Suite 401, Gateway Hospital Medical Centre, 36 Aurora Drive, Umhlanga Ridge 031 566 5959

Back to Basics – Protecting the Spine

I am always on the lookout for effective strategies to help my patients overcome back pain. In the last 5 years, more and more research is showing that exercise and education and not stretches or passive treatments are the long-term answer. Don’t misunderstand, I have not stopped believing that there is value in placing my hands on a sore back and soothing the symptoms with a variety of techniques. I am just more aware of how my words, a person’s understanding of their condition and teaching good exercises has a larger impact.


This is interesting considering the current climate. We are all home bound and for the first time in my entire career, all I have to fall back on is the advice, education and exercise prescription. My hope is that during this time I will be able to convince a lot of my clients and others that read this just how much their home exercise program is the answer to their pain and not my hands.


The wonderful thing about exercise and movement, besides the fact that you will get stronger and feel more mobile, is that it releases chemicals that are actually natural painkillers. They are the hormones called endorphins and they are the body’s wonder-pill for pain. In fact, many of the manual passive techniques we use as physiotherapists are focused on trying to trick the brain into releasing these hormones. Here’s the secret, all you need is exercise to trick the brain.


When you are already in pain, it feels illogical and impractical to move or do exercises to feel better. What is needed is a set of exercises and advice that helps to make it easier. In my search for answers, I came across a doctor of biomechanics, Dr Stuart McGill, based in Canada. He has done years of research on back mechanics and what reduces load on the spine. He goes by the name of the The BackFit Pro and has a very helpful book called The Back Mechanic which helps people fix their own backs.


His recommendations are 3 exercises that he calls The Big Three. They aren’t for every backpain sufferer and possibly need to be broken down even further to start off with but I have found them useful, practical and easy to teach to patients.


I have made a video, which you can watch here, of my morning routine where I do the Big 3 exercises with a few exercises in between to get the most out of the breaks recommended between sets. The times and amounts are the goal but not necessarily what everyone will be able to achieve in the beginning. Start with shorter holds of 5-8 seconds and 2-4 repetitions until it becomes easier.


If you try this routine, have reduced the holding time and repetitions and find that you are still struggling to maintain the postures, let me know. I will happily show you exercises that are steps towards being able to master these 3 exercises.



Disclaimer: This content is for information and is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have health concerns or pain, please contact your healthcare provider directly.

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