My question is: Do you want to live with your pain or do you want to do what you used to love?
I believe people want that quality of life back but they don’t know how to get it. Or they don’t think anything will help. Or maybe they’re afraid exercise will make it worse – I used to believe this myself about my years-old neck injury.
Coming Back from the Injury Abyss
After being double-rear ended on a California highway, I was so afraid of “reactivating” my neck injury and inflicting suffering on myself that I quit weight lifting for five years. It was only when I warily ventured into a gym class – using two-pound weights – that I finally got back in touch with my body. In those first classes I cautiously stretched my arms out in front of me for the first time in years. Instead of feeling hunched up and tense, I suddenly felt muscles I forgot I had.
To be sure, I went very slowly in that class and worked up to three-pound weights, then five, then eight. And if I felt the slightest tweak I’d go back down. I was nervous for a long time. But my neck was feeling better – it was stronger and had more range of motion than it had in years.
After my little gym closed, I knew I wanted to return to strength training on my own. I’ve been weight lifting four times a week for over a year now, and I have never felt better in my entire life. My neck still hurts if I sit at the computer too long, but exercising and stretching are not things that make it hurt. I’m no longer afraid. I feel almost… athletic!
Ready for Core Play?
It’s so common to have chronic back pain, and it’s a common myth that you just have to live with it. Even if you’re not a doctor or a chiropractor, it’s pretty obvious that having a strong core supports your back (and entire body). Shouldn’t the place where motion originates – your core – be a strong foundation for the rest of your body?
Your core consists of the muscles in your hips, abs, lower back, and pelvis – your torso, aka, “trunk.” The core muscles, which attach to your spine and pelvis, support and stabilize your body whenever you move. If you have a weak core, you may rely on one muscle group too much (such as your lower back). If you’re disproportionately using your low back muscles to bend over or walk because your hips and abs aren’t strong, your body will be unbalanced and out of alignment.
There are many ways to build core strength. Strength training for your lats, transverses abdominis, obliques, glutes, and hip adductors (to name a few) is obviously very beneficial. Even if you don’t want to weight train, activities that require balance, such as yoga and Pilates, or equipment such as stability balls, wobbly boards, and BOSU all activate your core muscles.
If you’re a beginner, how do you get started strengthening your core? First, be sure to check with your doctor if you have back or neck issues. I know this is cliché, but you definitely want to have a doctor’s clearance. You may find that just a few sessions with a physical therapist can help you get started and on your way. Or perhaps you’re ok from a medical standpoint and could benefit from a little personal training or a class. There are countless core articles on the web. If you need ideas or inspiration, let me know!
Get the help you need to learn how stretch, build strength, and use proper posture. It might be a small step, such as a few stretches at first. Start slowly and be patient. Just get started.
Taking those First Steps
I know those of you with back problems (or neck injuries, or whatever ails you) want to get back into life. I know it’s scary. But giving up things you love forever – hiking, horseback riding, running – is a lot more frightening when you think about it. Take a risk. Get back into life. You can do it.