Chronic back pain affects millions of Americans every year. Improper movement patterns, repeated over long periods of time, contribute to the back pain people experience every day. Personal training can help you decrease back pain by teaching you how to move better.
As Kelly Starett puts it, “Prioritizing spinal mechanics is the first and most important step in rebuilding and ingraining functional motor patterns (p. 33),” and that’s what a great personal trainer will help you to learn to do. With any personal training client, I start with proper movement pattern instruction. Clients learn how to find a neutral spine position, and how to hinge properly. We repeat these correct patterns several times, in various ways, until they translate regularly into the clients’ day to day activities. This is the biggest step towards decreasing back pain—consistent practice of exercises that stabilize the spine and strengthen the muscles surrounding it.
A good personal trainer will also teach you integrated and functional exercises—exercises that require several chains of muscles to work together, both in stabilization and in moving. Proper core strengthening is key to any training program looking to decrease back pain. These exercises are beyond what you will see on machines at the gym, and it is extremely helpful for a trained professional to coach you, so as to ensure you are doing the exercises correctly.
Personal trainers can also help you learn proper posture. When I work with clients, I am constantly giving them feedback throughout our training sessions. Often, my clients are so used to their usual posture patterns (e.g. sitting slouched, rolling shoulders forward when standing, shifting weight onto one leg) that they don’t even notice when they’re doing it. I’m only there to harp on their posture for 1-3 hours a week, so it’s important that they take what they learn in our sessions and apply it to their everyday lives. My clients find they are correcting their posture throughout the week on their own, whether it’s at their desk or in line at the grocery store, simply because I regularly remind them of how important it is.
Read CASE STUDY: Back Pain Relief for Eddie & Jon for the stories of 2 of my clients who no longer suffer from back pain—one of them suffered an acute injury at age 19 and went through 3 spinal epidurals, multiple surgeon visits, prolotherapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, spinal decompression therapy, but nothing helped him return to the activities he loved to do. The other has suffered from chronic low back pain for decades, resulting in 3+ week episodes of pain every few months.
- Ten-year follow-up of strengthening versus flexibility exercises with or without abdominal bracing in recurrent low back pain. Aleksiev, AR. Clinic of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University Hospital Aleksandrovska, Medical University, Sofia, Bulgaria. Spine, 2014 Jun 1;39(13):997-1003.
- How effective a modified exercise program on its own or with back school in chronic low back pain? A randomized-controlled clinical trial. Durmus, D, Unal, M, and Kuru, O. Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Medical Faculty, Ondokuz Mayis University, Samsun, Turkey. Department of Family Medicine, Ondokuz Mayis University, Samsun, Turkey. Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, 2014 May 27.
- Poor back muscle endurance is related to pain catastrophizing in patients with chronic low back pain. Larivière, C, Bilodeau, M, Forget, R, Vadeboncoeur, R, and Mecheri, H. Occupational Health and Safety Research Institute Robert-Sauvé, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Spine, 2010 Oct 15;35(22):E1178-86
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