Someone once told me, “the only people with good posture are the ones with back problems”. Sadly, I became one of those people about ten years ago. I was working long hours and pushing myself really hard, with machine-like precision. Unfortunately, all machines break down sooner or later without a proper maintenance program. And while I was playing hockey and golf twice a week to unwind, I wasn’t even warming up properly for those activities either. The result was an L5-S1 herniated disc and some permanent nerve damage to the bottom of my left foot. Doctors I saw cautioned me about playing hockey further and carrying my bag for golf. That’s when I decided to create and commit to my own Back Maintenance program. Here’s three surprisingly easy steps I took to help me get back on my feet again, playing hockey and golf without the same reckless abandon as before.
1. Ambidextrous Left-Right Equalization Program
Once you have back problems, you start to realize just how imbalanced you’ve become. Most people aren’t ambidextrous by nature. They have dominant eyes and hands and tend to favour one side over the other. They’ve developed their muscles on that side and trained them over a lifetime to do just about everything. So, I decided to re-balance. I made a conscious effort to do everything with my left hand until my left side caught up to my right side. I used my mouse left-handed, combed my hair left-handed, brushed my teeth left-handed, shaved, raked, shovelled … It’s amazing how poor your muscle control and dexterity is initially. You’ll find you need to stop and think about how you do everyday tasks with your strong side in order to adapt and learn how to do them equally well with your weak side. In the final analysis, I figure sharing the load equally between the two sides means 50% less stress on your strong side, and ultimately, a better-balanced core to support your back.
2. Make Time for Yoga Stretching and Strengthening
I can’t say enough good things about yoga for back maintenance. Early on, I got involved in a gentle, back-care stretch-and-strengthen program. I started getting up one hour earlier every day to stretch before work. And I started stretching after really strenuous activities like hockey (occasionally golf, if I felt I needed to). I never moved on to more aggressive, advanced yoga programs, which is likely why I haven’t really increased my flexibility but I am able to play all the sports I love without any significant issues.
3. Postpone Stressful Thoughts
No two events are equally stressful: some events simply cause more anxiety and stress than others (eg., surgery, new job, public speaking, etc.) These bigger infrequent events can tie you up in knots and bring on back spasms. For situations like these, where there is a firm, immovable event date, I believe in a healthy dose of Stress Procrastination. I avoid expending precious mental energy stressing out over the coming event by cutting the time to the event in half and telling myself, “I’ll worry about it then”. When I reach that half-way point, I re-cut the remaining time in half and again, tell myself, “I’ll worry about it when I reach the next half-way point” … Effectively, I just keep postponing the anxiety and stress until the moment the actual event occurs. And then it’s over in the blink of an eye. It’s an odd coping strategy that tricks the mind into living in the moment and one of those rare circumstances where procrastination actually causes less stress, rather than more. Give it a try. It’s a great mind and back saver.
Stress and Back Pain, BigBackPain.com
Stress Back Pain, cure-back-pain.org
How to Become Ambidextrous? Jonny, Jonny-Smartblog.blogspot.ca
Ambidextrous: a Right Hander’s Guide to developing two Dominant Hands, Hunter Nuttall, HunterNuttal.com
5 Yoga Poses to Relieve Back Pain, Michele Foley, FitSugar.com
Yoga for the Back – How can Yoga help deal with Common Back Injuries, abc-of-yoga.com