by Othon Molina, Ph.D. c LMT
This is very important information for anyone with back problems!
If you hurt your back it is usually a disc problem or you could lift something heavy and strain some ligaments and if you take care of it right away you will be able to heal it faster. I have used this approach with thousands of patients as well as with my other colleagues. It seems to be the best approach:
1st. See a doctor that specializes in backs. Stay in bed, don’t sit or stand or even walk much. Most importantly, don’t do any exercises that flex the spine (bend forward or knee to chest totally wrong things to do when disc bulge). The most important exercise to do is to arch the spine, as in the cobra (lying on the ground like you are going to do a push-up, keeping the pelvis flat on the ground and keeping the butt muscles relaxed (see exercise following).
2nd. The doctor who is experienced in treating backs will prescribe some anti-inflammatory drugs. Depending on the severity of your condition he may even recommend some muscle relaxers or pain pills. These medications during the early stages are good and can greatly increase the healing. Even using a back brace during this early time is especially beneficial particularly if you are listing (leaning to one side).
Once you get it under control you can switch to Wobenzyme N a totally natural anti-inflammatory nutrient. There are other natural remedies keep reading.
3rd. Use ice every day, all day if the pain is severe. Doing the cobra while icing it will help pull the disc in. If the full cobra is too much, do the second exercise or what we call the sphinx by just rising up on your elbows. These exercises are the best. An alternative is the cat-dog but make sure you don’t go into flexion. Another great natural tool is using ginger, yes ginger is amazing. Take a good size ginger root something big enough to fit in your hand. Grade it into a bowl, then squeeze out the excess fluids into a cup with some water; drink that down, the ginger is very strong it may be hot (Spicy) its one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory agents we have in the herb field (Maybe Turmeric better all around). Then take the rest of the ginger and place on the spine, in the area of pain, put a paper towel on it and wrap the body in saran wrap and leave it on all night, if it burns that means there is severe swelling don’t take it off it will not hurt the skin. Put it on every night for at least five nights, it will do wonders, you will notice as the swelling goes down the heat will decrease.
4th. Consult with a professional that can guide you to healing the condition. Many times medical doctors don’t have the training, and you need to get therapy. Sometimes traction helps with medical massage, and at the right time chiropractic can help, although I have seen it cause more pain during the acute stages. Most important is the alignment of the hips and spine which chiropractic is good for; for the long-term recovery this is imperative. The corrective exercises I give are mostly common to physical therapy. I have also developed some of my own that will help take the pressure off the disc. Think about it: If your pelvis is twisted or higher on one side than the other, there will still be pressure on the disc. I believe that for a disc to be injured out of the blue, it has suffered this pressure for a long time, as discs are part of a very strong system. Muscle tension is the way the body compensates for most misalignment and with that it compresses the spine and most joints can be affected. This brakes down the disc or joint as in hip or knee problems over a period of time. So sometimes with the right conditions such as excess tension, stress, too much work, just by bending over one day or twisting while carrying something, it can force that weak disc out of place. With either a bulge or an actually torn disc (herniated) you need to work intensely to get it back to health. One of my best friends had a disc problem from hauling big packs of shingles up a roof for a day or two and was really hurting. I suggested bed rest for five days and sessions with me. He told me he was too busy to take the time off I remember exactly what he said; “I can’t take time off in the middle of a job, who will pay my bills?? So twenty years later he still has problems with his back.
Let’s review what some of the tools are that professionals may use for disc problems, besides the drugs, which I think are very beneficial if you get them right away. Later on they are less effective, in fact, everything is less effective if you wait a week or more to get help. Go see your doctor right away if you hurt your back, don’t wait! Rest in bed is the best and most important therapy you can do along with the medication. Obviously your body is talking to you very loudly, so pay attention, take some time to reflect on you life and listen to your body. Don’t walk around and don’t sit. Lie down and do the extension exercises with ice. This is not only critical in the early stages, but it will also help all the way through as long as you have pain, no heat ever for back problems. Unless it’s from your menstrual period, then heat is good.
