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One for every surfer. Ryan Huxley explains the principles to overcome the debilitating effects of lower back pain.


A major part of my job with Surfbodysoul is to rehabilitate surfers of all age and ability to overcome the effects of debilitating lower back pain.

Lower back pain is a general term used to describe a wide range of lower back injuries, from acute disc injuries to facet joint compressions. Rather than get bogged down in the technical aspects of each specific type of injury today, instead I will explore the principles of rehabilitation I use with every surfer I see with lower back pain. These principles have also been carefully considered in the creation of the Surfbodysoul program range with the purpose of keeping your lower back strong, flexible, functional for surfing, and pain free. So lets examine the factors that lead to lower back pain and how to overcome or prevent it from occurring:

Posture
Prolonged poor posture places excessive strain on the pain provoking structures of the lower back such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, discs and cartilage. Poor posture can occur while sitting, standing or lying. Adopting a slouched position while sitting is extremely common. A firm straight back chair will provide more support than sitting in a soft recliner or couch. The use of a lumbar roll encourages the normal curve (lordosis) in the lower back. Place the lumbar roll just above the belt line in the hollow of the back. Standing with an excessive arch in the lower back (hyperlordosis) will also place excessive stress on the structures of the lower back. When laying you need a firm, comfortable mattress. If the bed has a tendency to sag the mattress should be placed on the floor. To have your posture assessed see a trusted Physiotherapist. Alternatively contact me at [email protected] for more information.

Daily Activities
It is extremely important for me to understand the daily activities of a client and the stresses this places on the lower back. For example one of my builders may spend much of the day bending forwards, lifting and twisting repeatedly. This will place an entirely different stress on the lower back compared to a truck driver, lawyer or hospitality worker. Clients required to repeatedly perform tasks low down should lower themselves to the level required whilst maintaining as straight a back as possible. Lifting lighter loads regularly is better than lifting heavy loads. It is important to use correct technique when lifting light objects, not just heavy ones.

Surfing Technique
Poor technique when surfing can increase stress on the structures of the lower back. If you think you may fall into this category your technique can be assessed with the aid of a coach and any necessary corrections made under supervision. This is a process I am engaged in regularly with my Pro surfers. If you are in Byron Bay I recommend seeing vintage pioneer Rusty Miller, recently voted in the top 10 surf schools of the world by National Geographic.

Muscle weakness
If you are fairly sedentary, surf sporadically and suffer lower back pain chances are you have generalized muscle weakness. In a fit, active surfer it is more common for me to find weakness in specific muscles or muscle groups. The gluteal (buttock), core and hamstring muscles are often the main culprits. If I do find muscle weakness I immediately prescribe Pilates conditioning exercises. Adequate buttock strength is required for pelvic control. Lack of pelvic control often leads to excessive arching in the lower back and pain.

Specific Muscle Tightness
Specific muscle tightness contributes to lower back pain. Commonly tight or shortened muscles include erector spinae, psoas, Illiotibial band, hip external rotators (outer buttock muscles), hamstrings, thighs and calves. These muscles can increase pressure and create irregular movement in the hips, pelvis, and lower back. Therefore it is essential to maintain adequate flexibility in these muscles, usually through a variety of Yoga postures and sequences.

Poor Core Muscle Control
As discussed earlier surfers with lower back pain demonstrate abnormal function and weakness in the core stabilizing muscles, particularly the multifidus and transverse abdominus muscles. As part of the Surfbodysoul assessment process I always assess the function of these muscles. If weakness is detected it is imperative to commence base level core stabilizing exercises under supervision to ensure my client is recruiting the right muscles. Only when my client can independently contract and strengthen these muscles will I add more dynamic variations to their program.

Remember this article focuses on the primary causes of lower back pain, and aims to explain the principles to overcome it. There is no broad recipe of general exercises that will absolutely cure complex lower back pain. This is why I conduct 1 on 1 assessments and Skype consults to ensure my clients get a personalized screening, with the right exercises being prescribed at the correct stage of rehabilitation. Contact me for more information on this.

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