“Health is not a commodity to be bargained for. It has to be earned through sweat.”
One of the most important issues to address in low back pain is to heal the sacroiliac joint. The biomechanics require that this joint be balanced, moving and open before true relief can be accomplished.
In any given field, there are always a few subtle but crucial ways to separate the men from the boys, the people who really know what they are talking about and who can actually help you versus the people who just have a good marketing plan.
In his book Blink, the author Malcolm Gladwell talks about experts who can look at a piece of art and tell in a matter of seconds whether or not it’s a fake.
For me, I can walk into any gym and within a matter of seconds be able to tell whether the fitness trainers in that facility are helping their clients or actually injuring them.
In many cases, for me, I find the experience actually painful. It’s hard for me to watch well-meaning people who have paid good money who I know are a few seconds away from experiencing personal injury – even if they don’t themselves realize that fact.
Over the years, I have made a minor career out of fixing injuries that were created by other fitness professionals.
There was the lady who worked out with a top trainer at a large, well-known fitness chain, only to have her Achilles tendon literally ripped away from her heel.
Recently, one of my clients went to an exercise class and injured her hip and lower back in just one 45-minute session. My client told me she had a better body than the instructor.
Then there was the long-term client of mine who went to a single yoga class led by a highly authoritative 20-something instructor who proceeded to injure my client’s upper back and shoulder so badly that it took us a mere two years of corrective exercise to unwind.
And the list goes on.
Many people assess whether or not they should hire a fitness trainer or attend any exercise class by the price of admission.
They may figure that just because someone is a professional, charging good money, that the person they are hiring may actually help them lose weight, get fit and feel better – without ever considering the possibility that the bargain-basement person they are hiring might cost them more money in the long run by injuring them.
One of the ways that you, as a consumer, can quickly separate those who know from those who only think they know is by asking your prospective instructor whether or not they know how to assess your sacroiliac joint.
The sacrum, sometimes referred to as the holy bone, is the very tail end of your spine. The ilium is the bowl-shaped bone of the pelvis. The sacroiliac joint, also called the S.I. joint, is the joint that connects the sacrum and the ilium. There are very strong ligaments that connect this joint.
Even though this is something that I do all the time, I am now getting into a bit of a technical issue, which I would like to simplify for you so that you can begin to understand how important it is.
There are four ways you can experience a sacroiliac disturbance, according to Lillah Schwartz of Lighten Up Yoga in Asheville, North Carolina:
Both the S.I. ligaments and the muscles may be loose. This could happen, for example, if a woman has had several pregnancies, or a person is carrying too much extra body fat and has not had enough exercise.
Both S.I. ligaments may be too tight. This may show up if you wiggle when you walk. If this happens, you may experience low back pain because there could be too much strain at the connection between your lumbar spine and the sacrum (L5/s1) and/or L4/5, the vertebrae in your lower back.
Both S.I. ligaments and muscles are tight bilaterally. This may show up in people who are very athletic but muscle bound, with tight quadriceps, hamstrings and buttock muscles. They may look great but feel slightly miserable.
There may be a one-sided imbalance, which I probably see most frequently. In this case, one side of the sacroiliac joint and the muscles around it are tight, and the opposing side muscles are too loose. This could happen either from an accident, such as a fall, or simply by the habit of habitually crossing your legs when you sit. As a result of this one-sided imbalance, one of your legs may appear longer and the other one shorter. The loose side is frequently the painful side.
Whichever variation of this problem exists, you can experience low back pain if you have a sacroiliac joint problem, even if you are regular exerciser.
Now why is it so important that your fitness professional be able to assess this?
If you do not correct this problem, you will not be able to heal low back pain no matter how often you go to the chiropractor or work out.
You should not be putting any weighted bars on your back if your sacrum or S.I. joint are out of balance. Doing so will only aggravate the situation and could potentially lead to disc herniations.
You may experience pain or discomfort even when walking if your sacrum and S.I. joint are out of balance, and running may make things much worse.
If you run, put a weighted bar on your back or do any high impact activity with this condition, such as jumping, you may seriously injure yourself.
You will have very poor balance as long as your S.I. joint has problems. You may notice that you can balance easily on one foot but not the other.
You may go from your fitness trainer to your massage therapist to your chiropractor in a continuous round robin fruitless exercise and never get any better.
You may not be able to correct your posture or other spinal problems until and unless you fix the base of your spine.
Assessing your S.I. joint is just part of what I do when I assess a client’s posture.
A good exercise program should bring your entire body into greater balance, including correcting underlying postural problems.
Not only that, as I am always saying, the first rule of fitness is, “Do no harm.”
Many people who consider themselves young and healthy do not consider the consequences of working out with an undereducated but overconfident fitness professional.
If your fitness professional does not know how to assess your sacroiliac joint, No. 1, or fix it, No. 2, then my advice to you is to run, hop, skip or walk in the other direction. They are clueless that they are clueless and may end up costing you more money and more pain in the long run.
If you do have S.I. problems, the solution you need to fix your lower back and sacroiliac joint will be unique to you.
The exercises are easy to do and simple to learn and will end up saving you a minor fortune in chiropractic and massage and possibly even surgeries or injections that so many people receive for pain they don’t know how to correct.
Years ago, I worked with a woman in her 80s. She had a husband who loved her so much he would come to watch me work her out to make sure I was doing it right. She had all the money in the world and a family who worshipped her, but she was in so much pain she could not drive her own expensive car to my office.
She came to see me because her sister had a back operation but ended up in a wheelchair.
It was my great joy to teach this dear lady simple exercises she could do every day to mobilize her S.I. joint and strengthen her lower back. I knew she was getting better when she could finally drive herself to our appointments.
I see S.I. joint problems in probably 45 percent of my new clients. I work with people of all ages and have found these challenges even in young women who were working out six days a week.
One young woman came to me after working out six days a week with a trainer. She was not able to lose weight and had no idea that her trainer had obviously never bothered to assess or correct her core issues in her lower back and S.I. joint.
Next time you want to hire a fitness professional, ask them the simple question about whether or not he or she can assess your S.I. joint. If the answer is yes, you know you are working with someone who will probably not injure you and will be more likely to bring you to a greater state of strength and balance.
I am writing this newsletter article after receiving an email from one of my regular readers. She is an energy healer, and had been doing Reiki with a client of hers who had fallen through the ceiling on a construction site. She was doing a great job with her energy work but he was still experiencing severe low back pain.
Being a Reiki master myself, I am a big believer in the value of energy work for pain relief.
However, I explained to her that while the energy work she is doing with him is very important and helpful, he would need a trained fitness professional to help him unlock and stabilize his sacrum and rebuild the structural balance necessary to be healthy.
If you have any kind of low back pain, you will want to work with a fitness professional who can assess and correct your sacrum and S.I. joint. I often think of how many people go under the knife for surgery when corrective exercise could have solved 100 percent of the problems.
If you have been injured working out with someone else, please come see me and learn how to work out with good form to heal your own body.