Don't Let Back Pain Keep You From The Outdoor Sports You Love
The American Chiropractic Association estimates that approximately 31 million Americans experience back pain at any given moment. Experts also estimate that roughly 80% of all Americans will experience it at some point in their lives.
Outdoor sports like fishing and hunting require us to stay in shape. We often don't think of it this way as we are not throwing a ball or running down a field. Our sport requires more functional fitness and a strong back. One wrong twist or movement in the wrong direction and our back is easily compromised.
As people who love hunting and fishing, we know that a good part of our time is spent sitting still and waiting. We also must complete very physical tasks like dragging a field dressed deer out of the woods, climbing in and out of blinds, and putting boats in and out of the water.
Walking through the woods or field when tracking our game might cause horrible shooting pains down our legs called sciatica. There are probably a hundred realistic examples that might affect us out in the field. None of them are good.
Short term solutions are often not realistic. For example, back pain can be alleviated by not sitting still for too long. This doesn't really work for the hunter or fisherman as sitting still is a necessity. Getting up and walking around might take some pressure off your back, but it also might scare away the biggest buck of your life.
Other solutions such as taking some sort of pain reliever like Advil or rubbing a cream on your muscles might give you short-term relief. Too much Advil or Tylenol is not good for your long-term health. Creams to relieve muscle tensions are often very smelly and this could also scare off game. It's also important to not arrive in the field screaming like a smelly human to every animal around you.
The best long term solution is a healthy diet to maintain an ideal weight and exercise. Neither of these scream fun but they work.
More importantly, if you are at the last straw of either no hunting or hunting, fishing or not fishing, exercise is definitely the answer. This is really the best solution as it leads to both ideal weight and relief from back pain that is keeping you from what you love.
In terms of a cardiovascular conditioning program, walking is best. It has the lowest chance of damaging your joints, you can do it almost anywhere, and if you have a hunting dog to go with you, you'll make man's best friend very happy.
As an added bonus you can walk where you hunt to also see the behavior of your game. You'll be better prepared for the hunt and take care of yourself at the same time. Click here if you want to read an article that I wrote about a general fitness program for the sportsman.
There are also specific exercises that help alleviate back pain and help strengthen your back. They are not the manliest exercises, but they can make a world of difference. Yes, there are lots of women enjoying the outdoors too who also might have back pain, but in my experience, they are much less resistant to getting on the floor and doing these exercises. All I can say is that these exercises work. Do them daily and you will see a difference.
The hamstrings are the muscles on the back of your thigh. When they are tight they can cause low back pain and sciatica.
1. Stand and extend the left leg forward. Flex your left foot and keep the right leg bent.
2. Bend your upper body forward with your hands on your left thigh. Reach out with your left heel. Keep your hips parallel.
3. Hold for a count of five. Repeat five times and then switch legs.
4. Hold onto a chair or table if you are unstable.
5. Repeat five times.
6. For a deeper stretch, you can put your foot on a chair, stair step, or table rather than the floor.
This exercise stretches the front of your thigh and your hip flexor.
1. Move the right leg back into a lunge position. Hold onto a chair or table if necessary.
2. Lower your right knee towards the floor and hold for a count of five.
3. Feel the stretch in front of the right leg.
4. To deepen the stretch tuck your tailbone under and then lean forward a little.
5. Repeat 5 times switch legs.
The piriformis is a relatively small, but powerful, muscle that runs from the sacrum to the femur. Its job is to rotate the thigh outward. If you have tightness in the lower back, this muscle can get particularly tight and lead to other problems like sciatica.
1. Start by sitting Indian Style. Sit up Tall. Place one foot so your ankle is directly on top of the opposite knee. Make sure you do this to avoid stress in the ankle joint.
2. If this position is impossible to you, extend the opposite leg as pictured. If this is still too difficult, then sit in a chair and do the same thing.
3. Hold for a count of five. Relax. Repeat five times.
4. Switch legs and repeat the process.
This exercise is very effective to stretch the lower back.
1. Get down on all fours with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulder.
Pull your tummy in and hold it at about 20% of your tightest squeeze. Make sure you are still breathing.
2. Round your spine upward, lowering your head towards your chest. Keep your shoulders away from your ears. In other words, do not inadvertently shrug your shoulders.
3. Arch the other direction. Head, chest and tailbone up.
4 .Repeat five times.
5. Focus on the muscles in your lower back and try to feel how they stretch as you move from one position to the other. Allow your lower back to relax as much as possible while pulling in your tummy.
This exercise releases tension in the lower back, obliques (side abdominal muscles) and hip muscles.
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Keep your feet and knees gently pressed together and do not let them come apart.
2. As you are completing this movement gently pull your belly button in. Do not squeeze too tight. Remember to breathe.
3. Let both knees fall to the left and hold for a count of 5.
4. Bring your knees back to center.
5. Let both knees fall to the right and hold for a count of 5.
6. Bring your knees back to center and repeat four more times on each side.
The above exercises should only take you about 15 minutes a day which is not that much time considering the benefits that they provide. You should feel good doing them and you should feel better afterward.
As the muscles are stretching and working themselves out you might feel discomfort as your body is not used to the movement. However if you feel pain, you should stop. And with all exercises, you should not try these without the consent of your doctor.
You will probably notice within a few weeks of doing these exercises that you experience less pain. It will be tempting to stop doing them as you are feeling better. Don't do this. You are feeling better because of the exercises. It is important to keep doing them.
Now is the time to start. It is summer and you will want to be outside. This will also give you enough lead time for hunting this fall and winter. Several months of these exercises beforehand will prepare your back for the demands of hunting.
Take care of yourself and have a great time doing what you love.
About the Author
Elizabeth Hanson is a certified Pilates and GYROTONICteacher. For the past ten years, she has specialized in helping people recover from injuries. She is also an avid hunter and shooter. This passion started when her father gave her her first black powder rifle when she was twelve years old. Check out her musings on her blog www.bullseyehuntingandshooting.com.
1. http://www.acatoday.org/Patients/Health-Wellness-Information/Back-Pain-Facts-and-Statistics. This is the stat for people afflicted with back pain.
2. http://www.drugwatch.com/tylenol/. A link to an article about the negative effects of taking tylenol long term.
3. http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/nutrition-diet-weight-loss/a-healthy-weight-a-healthy-back. A link to an article about how healthy weight and exercise can help with back pain.