Getting Through The Day With Back Pain – Tools Of The Trade

There is no getting around it, back pain sucks.  I have been dealing with back problems for most of my adult life.  It’s not really one of those things you think about until it happens to you.  Even when it happens to people you know, you really don’t appreciate the gravity of it, until it affects you personally. In this post I want to walk through a typical day for me and how I make sure it is a good day and not a bad one.

Background

To give you some background, I have been suffering (I don’t like that word, but it gets the point across), from back pain since I was 26.  I never had any problems as a kid, or in my early to mid-20’s, then pretty much out of nowhere, I had shooting pain down my leg.

I have always been a very active person.  When I was a kid, I played just about every sport under the sun.  I was partial to soccer growing up, but I wanted to try everything.  In high school, I played tennis, golf, basketball, ran cross country and played soccer.

In college, and even after college, I continued playing sports, not at a competitive level, but intermural sports, and with my friends. I never had even a hint of back pain.  Then, in the spring of 1999, as I mentioned at 26 years old, the pain started.

The first doctor I saw wrote my pain off as getting “older.”  For crying out loud, I was 26 years old!  Don’t talk to me about getting “older.”  He told me I probably pulled something and just be careful going forward.

After a few weeks of not getting any better, actually getting worse, I went back to see the same doctor, and I am not really sure why given the previous experience. This time he recommended physical therapy.

So off to PT I went. After a few sessions and performing the exercises regularly at home, like I was instructed, I was a mess.  I was hobbling around, and the pain down my leg was very intense.  Time for an MRI.

The MRI revealed a herniated disc, and I was experiencing sciatica, which is pain the travels along the sciatic nerve.  I had never felt pain like this before, and honestly, I had never really been injured previously.  This was uncharted territory.

After months of trying different treatments, the last option I was given was surgery.  So, in October 1999 I went under the knife.

Surgery was a success

Or so I thought.  I immediately was free from the pain that had a grip on my life.  I felt great.  It wasn’t long before I was back to doing pretty much everything I had been doing before my surgery. Back to playing basketball, running, playing golf.  There was not really any follow up to speak of, except for when the doctor released me to go back to work. 

Anyway, over the years, I have had more problems with my back, mostly because I didn’t know how to care for my back.  In 2009, I had another blowout (my disc that is) and again in 2011.

When I blew my disc in 2011, I hobbled around for 16 months!  I worked with a back pain clinic, but nothing worked for me. They recommended surgery, but I was determined not to have surgery again.  Then I literally woke up one day and the pain was gone.

December 2015, the big one

I thought I was over all my back problems, and I was lifting weights like I had nothing to worry about. Then it hit me. I blew a disc and sprained my SI joint.  That was it for me. I was bound and determined to avoid surgery.  The problem was I was now dealing with spinal stenosis, and I was bent over at the waist about 30 degrees.  This was a very rough time in my life.

I went to see a highly recommended chiropractor, and he set me straight (ha, no pun intended).  I was in for a long haul of getting my body right. What I learned was that I had never healed correctly from any of my previous injuries, and I should never have had surgery.  You live, and you learn I guess.

So, after about six months of chiropractic adjustments, I was finally fully upright.  Now, I needed to get on a program that would help maintain a healthy back.

I tell you all of this so that I can share with you my insight and what my day looks like as a guy who has dealt with a lot of back problems. I hope that anyone out there with back problems can benefit from my experience, that’s the goal.

Morning exercise

I start my day, every single day, with an activity, I have dubbed “swimmer.” This exercise mimics swimming on land. It is an excellent exercise for the entire back side of your body really.  I do this for 5 minutes straight. This might sound easy, but I encourage you to try!

Then I move on to side planks with a twist.  Now twisting isn’t for everyone, especially those with back pain, but I am cautious, and I have built up to this over the years.  BUT you should always check with your doctor before you start doing something like this.

Sit-stand desk

At work, I use a sit-stand desk, and I can’t tell you how beneficial this has been for me.  I probably stand about half the day.  Not only does this help to wake me up from the mundane tasks I perform at work, but it also helps me stretch out tight muscles from sitting.

As soon as I get to work, after my hour commute, the last thing I want to do is sit some more, so I raise the desktop, and that is a great way to start my day.  The sit-stand workstation is adjustable, so I can set it to just the right height for me.

Seat cushion for back pain

My office chairs at work and at home are lacking in the comfort department, and that is an understatement.  So, I bought myself a seat cushion for each.  The great thing about the seat cushions is that they have a cutout for my tailbone, and that really helps to provide a comfortable seating experience.  The coccyx cutout as it is called is designed to help disperse weight, so your tailbone doesn’t take the brunt of it.

