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Maintaining a Healthy Back

by TRX Editor

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If you follow the Virtual Trainer feed on Facebook or Twitter you are most likely aware that on Sunday, I went down with a back injury. Specifically I have a cracked L5 vertebra and herniated disc. Did I crash my motorcycle or get hurt strength training, sadly (in a twisted sort of way) no. It is just something that happened while I was warming up to exercise. I was doing some simple air squats and BOOM, down I went in a heap of pain and I have not been able to stand up since. I have been crawling everywhere; upstairs, downstairs, to the bathroom, and yes even to and from the car to go to the doctor. The doctor has not yet given me the final prognosis as to the extend and severity of the injury (or even the cause) but needless to say it hurts. Like stick you head in a vice grip while someone kicks you in the groin kind of hurt. Scale of 1 to 10....it's easily a 20.

I have the mind of an engineer in that I always have to have a reason for why something happens. To me there is always an action and reaction (Newton's Third Law BTW). So my goal through all of this will be to determine exactly what caused this injury, how to properly rehab, and hopefully prevent it from ever happening again. So look forward to a few "back" articles to pop up on the site over the next couple of months. One such article I came across was over on the Fitness Anywhere site (the company who makes the TRX) and I thought I would share it with you.

I now have a theory about the human back much like that of motocross. They say in motocross it's not if you get injured but when and how bad and now I believe in life it's not if you will have back pain it's merely when and how severe. If you have never had any back pain or are in your 20's or 30's consider yourself lucky and take precautions to NEVER have to experience this pain.....EVER. It's that bad. So with that, check out this article. It's really good and hopefully it will help you in some way. - Virtual Trainer

In this installment of "Ask the TRX Doctor," Dr. Perkash fields a question from member Paul S. on the best TRX exercises for prevention of back pain, especially for someone who is short on time. Click here for the original article.

Question
I am a regular TRX user and affiliate, and I have the TRX Healthy Back DVD, and it is excellent. Like many people, I sit for many hours in front of my computer while working. Several years ago, I fell down a flight of stairs and broke one of the disks in my lower spine. After several months of suffering from sciatic pain, I had part of the disk removed, and I am doing fine now, thanks to a great surgeon and my TRX. As part of my rehab, I have been performing exercises on my TRX, and I believe it has helped to strengthen my spine and prevent back pain. But I am wondering, in your opinion, what are the best TRX exercises to prevent lower back pain and sciatica from occurring in the first place? What would be your top three TRX back exercises for someone who is short on time? Your response may prevent millions of people who are suffering from back pain!

Answer
It has come to be recognized in the medical community how important exercise, in general, is for longevity and general well being. Similarly, it is equally important to do exercises regularly to maintain a healthy back, especially as we get older. As we get older, many of the structures in our bodies slowly deteriorate. With the advent of MRI technology over the past 20 to 30 years, we have been able to more vividly observe disc degeneration as it occurs in the general population. This process occurs in all of us with each decade of life, usually beginning between ages 30 to 40. In some of us, discs can fail and bulge, protrude or fully herniate and cause pain. While disc degeneration is inevitable as we age, to one degree or another, low back pain is not.


if the deeper structures in the spine can be well supported by other structures surrounding them, then there is a lower chance of pain and injury as we get older


It is understood that by strengthening the soft tissues (i.e. muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc) around the spine, the deeper, weaker structures have a lower likelihood of becoming painful. In other words, if the deeper structures in the spine can be well supported by other structures surrounding them, then there is a lower chance of pain and injury as we get older. These structures have been termed collectively as the “core” in the physical therapy and exercise realm. This is a rather broad term that encompasses soft tissue musculoskeletal structures surrounding virtually the entire spine and especially the lower back.

The important factor in deciding an exercise program is finding one that meets the needs, ability level and goals of an individual. For instance, the right exercise for a 20 year old who has never had back pain are not the same as a 70 year old with a history of lumbar degenerative disc disease with narrowing of the spinal canal (i.e. spinal stenosis). There are literally an infinite number of exercises that can be done at different vector angles using the TRX, and therefore, unique groups of exercises that should be tailored for any given person.