Deep massage with an alignment technique is great. The key is to take to pressure off the disc so it can heal. The problem with deep massage without attention to alignment or with too much twisting is that it can actually make it worse. When you relax the muscles that are holding, it may put more pressure on the disc at least temporarily. Rolfing has a good technique for lengthening the torso fascia. It’s great but you need to align the body.
Trigger point therapy can ease the pain and relieve the muscle tension. Chiropractic during the acute phases has mixed reviews, depending on the chiropractor. Gentle work seems to be more effective, but at other times it’s just too painful for some patients. It is definitely helpful after the acute phase for alignment. Sorry, chiropractors, but I have found this to be true. Two of my best friends are chiropractors, I know a dozen or more very well and I use them myself, but as I’ve said many times, it depends on the situation, the patient as well as the doctor.
During the later stages after the swelling has gone down may be the time for chiropractic as well as physical therapy or traction. That seems to be the time when it is most effective. Acupuncture will not correct structural problems, but it can help with the pain or even swelling. However, I work directly with many of the best acupuncturists, and they refer their patients to me when there is a disc problem for body alignment.
5th. Once you have injured a disc you have a weakened area for some time. Remember, this tissue heals very slowly. It takes many years sometimes to totally heal a ligament if it came from improper posture, which I think is the most common reason, from slouching all your life or from too much sitting and no exercise. You need to start to change your posture and habits. Yoga, Pilate’s, Alexander, Feldenkrais or Aston Patterning are many techniques that can help with that. You need to strengthen the abdominal muscles because most often this is a big problem area especially if you are a male and have a large stomach. By the way, most back problems are associated with males.
Since posture is one of the biggest problems with the back, doing the right exercises is critical for improvement. Some of the exercises that are recommended are counterproductive, such as bending over to touch your toes! Never do that, unless you have been shown the right way to do it and have no back issues. Anyway, you can get the same stretch if you sit on the ground and touch your toes without the pressure on your spine. Most flexion exercises are not great for us. These are when you bow your back backwards. It’s best to keep the spine flat at the low back for certain stretches. There are even some Pilate’s moves that I would be very careful with, especially if you have had a back problem. Get some expert advice and always remember to consult with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Many personal trainers don’t always have the experience with backs and even they can recommend the wrong exercise for you, listen to your body always, don’t do anything you don’t feel good about. Many patients come to me after having been worked too hard or using the wrong exercise and have been hurt by gung-ho trainers.
6th. Here are some of the most common tests for disc problems:
- Does it hurt your back to lower your head?
- Does it hurt if you cough?
- Can you bend over without pain?
- Can you arch your back without pain? Usually if these four cause problems, it’s a disc.
- There may be a need for more leaning into the pain if it’s on one side or the other. This will often reproduce the pain, or cause a shooting sensation down the foot.
- Lastly, we may twist and find out if this pain is made worse by doing that. Note that a doctor should do these tests and care should be taken in doing them.
- There are other obvious signs such as listing (leaning to one side), which is a common disc reaction. The body is trying to take pressure off the disc.
- Shooting pain or numbness down the leg or into the buttocks is another sign.
- Of course, if you can’t even walk or sit, you know what you have “A Bad disc injury”.
See your doctor. You can do the first four tests yourself with no problem and if you have two out of four symptoms, well, we are pretty sure you have injured a disc. Take care of it immediately and get into bed as soon as possible. I have seen people get better right away, but if not taken care of properly, it can last for a long time sometimes years. Believe me, as I have personally had the experience as well. If you have a back problem, get my next book: The Better Back Book.
The cobra (left), or extension of the spine. If this is difficult don’t push it, do the alternate pose the sphinx (right). Both of these are some of the best and easiest exercises to do when your back is hurting. They are the best for assisting the disc to return back to it’s normal place and help reduce the tension. Also quite effective for strengthening the back muscles as well.