I have been dealing with a sore tailbone lately, so it’s not only time to see the chiro, but I find a seat cushion really helps in that department.

Walks during the day

I get up and walk around more than most people do. I don’t know how people can sit at the desk ALL day long and never move.  First of all, I have to use the restroom occasionally and second, it is just a good idea to move your body now and then.

I find that if I don’t get up and walk around the building a few times per day, I get stiff and tight, especially in my bad spots which are my hips.  Anyway, if you see me walking around the building a few times per day, I am not avoiding work, but trying to be more productive.

Stretching for back pain

I perform some light stretching while I am at work and when I get home. I will sit in a chair with one ankle on the opposite knee.  I will push gently on my elevated leg, and that helps to stretch out my hips.  I also draw my leg into my chest and stretch the piriformis really well.

Stretching has become a big part of my day.  With so much sitting, stretching is a nice break and a necessary step in my battle against back pain.

More exercise

When I get home from work, exercise is a considerable part of my life.  I have to either go to the gym and workout or do some stuff at home.  If I stay home, I will do some core exercises, go for a walk, that kind of thing.  Core exercises will include Swiss ball crunches, planks, ab roller exercises to name a few.Perfect Ab Carver Pro

I do hit the gym at least 4 days per week, and this is a necessary evil for me. If I don’t, I notice it, my hips, butt and lower back start to stiffen up. It’s amazing how a few days off can kind of start to wreak havoc on my body.  So exercise is a big part of my life and is a great way to fend off back pain.

Inversion tables for back pain

I love my inversion table, and I use it several times per week.  After a long day of work, and probably a workout, I will hop on the inversion table, and it feels great.  I have used inversion tables off and on over the years, and it has become one of my staples over the past couple of years.

Conclusion

As a guy who has a history of back problems, I have learned a lot about how to care for my back. I have learned a lot from my chiropractor and have tailored my day to what works for me.  There is not a one-size-fits-all remedy to back pain.  For me, exercise is a huge part of this process. Other things like the sit-stand desk and seat cushions help me along the way.

I hope you enjoyed this post, I certainly enjoyed writing it.  If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below, and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks for taking some time out of your day to stop by.

Steve@BuildingStrongerBodies.com


Disclosure: Some of the links in this review are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.  Click here for details.

23 thoughts on “Getting Through The Day With Back Pain – Tools Of The Trade”

  1. Hi and thank you for this very informative article.

    I would love to know more about the dubbed swimmer. This sounds really interesting. I try and swim once a week because it is a good all rounder for my body.

    I also love walking daily. I would love to know more detail about your excercise routines. Thanks
    Jennifer

  2. With all the things that can go wrong with our backs, it’s a wonder more people don’t have problems. I like the sit/stand desks. I have seen a couple and they do get you up and moving. Beats sitting for hours, especially when I am really focused on a project, its hard to walk away for even a couple of minutes.

    I don’t know if doctors have to follow what the insurance companies require. I had a problem with my knee recently. So the doc did an xray and physical therapy. When that didn’t work, it was the mri and some medications to help. He also gave me some stretching exercises to help build up the muscles around my knee. Over time this helped and I don’t have a lot of issues with my knee now, just every once in a while.

    • Hi Jim, thanks for stopping by. I love my sit-stand workstation and it makes me more productive. My company is starting to get more of these and I think everyone can benefit. Yeah, insurance companies definitely dictate health care, but that is another topic for another day. Thanks again, and I am glad your knee is getting better.

  3. Hi Steve!
    Sorry about your back troubles but glad you are sharing your tips.
    I have always dreamed of being stretched out on “the rack” , torture device of old. But since that’s not feasible I think an inversion table may be the next best thing. What features should I look for to get the right one?
    Any help you can suggest would be appreciated.
    All the best.
    Kyle Ann

    • Hello Kyle Ann, thanks for stopping by. I use my inversion table frequently and I love it. I own a Teeter, here is the link to the one I own. Check out my post “Best Inversion Table Guide” for things to look for when purchasing an inversion table. You can also look at my post “best inversion tables for back pain

      Just a few things I would look for are the ankle locking system, make sure it has comfortable ankle cushions. Also, make sure you check out the inversion angle adjustment, some use a strap, which I prefer and some use a pre-set push pin system. The push-pin system is foolproof, but the tether strap allows for more incremental adjustments. It’s all in my link, so I won’t get into too much more detail here.

      Thanks for stopping by, great question!

  4. Hi Steve,

    I absolutely feel your pain! I had a prolapsed disk some years ago and I would literally double over with pain when I got out of a chair and would have to hang onto something until the pain subsided.

