While attending last week end’s cycling camp in Moab hosted by Aspen Sports Performance. I resonated with Jeremy James,’ DC presentation on preventing back injuries and healing them without surgery. Jeremy is the Director of the Aspen Club Back Institute who specializes in recreating stance, posture and functional movement frequently robbed during modern demands of sitting at a desk and obsolete exercise routines. As he pointed out, “glutes are not designed to sit on!”

If you have ever experienced back injury and pain, you know how it can rob pleasure and productivity from your life. 80% of Americans will experience a serious episode of back pain in their life time, many to a debilitating level and costing time from work, play as well as incurring significant medical expense.

I was a part of this statistic. Several years ago what I thought was a back ache evolved into an overwhelming illness, prohibiting me from walking let alone parenting, working, cycling, hiking, skiing. It snuck up on me, probably due to a combination of a deconditioning of my posture and stress related to significant life changes. The diagnosis was herniated discs pressing on a nerve. Just when the pain was so intense I didn’t think I could endure another moment, an agonizing bolt seared through my body, jolting me a couple of inches off the living room floor on which I was lying trying to find any momentary position of comfort. My daughter awoke to find me whimpering, assisted me to my knees, at which point I crawled to my bed, barely able to hoist myself up to the mattress. Once there, a firey sensation traveled from my feet into my upper legs and into my butt. Ice helped ease the pain, along with Aleve, and in the early days, prescription pain medication.

Thanks to the medical care provided by Dr. Giora Hahn, MD, a skilled pain specialist, along with physical therapy I slowly returned to normal daily activity. Important to me is I avoided surgery. Jeremy James presentation outlined below is the program by which I recovered and continue to practice. From personal experience I can testify that changes in postural habits and maintenance of core strength help to maintain a healthy back!

According to James, it’s important to understand that back pain is due to “how you live your life.” Healing requires a change in behavior, not just until the pain goes away, but for life.

Following are seven key concepts to back health.

  1. “Stop doing dumb stuff”. In other words, it’s time to change how you go about your daily routine, whether it be stand up from your desk frequently, or to switch from sit ups to crunches in your work out.
  2. The back needs to “be still to heal.” The spine needs to be immobile. Instead of thinking of disciplining tiny muscular movements to recover your spine as time away from your fitness and work routine, consider it an investment in your future…with proper care and rest now you can eventually move better than ever.
  3. Brace Yourself. The musculature between your shoulders and hips, “the core” including abdominal muscles, oblique’s, transverse abdominals and glutes need to be active, awake, and strong. Give the psoas major and hip flexors a break!
  4. Core Commitment. Commit to your core so that it can sustain movement over time. Strength is the ability to move a muscle group to accomplish a task in one moment of time. Endurance is the ability of the body to function without compensating posture over long periods…i.e., during an active day.
  5. “Humans are not designed to sit.” The glutes are designed to keep us upright, to walk, step, climb, even squat. Sitting deactivates the glutes and other muscle groups. To wake them back up requires conscious activation to counter the sitting activities which dominate modern lifestyle.
  6. Baby Steps. The healing process takes time. Learning how to wake up the muscles will be done while lying on the ground, then in crawling position, then walking, and finally running – even better than before!
  7. Stand Tall for the long haul! The activities are to be adopted for the rest of life. Habits take time to create. Be conscious and committed. Practice does make perfect as the body begins not just to remember what it is to feel good but demands it.

One of the elements for some people recovering from back pain may be emotion. The late John E. Sarno, MD published “Healing Back Pain: The Mind Body Connection”. At the time the book was controversial in the medical community, yet for many people taking time to process emotional memories supported healing their backs.

As it turns out, my favorite sports of skiing and cycling challenge healthy skeletal alignment, i.e., posture. Bending at the waste and sitting on my bike for long stretches, or flexing and countering my upper body to allow my legs to turn my skis on the slope while absorbing terrain can take its toll on my postural alignment. Yet, the pleasure I derive from these activities, being out in the great outdoors with clients, family and friends; the exhilaration of powder washing my face, or great stretches of scenic roadway passing by as I peddle my bike is inimitable. That’s why I went to Moab in the first place! We cycled 160 miles in three and a half days with cycling masters including the host of the Aspen Sports Performance camp, Chip Chilson, former professional cyclist and now NBC Commentator, Bob Roll, Alex Hagman, four time winner of the Leadville 100, Laurie Brandt, and RIO Cycling coach Roy Sturm. Cycling through an incredible desert landscape before the snow flies with a peloton of avid cyclists from around the country was a great way to transition to skiing!

When recovering from my back injury I religiously practiced my exercise routine. It took several months, first learning to crawl, then walk and finally run, to recover my back so I could parent and work, let alone ski and cycle. Under my doctor’s and physical therapist’s care I managed to do it without surgery. Now that the pain is a distant memory, I have to remind myself to wake up my body, to find time in the day to re align my posture, and to practice healthy bio mechanics. It’s worth it though…cycling this week end and attending trainers’ training next week end with the Professional Ski Instructor’s – Rocky Mountain Division are the rewards of enjoying back to back seasons – thanks to a healthy back!

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