A Nice Way To Lengthen The Low Back:
Slowly lift patient from their anterior iliac spine, not grabbing hard, and gently pull up the hip while pushing on your side of the spine with your palm. Start at the low lumbar and work your way up each vertebra at a time, drop the hip every vertebra and lift again as you go. If you find tight and resistive muscles, gently massage and friction them as well as you go. Use deep breathing and pull up as they exhale.
With all the troubles that modern people or we earthlings have had with the back, I find it imperative to just take the time and take care of your own. No one can do it ALL for you. It just takes knowing something about the body and just rolling up your pants and diving in. The best strategy I know about everything I have tried is to start out gently, even if you are a big strong bodybuilder. Most bodies I have encountered in my career are out of alignment; the least were two of the top Olympic athletes of the last IRONMAN I worked with in the German Team.
The Abdominal Lift: just sitting and contracting your abs as you lift the torso. This takes pressure off the discs. This is also good for when you are doing any exercise as it allows you support and initiates all other movement from the core. Next; another important exercise to start building your core muscles. Lifting one leg at a time, keeping one on the ground is for beginner’s option two below more advanced. The object is to keep your abdominal muscles contracted and move the legs back and forth (top one at a time) bottom two at a time bicycling back and forth. These should not be done when you are hurting; they are for after your back episode so that you can prevent the next one.
Two legs up is more advanced so take care. Then your basic crunchies
The advance crunchies (left) and the transverse crunch two both sides (right)
Other tricks for your back if you have tension between the shoulders or if you have that hump, sometimes the head is too far forward and puts stress in the junction between the back and neck. This is good for anyone on the computer all day, especially if you are silly enough to have your lap-top on your lap… First lay on a towel running vertical (Left) towel placement. Next, lay on towel (Right), also helps neck if you notice its too far forward on your body. Then you can do gentle head rolls and stretch out those tight muscles.
Lengthen Your Own Low Back, go slow, can be done during pain episode, careful. This is an all-around treatment for you tiered back. With most low back problems people have a flat low back so it does not support you (Kyphosis). Go easy a few minutes at a time then you can build up to twenty minutes. Careful. (Check with doctor if you have had severe back issues) it could hurt at first as we are stretching your deep ligaments.
Home made traction to assist the body in reversing the stress of gravity though out the day, this is a great way to get your body relaxed as once the curves are in the right place the muscles can relax instead of holding us in our tension pose. Starting with two towels one for your neck and one for your low back. Just lay down! That will lengthen your back. This is homemade traction at its best, easy to do and takes very little skill. It will do wonders, just try it. Once again gravity is the force we all are subject to, and it exerts its force on our bodies continuously except when sleeping. If we fight it we loose and it becomes stress and tension. Note: start with only a few min. at a time. Increase slowly up to five or twenty minutes max.
My philosophy is simple, do as many exercises we can that reverse the pull gravity has on our bodies. Hanging up side down has been around since the seventies; I did that after tree planting all day. You can only stay upside down for so long, without training even dangerous so just be careful with all exercises in general. These are beautiful because they are the easiest to do, don’t get me wrong just cause they are easy, they are very powerful if done regularly, regularly, that is the key. I also recommend the therapy balls, I use it two to three times a day to reverse the effects of gravity. To keep up these simple exercises must be done daily, as you accumulate the stress daily.
I start all the moves to loosen the spine on the ground. I just think it may be less stressful on any back. Most twisting is not usually recommended if you have a strained back or some old ligament injury. You could even push out your own disc. The key is to go easy when you start any exercise program.
Below is the cat and dog, just doing this feels great normally, you let the back sag (left). Then you bring it up. I recommend to only going to neutral (right). Once clear from back episode you can go into flection totally bringing the back up or arching.
Please consult with your doctor before doing any exercises, these are standard medical and Physical therapy exercises and here are used as educational material. Never bend over to touch your toes to stretch your back that is an advanced move and must be done correctly and never during a pain episode, no flexion ever. (Bowing out the back). For more information on the spine and the rest of your body, see other health related articles on this website.
For any questions please call:
Othon Molina Ph.D. c LMT