How To Fix Back Pain: Simple 4-Step Guide
Back pain sucks. Let's not beat around the bush. I've dealt with it myself and it made me miserable. This guide is the combination of hours upon hours of research that I've done into how to fix back pain, and what I've come up with are 4 simple, evidence-based steps that you can follow to start fixing your back pain as soon as possible. They include...
They've made a huge difference for me, and if you give them a shot, they could make a huge difference for you too. Let's fix that back pain.
Step 1: Fix Lower Back Pain Quickly (Immediately) By Changing the Way You Think About It
Did you know that how most people think about back pain is scientifically incorrect? And is actually harming their ability to heal?
It's true. And it's called the Nocebo Effect.
When we think about back pain, what comes to mind?...
My spine is probably damaged
I'll have this forever
I need an MRI
I need surgery
All of which are completely untrue for 99% of people. But because we THINK that they're true, we modify our behaviour, avoid movement, avoid exercise, take more bed rest, and do things that actually make pain worse and delay healing. But what if I told you that the scientific consensus is actually very different? Because here's the truth...
For most people, back pain doesn't mean spinal damage (and even if it did, your spine is constantly healing itself)
It doesn't require an MRI
It doesn't require surgery
And it WILL heal over time
Do you see how different your outcomes are likely to be if you believe the second set of statements versus the first set? How much more empowering is it to know that your back is going to get better, and that YOU can take action to make it so.
I promise that your body isn't as fragile as most people think it is. It's actually incredibly strong and incredibly quick at repairing itself.
If you want to know more, here's an incredible lecture from two doctors and back pain specialists. It might just change the way you think about back pain forever...
Step 2: Fix Back Pain by Walking More
If you want to fix your lower back pain, one of the best places to start is by walking more.
"Ideally, go for a 10+ minute walk 3+ times per day, every day"
It might seem incredibly simple. And you're probably thinking if walking was so effective, then nobody would have back pain. Wrong again. The big issue is that hardly anyone has the actual discipline to go for a walk three times a day every day! We end up sitting at our desks and on our sofas, and we don't put in the simple work that makes the biggest difference.
Still don't believe me?
Try it for the next week and see how you feel. I'm willing to bet that your back pain reduces in less than 7 days.
Build Up Your Walking In Line With Your Pain-free Capacity If your back starts hurting after 8 minutes of walking, it doesn't make sense to walk for 10 minutes.
Instead, start by going for 6-minute walks three or four times per day, and build up the duration over time.
Step 3: Fix Back Pain by Doing the McGill 'Big 3' (NOT stretching)
Been stretching your back for weeks/months and your back pain isn't getting any better? or keeps coming back? This might be why.
Professor Stuart McGill has spent 30+ years researching spinal biomechanics and helping people fix their backs. A lot of what I'm talking about here comes directly from his books, Back Mechanic, and Ultimate Back Fitness & Performance. Which I highly recommend you check out. Put simply, he knows his stuff.
And one of the biggest things he says is that 'stretching is not the answer.' Lower back pain isn't solved by stretching your back. In fact, what we want to do is stiffen your entire midsection so that it has better endurance and is injury resistant. To do this, we use 3 exercises...
The Side Plank
The Bird Dog
McGill recommends each exercise be performed every day using a descending pyramid rep scheme (5/3/1) of 7-8 second holds. This means... 5 x 7-8 seconds, with 10 seconds in between
Rest 30 seconds
3 x 7-8 seconds, with 10 seconds in between Rest 30 seconds
1 x 7-8 seconds
I can promise you now that these exercises have been an absolute game-changer for me and a lot of my clients. Start implementing them into your daily routine.
Step 4: Fix Back Pain by Fixing Your Daily Habits and Posture
Look, no one likes to hear it, but your back pain is also related to how you sit, stand and move around throughout the day. I'm talking about things like...
Sitting with your shoulders hunched forwards at your desk
Sitting for hours and hours without breaks
Picking things up without hinging or squatting properly
Standing with weight over one leg or legs crossed
All the sorts of things that we do without even thinking put extra stress on our backs, and by mindfully addressing these we can reduce the daily stress on our back significantly.
Think of it this way... Loads of people with lower back pain avoid deadlifting, because it places, let's say 10'000N compression forces on the spine for 2 seconds. But what about placing 100N of compression force on the spine for HOURS? Start paying attention to the little things and over time they'll make a big difference.
Back Pain: Health Versus Performance
This article is mainly aimed at showing you how to fix back pain to get you healthy, happy and improve your overall quality of life. However, if you're an athlete, you're going to want to know how to fix back pain in a performance context, so that you can sprint, jump, lift and compete and your maximum potential.
To help you with that, I've written full guides on...
Returning to Athletic Performance With Back Pain
Deadlift back pain (Including back pain from deadlifts, and how to deadlift with back pain)
Squat back pain (including back pain from squats, and how to squat with lower back pain)
*Click any of the links to go straight to the article
Frequently Asked Questions About How to Fix Back Pain
Gym/Weightlifting for Back Pain?
Generally speaking, movement is a good idea for back pain as it encourages blood flow which promotes healing. It also helps to boost your mood, which can help to minimise the experience of pain. My advice be would be to choose exercises that work your muscles without placing too much load through your spine. I'm a big fan of full body workouts that use movements like press-ups, lunges, pull-ups etc. I would avoid exercises like crunches and deadlifts, as both of these place significant loads through the spine.
Deadlift for back pain?
For most people who are simply aiming for healthy, pain-free back, I would NOT recommend the deadlift. It places considerable load on the spine, and therefore poses a risk factor. Now, there is some good literature that suggests certain people do in fact benefit from deadlifts when it comes to back pain. However, under inspection, the people most likely to benefit are those who have the best hip and core muscular endurance, and so these things should be prioritised in training before deadlifts are given consideration.
Do weight lifting belts help lower back pain?
The honest answer is no. Lifting belts are a tool used to create a stronger, more robust brace for heavy effort lifting. They are not a crutch for to rely on. If they help you to maintain a tight brace for heavy lifts then feel free to use them. But make sure you still follow the steps above as a priority to address the underlying issues of your lower back pain.
Stretches to fix back pain?
Contrary to popular belief, there's actually very little evidence to support stretching for back pain. It might provide a temporary feeling of relief, but it doesn't address the underlying issues. (Analysis) Now, if you have very tight hip flexors, stretching these might help somewhat. But for the most part your time is far better walking and doing the McGill 'Big 3' core exercises. Remember, you don't want a super-flexible back, you want a strong, stable back!
Alright, that's enough reading for today, time for action.
1) Follow all 4 steps to start fixing your lower back pain. That means... > Changing the way you think about back pain
> Walking 3 times every day > Doing your 'Big 3' core exercises every day
> Paying attention to your daily habits and posture
2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.
3) And if you're looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching to take you from injury back to high-level sports performance, you can find more information about my services here.
'Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex's experience includes 7+ years within strength & conditioning, including supporting 2 major universities, 2 national talent pathways and a selection of international level athletes.
He is also a tutor and educator for British Weightlifting