Why you might have a bad back and what to do about it

Source:  Why you might have a bad back and what to do about it    Tag:  pelvis x ray

Why you might have a bad back and what to do about it - (Or what I did about it!)

If you’ve ever suffered from a bad back you’ll know how debilitating it is. I never thought I’d find myself in the category of back sufferers. I knew enough about back care, as a personal trainer, that I was confident that it wouldn’t happen to me. Oops. How wrong I was! Perhaps my over-confidence helped in making me less cautious? Nevertheless, about two years ago I developed an unexpected pain in my back. I ignored it. As you do. Then it got worse. In fact the pain was mainly in my hip and only slightly in my back, so I thought I had a hip problem! I finally went to the doctor. He referred me to get an x-ray. The x-ray showed that my hip was fine. Of course it was, because it wasn’t my hip it was my back. I then got referred to a physio. Poor girl, (the physio) she didn’t know what she was doing and after a few sessions of ‘trying to replicate the pain’ she said that there was nothing wrong with me and to go off and do the exercises she gave me and I’d be fine. But I wasn’t.

As time passed it got progressively worse. I just got better at tolerating the pain. It seemed to always be there in varying degrees so I learnt to live with it. At times it was so bad I found it hard to get up off the sofa and had to limp my first few steps. This didn’t make me feel better as I was approaching 40 and had to fight off the little voice in my head saying: “it’s your age; you’re getting on you know; these are the signs”. I had to tell myself to shut up when those thoughts came! Here I was telling my clients approaching their sixties that ‘age is just a number’ and forbidding them from EVER saying they’re old or complaining about ‘old symptoms’ and here I was holding my back and hunching over like a granny, grunting as I go. If only my clients could see me now I thought!

Read on this has a happy ending… :)

Anyway, you’re probably wondering what on earth I did about it. Well, I did nothing for about two years (I’m guessing but it was a long time). Then finally I decided to pay a different doctor a visit. After my own bit of Internet research (the worst thing you can do by the way), I decided that it might be sciatica.

The doctor who saw me quickly put my mind at rest. It wasn’t sciatica. I was pleased but also surprised. If it wash’t sciatica what on earth was causing me so much pain? He did the checks and said “I know exactly what’s wrong with you. I had it myself and I now have to religiously follow an exercise regime. You have WEAK CORE muscles.” WEAK CORE MUSCLES??? My mind screamed. Do you know who I am? What I am? I am a personal trainer! I know all about weak core muscles! 

My expression when the Doc said I have weak 

Oh yes I knew all about them all right but knowing about something DOESN’T actually DO anything does it? No you need to APPLY what you know. Hmm there’s a novel idea. Anyway, I jest but the truth is that I was not happy to hear that. It meant ‘Hello? Reality check here. I have to do something about this!’ So I did.

Firstly, I was referred to physio and thankfully this time the physio was brilliant. A New Zealand girl who knew her stuff! She actually diagnosed something completely different but she was spot on. She said I had stiffness in my lower-right-side lumber spine. Everything she described was what I was feeling. At last someone who understood what I was going through! So I embarked on some stretching exercises to begin with. I needed to get my back supple again. This lasted for a few weeks then something else happened. I was sleeping on a not-so-good mattress at the time and one morning I sat up in bed as you do, to read my emails, as you do, and ping! My back just went into spasm! I couldn’t move the pain was so bad. It was actually really scary as I couldn’t get up, roll on my side or anything. I managed to get up on my knees but there I stayed as I couldn’t move. I eventually got up but the pain was unbearable. Once I got up I realised that I couldn’t bend forward. So I had to walk, sit and do everything with a completely straight back. Ironic really. That’s the position we should be adopting anyway. 

Cut a long story short when I went to the physio that week she said that it was a bulging disc caused by sleeping on a concave mattress. I immediately changed my bed and felt better straight away although it took about a week to fully recover. I got some new exercises to do while I was recovering and had my back taped. This meant that I couldn’t bend forward even if I tried, the tape prevented me from easily rounding the back and causing more pain. It really helped to keep me upright.

Now I said ALL of THAT to say THIS: Both problems required me to strengthen my CORE abdominal muscles. Not your usual abdominals that you use to do crunches but the deeper innermost layers of muscles that help to support your spine and organs. The muscles that wrap around your waist and keep everything in. The muscles responsible for giving you the appearance of a flat tummy. I had to strengthen these and not with your usual crunch type exercises either. The physio told me that I have quite strong superficial abdominals (of course, I had to have something going for me!) but the core muscles were weak. The truth is that the most common reason for a bad back is having WEAK CORE MUSCLES and if you neglect this area at some point you may suffer too.

So what’s the moral of the story? The moral of the story is strengthen your CORE! No matter who you are no matter how fit you are make sure that you work those muscles! 

I can happily report that my back is on it’s way to a full recovery and the more I look after it the better it responds. Please don’t be caught out! I didn’t think it would happen to me. You never do until it happens and you never really realise just how important your back is until it gets injured. Your back does a lot of work to support you so give it some love back!

Below are some brilliant core-working exercises. Ditch the sit-ups (sits-ups are bad for your back anyway - crunches are better) and strengthen your core! See below.

DISCLAIMER: Ask your doctor/physiotherapist before you do any of these exercises. They may not be suitable for your back problem.

The Pelvic Tilt

Laying on your back with your feet on the floor, draw in the small of your back into the floor by pulling in your tummy muscles from the waist down (don’t hold your breath). To check you are engaging the correct muscles press your fingers deeply 2cm in from the bony prominence at the front of your pelvis. Hold for as long as you can and let go when you start to lose the tension. Rest and repeat 10 times.

Pelvic Tilt and Leg Slides

As above, draw in the tummy and flatten the back and while keeping this contraction going try to slide one leg at a time off the floor and away from you so that it’s parallel to the floor and just off the floor. Bring the leg back in while holding the contraction in your lower abdomen. Repeat 10 times on each side.


These are great for strengthening the abs and lower back muscles as well as the gluteus (butt). Laying on the floor draw in your lower abs (don’t hold your breath), feet hip width apart and push your pelvis up using your hamstring muscles (back of the leg) and your gluteal muscle. Bring back down slowly. Repeat for 10 times.

Have a great day! And look after that back of yours!

Sally x