- Skiing builds strong core, glutes and quads – key muscle groups that take stress off lower back, the most common type of back pain
- Pre-holiday fitness conditioning is essential
- Specialist offers key advice for preventing back health going off-piste this ski season
A skiing holiday is probably the last thing on the minds of most back pain sufferers but, according to a leading UK osteopath, a trip to the slopes could be just the remedy.
Sensible levels of skiing can provide numerous benefits for those living with back and neck pain, says Mr Michael Fatica, a leading UK osteopath from www.backinshapeprogram.com.
As a low-impact form of exercise, it can help to strengthen the key lower-body muscle groups supporting the spine, helping to alleviate and, in some cases, ward off back pain.
“The potential dangers of winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding are well-documented,” says Michael. “For many, however, skiing can actually help strengthen the muscles supporting the spine – namely the core, glutes and quads. These areas are all vital in helping to minimize lower back stress.
“Skiing can also help improve overall cardio fitness levels. When combined, these benefits can significantly reduce pressure on the spine and, as a result, help to alleviate back pain. Longer-term, it can result in significant benefits for overall back health as the lower body becomes stronger and less dependent solely on the back for stability.”
With the right care and preparation, Michael believes casual skiing is a great, low-impact form of exercise. “Whether you’re a seasoned skier or trying it for the first time and you have a back issue, you’ll be fine as long as you’re sensible and adjust your skiing habits and intensity in line with your ability and levels of comfort. It’s also crucial to build up your strength before your trip in an effective manner, which can take several months prior to going.”
Some good exercises to build into your daily routine in the months, weeks and even days leading up to a ski-holiday, include the following:
- Begin with lower impact exercises for fitness, such as the cross trainer. Each month you should be increasing the resistance on the machine. You should feel the desire to stop because your legs are burning from the work, rather than your lungs are out of breath.
- Include exercises like the squats to really strengthen your legs. The goal here is higher reps, 15-25 rather than 8-10 reps.
- Some basic core exercises like abdominal rotations (in the gym) or dead bugs (at home) would be a nice addition for the lower back, alongside some side planks. Again, higher reps, 15-25 here for 3 x sets of each exercise.
- Add in ‘lunge twists’ later on to help strengthen the legs, lower back and core simultaneously and help develop some balance to help vulnerable knees. 15-25 walking lunges is recommended, with a slow twist on each lunge, to the side of the forward leg.
Of course, Michael is also keen to point out how there are many potential health risks associated with these type of sports where back health is concerned. “Muscle strains in the lower back, inflammation of the small joints on the back of the spine – particularly common among snowboarders and the ‘side-on’ posture they need to adopt – and whiplash from falls or collisions can often all go hand in hand with skiing and can ruin a much longed-for break. While there will always be a risk of injury, with the right preparation and regime in the weeks and months leading up to a ski-holiday, most back and neck injuries can be prevented, or at least minimized.”
Michael provides his top tips and recommendations for both seasoned pros and those hitting the slopes for the first time to help prevent back injury or pain:
- Stretching or some light massage – skiing puts huge amounts of pressure on the legs and lower back muscles, which are simply not conditioned to deal with the unique duration often spent on the slopes. Simple, regular stretching or a massage at the end of each day will help keep muscles in good condition. A warm shower or bath will also provide welcome relief.
- Cold ice – repetitive stress and fatigue of the lower back are extremely common among skiers. Cold ice placed on the base of the spine for five minutes at the end of the day will help ease any inflammation.
- Realign your posture – lying over a rolled-up towel for five-minute intervals will help arch the lower back, which is very important to counteract the constant ‘forward bent’ position skiing requires.
“Back pain can often strike when least expected and when least prepared for and for skiers in particular, there is a high chance they could be half-way down a mountain side. I would always recommend not stopping completely as the cold weather will immediately cause the pain to ‘stiffen’. Instead, back off the intensity, find a less steep slope and move slowly to the bottom of the run. Try to stand up tall with good posture as this will help if you’ve irritated the discs and prevent making things worse. Remember, your body is more at risk in the mornings, before it has had a proper chance to effectively warm-up,” adds Michael.
A couple of beneficial exercises Michael recommends performing to help relieve pain include:
- A side bend – whereby you run your hand down the side of your thigh, while slowly bending over to that same side. With your other arm, stretch over your head to release some of the muscles on the side of your lower back. Do not bend forwards. Repeat this both sides.
- You can also perform this movement on one knee, bending away from the knee that is on the floor. Again, ensure good posture and hold the stretch for 10-15 seconds and repeat a couple of times each side.
For more information, please visit www.backinshapeprogram.com, or for more detailed expert advice and videos on maintaining back health, please visit Back In Shape Youtube Channel and Back In Shape Podcast – a great source of free information to get your Back In Shape.