Surfers get a great rap, they love the outdoors, froth off spending time moving their body, often eat really well (and don’t do half bad on a couple of cool ones either) and a good surfer even keeps their body lithe and supple by doing some yoga. One thing a lot of surfers, as healthy as they are, do struggle with is low back pain, most commonly experienced when paddling.
There are three main reasons for this:
Poor thoracic (mid back) mobility
Too much lumbar (low back) mobility
Weak INNER core muscles
1. Poor Thoracic (mid-back) Mobility
Due to their day job (whether desk based or tradie), stress and just from general build-up, the upper back can get really stiff. This plays a huge part in contributing to both low back pain and to shoulder pain. The reason for this is, when paddling, you should be extending and holding yourself off your board from your mid-back. If this area is too stiff, your body compensates, so your lower back will arch even more to aid in getting your chest and arms off the board so you can paddle out.
FIX IT: Work on your thoracic mobility- get on a foam roller and do rotation exercises to warm up and cool down. See a physio or chiro every month (or more regularly during season) to help keep things moving. Pay attention to when you start to feel stiff and instead of ignoring it, act on it.
2. Too Much Lumbar (low-back) Mobility
The typical surfer “sway back”. Picture a surfer (or look in the mirror) and you think of a lean, lithe, athletic man with a large curve in their lower back. This curve (“anterior tilt”) is another big contributor to low back pain in surfers and often goes hand in hand with stiff upper backs. Often coming about from having to compensate for a stiff mid-back, the lower back arches even more to lift you up off the board whilst you paddle. This puts an excessive amount of pressure on your low back muscles which result in spasming (tight) muscles and catching pain when trying to stand up or straighten up from a bent position
FIX IT: Learn to pelvic tilt – engaging deep stomach muscles, h/strings and glutes. Spend time offloading your low back by putting it in more of a neutral position (imagine you have a tail and are trying to tuck it in between your legs). This may feel a little tight and achy to start with, but the more you do it, the more comfortable it will become.
3. Weak Inner Core Muscles
We have a set of small, deep muscles that surround the spine that are made to look after and protect the spine whilst our big, outer tummy muscles (‘6-pack’) do all the work and the big movements. Commonly, due to posture and to a lot of people thinking they’re doing the right thing by doing 100’s of sit ups, the 6-pack muscles take over and try to be both the ‘mover’ and the ‘protector’ of the spine – which is when our spine can end up taking the brunt.
FIX IT: Learn to switch off your 6-pack muscles and only use them when you’re meant to and learn to re-activate those deep abdominal muscles. These muscles are a bit tricky to learn to strengthen and often need the assistance of a physio to help point you in the right direction. Click here (link to core blog series link) to read a bit more.
Do you have a niggling ache or pain? Book in to see one of our physio's today - book online here or call us on (08) 9448 2994!