This page is for all of us who currently have or who will have, an injured back side. My back pain resulted from an auto accident, Oct 15, 1996, in which I was rear-ended by another vehicle. Subsequently, I have exercised almost daily, to get back to where I should be.
Pack Light !Got a bad back ? I can't think of a better incentive to strive for a lightened backpack load. Spend some time at this website, beginning with these two links:
Back Exercises that Helped Strengthen My Back
Keep in mind, I am not a therapist, nor do I profess to know anything beyond my own experience. The exercises that I'm defining below may not even be good for you because of the nature of your injury. Always be careful. It's best to be under the care of a professional. Having offered that disclaimer, here are some of the exercises that I do - try them if you feel they might help.
Benefit of Using PolesI have found that the use of hiking poles takes stress off the back and hips and transfers it to the upper body. When I really get into a good rhythm, I get the sense that I am a four legged creature trucking down the trail.
Poles, if used correctly (see Walking Stick page, Accessories, ..Straps) will allow you to walk more forward with weight distributed to shoulders, arms (not hands), as well as legs, hips, and back. This is especially helpful going uphill. It is up hills that kill my lumbar and hips. With poles, I find it much easier and less painful.
To learn more about hiking poles and sticks, goto the Walking Stick page.
Hiking Techniques that Take Pressure off the BacksideOne of the techniques that I learned thru The Mountaineers is called the "Rest Step" or "Lock Step". The Rest Step takes pressure and strain off muscles and transfers it to the bone structure. It is a mainly useful on uphill slopes--especially on snow--where endurance is important. Guides on Mt. Rainier teach it, as well.
Put simply, the technique is as follows:
Take a step. Straighten that leg and lock the knee. As you move to take the next step, place the weight of your entire body on the locked bone structure of your back leg. As you swing your leg forward to take the next step relax the muscles in that leg. Also, at the same time, stand more erect and relax your back and neck. You need to get into a steady rhythm of doing that for each step you take. You may feel like a robot walking slowly up the mountain, but you'll feel much better when you get there.
Continuous movement is a great strain on your muscles. Each rest step gives a fraction of a second of rest to your leg, hip, and back muscles as weight and stress is transferred to the locked bone structure of the rear leg. I have found this to be very effective for relieving pain in my lumbar and hip area (as well as adding endurance to my legs).
Miscellaneous Tips for Bad Back ImprovementI'm not an authority, by any means, but here's some practical advice that I've accumulated for my own use:
1. Begin an exercise program as soon as possible after your injury, for several reasons:
5. Avoid picking up heavy objects, especially from the floor. If you must pick up a heavy object:
7. Don't sit for prolonged periods of time - sitting is hard on the back. Get up occasionally, especially at work, roam around, get a drink of water. Look out the window. Especially if you sit all day at work or at home (in front of the computer ?) get a chair with excellent back support !
8. Nutrition and habits. Smoking, drinking alcohol, inadequate and improper nutrition, general physical condition all play a key role in the future of your back - whether it heals or not. If you smoke, drink alcohol, are overweight, don't eat balanced, nutritional foods on a daily basis, and don't exercise - don't complain, you've chosen to probably have a bad back for a long time. Learn to live with it. On the other hand, take care of the things you intuitively know and your chances of regaining a fully-functioning back are great ! Take lots of vitamin C !
9. There's nothing magic about healing your back. Stay away from chemical doctors they only make it much worse. Chiropractors and Physical Therapists can help, but be wary. No matter where you turn, no matter how much you spend, most of the time, the finger will be pointing at you. Only you can help you. We typically shy away from healing ourselves because it requires changing habits - we don't like that. In the corporate world, dramatic change of cultural habits, almost always, does not happen until a company exceeds their economic pain threshold. Likewise, with us, especially the older we get, habits don't change easily. How great is your PAIN ?
My Personal ExperiencesBackground:
As mentioned earlier, I was involved in a traffic accident on October 15th, 1996, in which my vehicle was rear-ended. It was a four-car collision and the two vehicles behind me were totaled - that gives you some idea of the impact. I had never been involved in an accident before, nor had I been to a doctor concerning my back.
Almost immediately following the collision, I felt stiffness in my neck, shoulders, and mid-back region and told the officer at the scene as much. My wife and daughter had recently gone thru hard times (and still are) after similar accidents, so I was aware that problems could occur.
I didn't go to the doctor, right away, because I thought the discomfort might go away in a couple of days. Within a week, however, I was having some serious problems. I had trouble sitting in meetings at work, trouble concentrating, got irritable, headaches, back hurt when sitting in the car, couldn't sleep, and so on. I relented and went to the local chiropractor who had treated my wife and daughter. I found it interesting ... a sign on his wall that read, " The six words we hear the most .. ' I thought it would go away ' ". Hmmm, that's exactly what I thought !
