How to Solve That Sore Back

Your Personal PT, Rachel Tavel, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), so she knows how to get your body back on track when it’s out of line. In this weekly series, she gives you tips on how to feel better, get stronger, and train smarter.

You’ll never regret getting outside during the summertime–but sometimes a good adventure can take a toll on your body.

With weekend getaways, new activities (surfing anyone?), and extra quality time with friends and family can come new aches and pains. Maybe you were helping someone carry a heavy duffle bag or that casual backyard game got a little more competitive than you planned. Suddenly, you’re left with pain or discomfort in your lower back, and you’re not sure what to do about it. Should you ignore it? Just walk it off? Take it from me: If there’s one area of your body that you don’t want to mess with, it’s your back.

Many things can lead to a sore back. Sometimes inactivity, like spending extra hours at the office or sitting in an uncomfortable airplane or car seat can do it. Other times, the pain is caused by increased activities or unaccustomed movements, like packing up boxes for a move or simply trying out a new workout.

Low back pain is one of the most common reasons Americans go to the doctor. Symptoms can vary from a mild soreness, general stiffness, or debilitating pain that radiates out from the spine down the hip and leg. The soreness can be due to a variety of different problems, depending on your age and the mechanism of injury (how it happened).

One common cause of a sore back is poor posture. Poor body positioning and body mechanics can often lead to low grade muscle strains or small aggravations of the discs in the spine. Disc bulges and herniations can cause varying degrees of pain and as we get older, and degenerative changes in the spine can also contribute to stiffness in pain.

Regardless of how your low back pain or soreness started, you’ll want to do something about it.

Your Move: A sore back often comes with stiffness and muscle tension, limiting mobility and contributing to pain avoidance movement patterns. You’ll want mobility and stability to get you moving comfortably again. Gently mobilize your spine by working through a cat-camel stretch.

To perform cat-camel, begin on hands and knees. Find a neutral spine. Inhale as you lower your belly towards the floor, gently arching the low back. Then exhale as you reverse the curve of your spine rounding it out towards the ceiling like you’re an angry cat. Repeat this movement 5 to 10 times, slowly shifting from the cat stretch to the camel position in a pain-free range.

For stability, try some gentle core exercises targeting the transverse abdominis. Focus on stability exercises in a neutral spine position such as heel taps from table top or isometric abdominal bracing. Avoid curl-up core exercises. If you’re feeling very uncomfortable, apply heat while lying flat on your stomach or with a pillow under your stomach for 10 to 15 minutes a few times a day.

If you’re experiencing debilitating pain or any type of radiating pain, get to a physical therapist for a more specific, guided treatment plan. Avoid heavy lifting, repeated bending and twisting, and any type of plyometric exercise—and especially no running.

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