Stop Protecting Your Low Back
Updated: Jul 25
“I’d like to learn how to not use my back so much when I lift.”
We hear that sentence all the time from people who come to see us with back pain. Often, this is their third, fourth, or even more episode of low back pain. They’ve been through physical therapy for their low back pain and it’s improved, but then it’s back again. So they’re looking for ways to protect their low back.
What if we told you that was the exactly wrong approach to back pain?
Think about this–after a heart attack, you are sent to cardiac rehab. Your heart muscles have literally just had a disastrous event, and to get better, the plan is to slowly get them stronger. After a heart attack, no cardiac surgeon on the planet would say don’t stress your heart ever again. To fully recover, we need to build those heart muscles back up!
After you break a bone (let’s pretend it’s a leg bone), you want to protect it initially, but then you’re told to slowly start walking on it more. No doctor would say don’t ever use that leg again. The cast protects the bone initially, but the bone never fully heals unless you start to stress it again.
Everything in your body heals by putting stress through it. We can give more examples. To get over an allergy, often you need to give your body very small doses of what makes you react. To help your skin recover from a burn you need to eventually get the skin moving naturally or it scars too much.
But when it comes to back pain, why is the answer don’t ever use it again or we need to protect it? Your heart can recover by putting stress through it, but your back can’t handle stress again? OF COURSE people end up having back pain over and over again. They’re never getting their back strong enough again.
We help people recover from back pain all of the time by helping them understand the right amount of stress to put through their back. In the very initial stages, we work on decreasing pain, improving mobility, and getting you more active. After that, though, is where physical therapy often falls short. You’re given a few basic strength exercises and told you’re better. But, often that doesn’t prepare your back to lift a heavy bag of mulch in the yard, or lift your kid quickly, or lift anything heavy in the gym. Good physical therapy should strengthen your low back as much as needed for whatever you’re going to be doing in real life.
If you’ve been struggling with low back pain and feel like you just can’t quite ever get over it. Or, you just assume you have to protect your back the rest of your life, we’d encourage you to remember that everything in your body heals by putting the right amount of stress through it. Most of the time, the answer isn’t to protect your back more, but to slowly get it stronger so it can handle anything you want to throw at it.
If you’re struggling with back pain and don’t know what to do, we’re here for you! Feel free to reach out to us here or text/call us at 202-922-7331.