I am one of many Physical Therapists who have had bouts of chronic back pain for years. I know what you are thinking, “Aren’t PT’s supposed to be pain free because they know how to move and exercise?” That sounds great. But the reality is that PT’s are one of the more common professions to have back pain. One major difference for PT’s, though, is that we have one of the lowest rates for missing work when we are in pain. Why is that? We understand pain and respect it but we don’t fear it.
I was having a rough winter staying up on my exercise due to work and family reasons, like most working parents. I recognized that my familiar chronic back pain came back infrequently at first and then daily. I even had two acute bouts of low back pain in a two-month span, which was more frequent than usual for me. I knew how to resolve the acute episodes as this is something I had done before and I teach patients how to do it every day! Once I was stable, I knew I had to commit to preventing these episodes and build my resiliency to tolerate the physical stress of my day.
I turned to my colleague, Ryan Wells, who is the head of our Strength & Conditioning Program at our clinic. We came up with a game plan to get me back into weightlifting to build up my strength. Now, I am a seasoned weightlifter with 18 years of experience, but I still felt like I needed help planning my return to weightlifting and someone to help correct some poor movement patterns I had picked up. We started 6 weeks ago and I haven’t had any back pain for the past 5 weeks! We have focused a lot on building a good base of core/back strength and maintaining correct spinal alignment for lifting. I have gained 11 pounds of lean body mass and I’m lifting more weight than I have in the past 4 years!
My words of wisdom from a seasoned weightlifter, Physical Therapist, and Strength & Conditioning Coach is to lift weights but to make smart transitions with trained professionals helping you in your journey. Don’t be afraid of pain and let it be an excuse to not move. Work with a Physical Therapist to screen you to make sure you are appropriate for lifting and to help you understand your pain better. Once you are ready to lift, work with a professional like a Personal Trainer or Strength & Conditioning Coach to learn how to lift well. Stay in contact with your Physical Therapist throughout the journey too as we often help you course-correct to continue to lift safely.