The Treatment & Process of Getting Back on The Trail:
I began the healing process by going to the doctor every day, for awhile. The frequency of visits was slowly reduced over 15 months to the current level of once every two weeks - more, if needed. Looking back, I was pretty much in and out of pain on a daily basis for the first year. Even so, I diligently exercised, including periodically carrying a 30 pound pack as part of my routine. Ability to carry a backpack is, literally, the benchmark for measuring my progress.
Before the accident, I was able to carry a large-sized backpack (Dana Terraplane), with 70 pounds of weight, with no pain in my back. I routinely carried 45 to 55 pounds as part of my daily workout, now, 15 months later, I canít even carry a smaller pack with 35 pounds, without discomfort. My workout pack is now 25 to 30 pounds.
I may never again be capable of carrying a 45 to 50 pound pack into the backcountry, but then again, the effort and money that I've put into building up a lightweight gear inventory should allow me to resume my backpacking and climbing activity while carrying only 20 to 35 pounds of gear.
A phenomenon that I encountered is that the backpacks which once had a perfect fit and feel, no longer do. As many of you know, I used to be a fanatic about Dana Design packs. Now, virtually all my Dana packs hurt my back. I've been going thru a long, frustrating process of finding a pack or two that I can live with - that provides superior support with a 35 pound load and, most importantly, does not hurt my back. I have recently purchased a couple of packs but am still not satisfied. I continue to search.
Update ! My Condition, after 15 Months:
I still have relapses, periodically, but due to a rigorous, ongoing, daily exercise routine, my back has been strengthened, considerably, and now I recover much more quickly.
I am now able to carry a 30lb training pack several times a week, and as long as I keep up the stretching routines, the ensuing stiffness is significantly mitigated.
Keep in mind, my life style is, basically, eat, sleep, work, family, and spending time in the mountains hiking, long-distance backpacking, snowshoeing, and non-technical mountain climbing, all year long.
Whereas, last year, I pretty much stayed out of the backcountry for the entire year, to allow my back to heal, not so this year. My confidence is growing and I'm sure that I'll be back out this year on a consistent basis.
Wisdom from other Backcountry FolkFrom: Bill Hobson,
Subject: Bad Backs
Bad backs - I injured my back at work in '89 and took a year and a half to rehab. I have a congenital condition, but with the proper care it is manageable. I found that the best things for me were to do my own research - some doctors don't know how to communicate! The other thing was to experiment - I found the best exercise for me is bicycling. I have a condition where the vertebrae don't meet right and the nerves at that joint can get pinched and become inflamed. The constant bending over the handle bars was my salvation!
From: Thomas Thorsen,
I herniated L4-5. Prior to surgery, I started a rehab program called the San Francisco Spine Institute rehab program for people with injured spines. I started about 2 months before surgery and came out of surgery in great shape. Any PT can teach it to you and I strongly recommend it for people recovering from and to prevent back problems. I will be working with this program for the rest of my life.
I am a 25 yr veteran of solo backpacking. Great page. Keep up the good work.
From: John Barry,
You might want to try a front pack in combo w/ your backpack. I've had back pains for 15 years & I just rigged up a front pack this year. It's awesome! I sewed 1" strapping (2 straps w/ female clip attached) to my regular 3800cc backpack (hanging from atop the shoulder strap), then did the same on a small daypack (attached to top of pack w/ male clips). I also sewed a short length of strapping down low on the day pack, which attaches to my hip belt and keeps the front pack from bouncing. This arrangement balances the load and keeps me from having to lean over to compensate for the backpack weight (the major cause of my back pain).
I keep my water bottle & food in the front pack - the key is getting the correct weight balance & I'm still experimenting. It's great, though - I can walk upright w/o any pain. I know they have a ready-made design like this, but you can rig it up easy enough, & you can use your favorite pack(s) as well. Give it a shot.
From: James Adams,
I suffered a herniated disk in the lumbar region as a result of heavy weightlifting. Now, paradoxically, I must exercise to keep the lower back strong and limber as you have suggested. I find wide-grip chin-ups on an overhead bar to be beneficial in strengthening the back, working the lat muscles down to the waistline.
I, too, have backpacked for years and am working towards recovery.
The strength of the abdominal and back muscles must be balanced, like the muscles affecting the knee joint. Even though cold works good to relieve pain, in some people the surface temperature of the back area is somewhat cooler than the rest of the body, slowing healing. Try something warm on the back after a long massage, covering up the back to retain it's heat. Repeated daily for a long period of time, it can get you back to a more active lifestyle.
From: Neil Klagge,
I had been suffering from down hill decents with pain on both sides of the knees for the past 9 years or longer. Somewhere I read, on email or a web site such as this, that wrapping a brace around the knees eliminated this problem, which seems to occur on hikers around 50 years of age and up.
I am now 58, and yesterday I did a steep hike near Ogden, UT and had no pain on the way down, nor still today. I feel like a new man!
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