Back care never seems that important until it’s you who is facing sitting out for the season or potentially postponing the hunt you have been planning for two years. All of a sudden you wished you knew more about back care and prevention. Being faced with surgery or the thought of never sleeping on the ground in a tent again gets you thinking your youth is coming to an end and a camper is in your future.
I hear all kinds of stories from hunters. A super fit 48 year old male friend of mine took a 4 day cross country trip driving over 12 hours a day. On his return he could barely stand and had excruciating leg pain. All he could think about was how his hunting season was ruined. He tried everything and ended up with a surgical disc repair. Sometimes being fit and strong is still not enough to prevent impending back problems from becoming worse.
Another male friend served in the military through several tours. His hunting is always affected by a potential flare up from old injuries sustained from the demanding physical requirements of military training and serving our country. It continues to be a background threat to ruin any of his outdoor adventures. He has learned over time that his preventive efforts must equal his demands in the field.
A third man, in his late thirties has such a weight problem he will be hunting from a 4 wheeler this year. He can no longer hike to his favorite hunting spot because of back pain. His health has diminished and so has his enthusiasm and esteem.
Too many people live with back discomfort. Living with back pain and not actively engaging in prevention is a recipe for disaster. Most old injuries are continually in a phase of degeneration. They may seem in the past but once a back injury has occurred there is almost always accelerated aging and arthritis in the area. Basically, you have early degenerative arthritis whether you know it or not. The gradual breakdown of bones and discs is the natural progression of old injuries, and that includes repetitive overuse conditions like poor posture, deconditioning, being overweight, prolonged sitting and repetitive movements like bending and twisting. It eventually catches up with you if you don’t continually pursue health like you pursue your back country adventures.
Consider these 5 recommendations and include them in your daily lifestyle practices if outdoor adventure is your priority.
- Weight management. That extra weight, even 10 pounds has consequences. Your joints have to cushion every pound. Especially, in the spine. Discs break down with repetition. Every step you take has an impact on the long term health of your back. Furthermore, often being overweight has an element of deconditioning along with it. If your muscles aren’t conditioned to support your spine then more stress is transferred to the disc and ligaments. Poor posture and dysfunctional movements further influence the breakdown of the structures that support your spine.
- Condition. The problem is deconditioning. What exactly does that mean? You are out of shape. It means your muscles aren’t strong enough in all of the right places to hold your spine in a place that is symmetrical and balanced. Think of it this way. If your car tires aren’t aligned, the forces change and the tires wear out sooner. In the case of your back and all joints, for that matter, alignment is king. Alignment is achieved through balanced strength and flexibility. Strength to hold the bones in position, flexibility to reduce the forces when you bend or twist. Get in shape.
- Have good posture. Take a long car ride and slouch and if it doesn’t hurt you now, it will eventually. Nothing breaks down discs more than poor bending, slouching and having tight hamstrings. Posture is the granddaddy of prevention. That’s why I like yoga. It addresses posture and alignment.
- Be aware of healthy movement patterns. Every move you make matters. Just because you can bend and lift without pain doesn’t mean you are structurally sound. Pay attention to proper bending and lifting. Injury often occurs once fatigue sets in. Most stories about backs “going out” are from what seem like simply bending to pet the cat or put on a shoe. When really, the simple bend followed a period of fatiguing muscles from long walk, sitting on the couch or bending and lifting. Injuries also occur when we are in a hurry and move in an unexpected fashion or making a quick transition from here to there. Either the muscles just weren’t prepared for the activity or you tripped, fell or jolted in the process and accidently hurt your back.
- Don’t let it go too long. All too often when someone hurts their back, they wait. They wait to see if the pain will go away or if it gets worse. It’s a good idea to get care sooner than later. Sometimes an adjustment or two corrects the problem and you get back on the road. In my opinion, the more you know about the condition of your spine the better you will take care of it. If you know you have an old injury or history of back pain, that knowledge is power. It can help motivate you to do your exercises, stretches, maintain weight, move with mindfulness and get spinal adjustments regularly as preventative care. If you have a trip coming up you will use caution and pace yourself accordingly.
Physical well-being, like adventure planning has an undisputable impact on the quality of your experience in the field. A back injury, flare up or pain that keeps you home is twice as bad when your buddy sends you selfies from camp and brings home a trophy bull. Your success in the backcountry depends on diligently planning back care and overall health. Campers are cool, but a strong core and strengthening program will let you decide when to buy a camper for creature comforts not to shelter your stoved up back each night.