    Luckily I never went the operation route. I basically lay on my back for a week with my legs bent and ankles resting on the arm of the sofa. After a week I was able to move around more freely and I then went to a sports injury clinic where they taught me core strengthening exercises, which I still do today.

    Luckily for me, I’ve never had a relapse – and I make sure the chances of one are minimised by being super careful with my back.

    I hope your back troubles are largely behind you now (no pun intended!). Keep doing those exercises..! 🙂

    Cheers,

    Martin.

    • Hi Martin, yikes, that sounds like a rough experience you went through. I agree with you 100%, building and maintaining a strong core are critical to managing back problems. I too am very careful, I actually ask for help sometimes when I lift something heavy LOL. Anyway, I can definitely sympathize with you, I spent about 6 weeks sleeping on the couch in the upright position when I was recovering from spinal stenosis. Best of luck to you and thanks for stopping by today.

  5. I feel your pain. I have back pain most days and my tailbone will not allow me to sit up as if I’m doing a sit up because the pain is so intense. If I don’t see a chiropractor every couple of months I get a lot of back pain.
    Currently I have sharp pain below my buttocks but it doesn’t go down my leg. I’ve been dealing with this since last Christmas.
    This article has given me some more avenues to take for relief. Thank you

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for stopping by. I am currently dealing with some tailbone pain as well. It really makes a difference for me when I really concentrate on my body mechanics. It really is amazing how much proper body mechanics helps. I get lazy at times and the pain is a very good reminder. I wish you the best on your journey. Take care.

  6. Hi Steve, great article and really well timed as I was just writing about and talking with clients about sciatica today. You case of back/spine issues is much more extensive and it sounds like you’ve really been put through the ringer with it. I’m glad a chiro was finally able to help you get some relief and you have a routine. It’s really all about staying mobile and active in a healthy way for your body. Keep up the insightful posts and I wish you the best for your health!

    • Thank you Christina, I appreciate your comment. I agree, staying active and exercising is such a critical component to fending off back pain. Sciatica is no fun, I can attest to that. Thank you for stopping by today, I appreciate it very much.

  7. Thanks for sharing your story Steve and what exercises and controls that you have in place.

    I had a slight bit of back pain the other week. It just came out of nowhere as I sat down at my computer at home. It wasn’t much and it gradually went over the day and finally gone in a couple of days or so.

    I must have sat awkwardly. My posture mustn’t have been right. Anyways I’ll be following what you do so that I do not suffer from this pain again.

    • Thanks Owain I appreciate your comment. It’s pretty amazing how easy it is to tweak something in your back. Just the other day, a friend of mine bent over to pick something up at work and now she is having difficulty walking. So, I understand when you say your pain came out of nowhere. I wish you the best and hope you feel better soon. Thanks again.

  8. Hi Steve,
    This is a really good article. I mean it!
    Very easy to read, and clear it was written from the heart. I have people close to me who suffer from back problems everyday and so I can relate to how serious it is. I will pass along this article! Are there any tips you have to people who live with people with back problems? How can we help them better?

    • Thanks Benji, I appreciate your kind words. As for living with someone with back problems, I would say help them out when you can. If there is heavy lifting involved, definitely help out with that, make sure they get up and walk around when possible. Staying active is super important when dealing with back problems and lifting with proper mechanics. So, just keep an eye out and help out whenever possible. Thanks again for stopping by.

  9. There’s so much great information here, thank you!

    I can’t believe how long you have been dealing with back pain! That must be awful. It’s crazy how exercise is so necessary in your life too!

    I will definitely take these ideas and pass them along to those near and dear to me with back pain. I have a friend who has an inversion board and absolutely loves it, too!

    Cheers,
    Kahlua

  10. I can relate to jour article. I am now experiencing pain from my back down to my legs. I never seen a specialist yet but by the symptoms I searched on the internet, I think I also have sciatica. Fortunately, I found a post in social media about exercises on how to relieve the pain of sciatica. It is more on stretching and it really provides me with relief even temporarily. I also do planking to strengthen my core because I feel that my posture is being affected by this condition.

    • Hi Dan, thanks for stopping by. Sorry to hear about your sciatica, definitely feel your pain. Sometimes stretching is just the thing you need to help. I do plank just about every day as well. I appreciate your comment and hope you get better soon.

  11. Awesome stuff Steve! This is such a great article that shows the methods and devices to reduce back pain, especially for office workers. I’m frequently on a computer throughout the day and sitting for 30-60 minutes but after a while it does become painful. Maybe I should implement a standing desk?

    • HI David, thanks for stopping by. I am a big advocate for sit-stand desks. I don’t think it’s great to stand all day, or sit all day, so the sit-stand variety allows you to vary your posture throughout the day. Please let me know if you have any more questions. Thanks again for your comment.

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