Most of the aches and pains associated with lower back pain, neck pain, upper back pain, sore knees etc., are classified as a lifestyle dysfunction. These are often related to work conditions, lifestyle habits, previous injury or sports history.
For example, sitting at a desk for 6 to 8 hours and a sedentary lifestyle easily create lower and upper back pain. The everyday things we do can easily contribute to the pain of an already poorly functioning joint or muscle group; for example, gardening or playing a new sport; even heading to the gym can aggravate issues that weren’t obvious before but show up when we start to push our physical boundaries.
There are a number of things to consider when training with these common lifestyle dysfunctions:
1. Lower Back Pain:
Once diagnosed and stabilised the general rule of thumb for the gym is to avoid crunches/sit ups, tall step ups, tricep dips can be a problem also- any overly strenuous core activities. At home, vacuuming and sweeping can be an issue.
In my experience any one with lower back pain, disc herniation or just a tight back, should definitely not do crunches or traditional style sit ups, as this movement tends to open the split in the disc and cause a lot of distress.
Stretches for the front compartment- abs, chest and shoulders, hip flexor region (very high on the quad close to the top of the pelvis/hip bone) and quads should definitely be woven into your regular daily program.
Upper back and neck:
So closely connected, these two will often improve simultaneously. Head position should be retracted when doing all exercises, so get used to a double chin. Shoulders/middle back should be strengthened to reduce ‘wings’ created by the scapula/shoulder blades. Get a regular massage.
Avoid over-head work like heavy shoulder press. Crunches and sit-ups are also problematic for the neck and upper back. Push-ups are probably better than weighted chest press because it teaches the shoulder blades to stabilise and can help to avoid that overreaching seen so commonly with the chest press movement. Avoid a drooping head posture while doing push-ups.
Weak core strength has a huge role to play here. This can be improved by taking up Yoga or Pilates for example. Stretch the biceps, the chest and thoracic spine. Remember the thoracic spine has a vastly greater range of motion than the lower back so it needs to be flexible to function pain free and allow the lower back to function normally also.
2. Sore knees:
Without a proper diagnosis a trainer is really at a disadvantage to help manage the condition. But most common is patella mistracking. The inside or outside muscle of the quadriceps group is doing too much because the other one is on long service leave. This causes the kneecap to move irregularly and cause damage to the joint and its soft tissue structures. This can be managed with a conscious effort to work the muscles of the thigh equally and not going too close to fatigue to avoid an overload of the weak muscles. Stay in a controlled position and avoid deep squatting movements. This requires a concentrated effort.
Weak hamstrings will overload the calves and can cause knee pain because leg movements (especially the lower limb) are not controlled well enough during faster movements.
Another common weakness is a weak gluteal. This will contribute to poor hip stabilisation, aggravating the tendon on the outside of the thigh that can rub at the top of the hip and pull on the kneecap.
Stretch the tendon (illotibial band) on the outside of the thigh.
3. Foot/ankle pain:
This can present in a number of ways and arise from a number of problems, all of which need to be identified to help with management. The two most common we see are weak ankles. Repeated rolling of an ankle creates weak support structures and can create pain in the foot, weakness in certain positions and a tendency to reduced strength.
Get balance sorted with unstable surfaces and start strengthening the calves. Do plenty of single legwork (progressed obviously) to ensure the weak one isn’t getting a free ride from the strong leg. The other common pain is plantar fasciitis- an inflammation of the soft structures of the foot generally associated with tight Achilles tendon and calves, probably coupled with tightness in the hip flexor region.
Stretch the Achilles and calves, and then stretch some more. Get a regular calf and foot massage. Your feet will often need rest, so be prepared for a limit on walking and running motions, and to get familiar with more static movements and upper body work.
4. Hip pain:
A bit like sore knees, this can be hard to pin point and is worth getting a professional opinion. Often referred to as Sciatica. Not a true sciatica condition but a nerve impingement of the sciatic nerve. Stretch! A lot. Sciatica is often a result of poor glute function, which results in smaller less capable muscles doing more work than they are designed for. For walkers, runners and cyclists the muscles deep in the hip increase in size (perfectly normal) due to work and start to hit the nerve. Stretch!
It could also come from a lower back issue that presents in the butt and can travel through to the front of the thigh. Sitting for long periods, walking/running/cycling vigorously or inappropriate increase in training loads can aggravate it. Use of a massage ball doing pressure point work can be helpful. Single legwork is also a must here.
Although this is a greatly simplified list of a few conditions and treatments suggested are guides only, it provides a pretty good understanding of how the wrong exercise can affect your body and aggravate an old (or new) injury. The best management plan will come from a qualified physiotherapist who can guide rehab and assist a trainer with appropriate exercises. Be prepared to take a go-slow approach so the situation can be improved and risks reduced. Training for the long run can sometimes require a lot of patience but will be worth it.
Meg Surmon is a Personal Trainer from Melbourne. Revive Personal Training has been operating for just over 4 years now with Meg at the helm and a fantastic team of female trainers. The dedicated team has developed a strong and loyal following in that time. Personal training and group sessions, mums and bubs workouts, boxing and fit ball, are all a regular part of the mix at her studio.