For anyone who has had a disc/back problem in the past, some guidance should be provided/solicited from their physical therapist and/or physician regarding their restrictions. Once this has been clearly established, then core stabilization exercises can be initiated. I wish I could simply provide you with a simple cook book answer of which three TRX exercises are “best” for the back. In contrast, I think the benefit of the TRX is that virtually every exercise that is done using the TRX activates the core musculature and therefore strengthens the lumbar spinal musculature either directly or indirectly. Indeed, the TRX is a significant component of my own exercise regimen.

Better advice is for anyone using the TRX or any other exercise equipment to consult a health professional or trainer to work towards an individualized exercise program based upon his/her needs, ability and goals. The TRX Biomechanics: Healthy Back DVD is an excellent guide, and progressions in this regard are literally limitless. It is not so much which specific exercises anyone does but rather how those exercises complement the rest of that individual’s personal exercise program. All core stabilization exercises should be part of a general cardiovascular, flexibility and strengthening exercise program.

In addition, ergonomic factors should be addressed. For anyone sitting in front of a computer, an appropriate ergonomic set-up should be ensured. Frequent stretching breaks should be taken every 30 to 60 minutes and last a few seconds. Prolonged sitting with proper ergonomics is tolerated more easily than even moderate sitting with poor ergonomics.

Although there are many back exercises someone can do with the TRX including the following:

The proper combination of these exercise for a given individual may vary for the reasons mentioned above, so start on the conservative side and progress or regress the intensity appropriately.

Have a question for the TRX Doctor? Email the Doc today! We’ll be featuring these Q&As as regular blog posts going forward.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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Discussion

  1. Gravatar
    Steve Mays April 19, 2012 at 7:47 am

    I am sorry to hear about your back injury. In less you have ever experienced a back injury, people have no idea of the massive pain associated with it. Earlier this year i was diagnosed by my doctor with a herniated disc in my lower back. He advised surgery to fuse the discs. At that point i was nearly incapacitated and ready for anything that would relieve the pain and muscle spasms which seemed to be worsening by the day. A friend suggested that i consult his sports chiropractor before going thru with the surgery. He recommended that i do spinal decompression treatments. 3 months later after a series of 30 treatments, i am happy to say that i am completely pain free, back on my dirt bike and have never felt better. I would highly recommend this option as opposed to the fusing of the discs, which appears to work short term but then has a stair step affect which usually means more surgery. I just thought that i would share my experience, so that others may benefit.

  2. Gravatar
    Bill Sepich April 19, 2012 at 8:13 am

    I have a very similar injury (L4) and 4 months into it and still in off the charts pain at times. I have no degeneration of the disk and have started the spinal decompression treatments with some OK results. This is the strangest injury I have ever dealt with, just when I think Iâ

  3. Gravatar
    Fred Nichols April 19, 2012 at 9:50 am

    Maybe I need to try the TRX, but it looks to me like most of the exercises listed above could be done on a simple exercise ball with better effect. With the TRX plank, for example, it looks like your feet are supported completely by the straps. You're still doing a plank of course, but if your feet were on a ball, it seems like you'd be engaging more muscles to keep the ball from rolling side to side and front to back.

  4. Gravatar
    Jimmy Mac April 19, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    A back injury is by far the worst injury I have ever had. The pain is something only people with this injury can understand. I reinjured my back the very first moto of the season ( march 11) and have been in pain every day.

  5. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer April 19, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Fred - The TRX is not only a good piece of equipment, the programming and knowledge at Fitness Anywhere is second to none. That is probably what I like best about the product. I guarantee if you get one, it will be a tremendous addition to your training. And yes, a lot of the exercises on the TRX can be done sans TRX or even on something like a balance ball but overall it's a great piece of equipment.

  6. Gravatar
    Zac April 20, 2012 at 5:40 am

    Most of those excercises are advanced. They are good if you already have a strong core... I would not recommend starting with them if you are recovering from a back injury or just starting to build your core. If you do not have a stable core and use proper form many of those exercises can cause a back injury. I would recommend starting out with more simple exercises like pelvic floor thrusts and a low plank for beginners.

  7. Gravatar
    John April 23, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Dear Virtual Trainer, Thanks so much for this very timely article! I recently injured my back when I had a pretty gnarly crash while practicing at the track. Turns out I crushed my T4 Vertebra. Needless to say it is pretty painful. I've broken numerous bones in my life (all from riding MX...my wife keeps telling me I should get a clue). But the pain from this injury is much more intense. It can be very discouraging at times wondering if I will get back to "normal." This article, and the comments posted, are very encouraging. Thanks much.

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