As the weather starts to get colder and the leaves continue to fall most of us are wondering, "How big is this winter going to be?" Following that question, some have another looming question, "…is my back going to hold up through the winter?"
Don't let nagging back pain slow you down this winter, be proactive and prepare now! Many of us live in the Vail Valley because our social lives revolve around outdoor activities, which we love. So, it is important that we understand and listen to back pain when it rears its ugly head instead of ignoring it. Choosing to push through pain often results in endless hours of physical therapy or even more drastically, a visit to an orthopedic or nerve specialist.
Here are a couple tips to help you protect your back and get ready for an epic winter:
Being tight in the body is uncomfortable and restricting. In fact, tightness in joints and muscles can pull your spine and body out of alignment. To prevent that from happening, it is important to maintain flexibility and mobility, while also working to increase strength.
To help an ailing lower back, make sure your hip flexors and hamstrings are flexible. When either of those areas is too tight, it can restrict movement and pull your hips forward or backwards resulting in a lordotic spine (rounding) or kyphotic spine (arching). For ultimate vitality, a neutral spine is ideal. Rounding or arching of the back can cause hip, knee and other alignment problems.
Here are two of my favorite stretches for more flexibility:
Hamstring stretch- Lie on your back and raise one leg straight up in the air. Loop a strap or towel over your foot, placing it on the arch of the foot that is in the air (bend your knee as needed to complete this step). Keeping a slight bend in the leg, gently pull the strap or towel toward your body, moving the leg towards your chest. When you feel a gentle stretch, hold in place for 30-60 seconds. Switch legs and repeat the hamstring stretch on the other side.
Hip flexor stretch- Kneel on both knees and step one foot out in front of you at a 90-degree angle, keeping the front knee bent and stacked over the ankle. Slightly tuck your tailbone under and gently press your hips forward. Make sure not to let your lower back arch. Walk your front foot out as needed to keep the knee stacked over the foot. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds and switch sides.
2. KEEP A STRONG CORE
Be careful with this tip!! It's not about how many crunches you can do or how much weight you can hold.
The key with keeping a strong core is to work on strengthening your transverse abdominals. This band of muscle acts as an "internal girdle" and when you strengthen it, it aids in stabilizing the lower back (lumbar spine). Some of my favorite exercises for developing a strong core are side plank modifications and transverse contractions performed lying on your back. You can find videos of these moves on YouTube.com or if you are currently working with a trainer, they will certainly be able to incorporate the moves into your workout regimen. Do not perform these exercises if you experience pain with twisting or rotating.
3. SQUEEZE YOUR TUSH!
Your gluteus muscles are the largest and the least recruited group of muscles in the body. An increase in glute strength can significantly reduce lower back pain. Plus, having a more powerful lower body means a toned derrière!
Two exercises that are great for strengthening the backside are bridges and lateral band walks. Again, you can find these moves on YouTube, or better yet, come into Dogma Athletica and see me!
Before you hit the slopes this winter, choose to overcome nagging lower back pain and prevent future back injuries by stretching and strengthening the body.
-- Written by Kirsten Stuart. Kirsten has been a personal trainer for over 13 years. She has experienced back pain first-hand with five spinal surgeries, including a lumbar fusion. Kirsten loves helping her clients at Dogma Athletica live a pain-free and active lifestyle.