There’s no way around it, life sucks when your back is hurting. I’ve experienced back pain and tightness off and on over the last 10 years. I am not a doctor or a physical therapist, it’s outside of my scope of practice to diagnose and/or treat injuries. However, I’m confident that you can gain some insight from my experience. Hopefully my mistakes can serve as lessons to help you avoid going down the same road.
One key distinction I want to make is between back pain and tightness. To me, tightness is a mild discomfort. It’s a 1-3 on the 1-10 pain scale and typically improves after moving. This is the typical tightness I experience when getting out of bed. By the time I’ve walked downstairs, it’s already improved tremendously and goes away within 30-minutes of being awake and moving. Just like everyone else, I’ll get this tightness after flights, long drives or a rough night’s sleep. It’s relatively easy to manage and work around. I typically continue training during this time, making adjustments as needed.
Full-on back pain is another story. This is anywhere from a 4-10 on the pain scale and is significantly more uncomfortable than the mild tightness. When this happens, I pump the brakes. I take a very patient, conservative approach in order to accomplish two things:
- Get out of pain ASAP.
- Get back to training ASAP.
For me, training is my whole life so being injured really sucks. I take the recovery process very seriously so that the pain doesn’t linger any longer than it has to and I don’t make the pain/injury worse. Here are the immediate things I do when in pain:
- Breathe deeply and slowly. A lot of tension in the body is neurological and deep breathing will help more than you think. My first day back at the gym after getting injured, I laid down on the floor and took 20 slow, deep belly breaths.
- Move within your current capacity. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t just lay in bed all day and do nothing unless this is what your doctor has recommended. For most able-bodied people, walking is very gentle on the body and does wonders by getting the hips moving. My back always feels better after a good walk. If you’ve been skipping-out on mobility and movement prep, now is the time to get back to it!
- Train conservatively. Being in pain sucks, no doubt about it. The last thing you want to do is cause more pain or make the current situation worse. Find variations of movements that better suit you. The first 3-months back in the gym, I didn’t perform the single arm kettlebell swing. I stuck to 2-arm swings and over-time as I recovered, transitioned back to single arm swings and barbell deadlifts. You’d be surprised by how much you can still do despite an injury.
- DO NOT FUCKING GIVE UP. Being hurt sucks, trust me I know. Now is not the time for fear or doubt. Get your ass back in the game (safely) as soon as possible and do what you can. It can be hard in the moment, but try to maintain a positive, empowered mindset while making the comeback.
- Get a fresh pair of eyes on your movements. If you don’t have a coach, get one. If you do, get another trusted colleague to perform a movement audit. Over the years, I’ve made minor tweaks to my movements that have been the difference between debilitating pain and strong, kickass lifts.
I truly hope this information helps you. Now, go out there and kick ass like the deadlifting Terminator that you are!
Train your body. Feed your mind.