend the back (do not arch your back).  I looked back at all the exercises we had to do in physical education classes in high school and wonder why we aren’t all in a rehab center.

I have a slightly different routine to follow for back rehabilitation. Stretching the muscles to hopefully get them to relax is a good start. The next sequence is where I tend to differ from many exercise routines. If people follow the rules listed in the text book the muscles of the back do not get much exercise and are relatively weak. Weak muscles are easily strained and result in those tight backs. My next sequence is to strengthen the muscles of the low back for two reasons.  One is to strengthen the muscles so that any slight twist or wrong lifting position doesn’t result in a muscle strain. The second reason is that if you had something out of alignment and get it adjusted, then a stronger muscle structure will help keep it in alignment.  

For a tender back this might be a simple exercise of lying on your stomach and doing one leg reverse leg lifts. The back muscles do not have an action in this movement but contract as stabilizers of the pelvic girdle.  As the back gets stronger the old standby of the ‘cat stretch’ might be tried.

The other exercises involve strengthening the abdominals that will help keep the pelvic girdle stabilized. Leg lifts, or sit ups on an incline, are on a list of ‘do not do’ exercises. It may have to start with a simple flatten the low back to the floor by contracting the abdominals.  I tell people to pretend they are trying to crush a grape with their back and hold for 10 seconds.  

Think of stretching first, strengthen second, and stretch again to finish. I think the addition of the strengthen section is an important component of the routine for back rehabilitation.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666