Monday, October 5, 2009

Surfing Health - Back Pain, and the road to recovery

Hey gang…I have a little departure from our normal programming…and while it isn’t weather related, it is something that probably affects our health and surfing from time to time…so I thought I would post it up...and hopefully kick off a new “surfers health” section.

So in this first installment I thought we could cover something that hits close to home for me, which is back pain.

After years of playing high impact sports, surfing, and generally just being a bigger guy…I get sidelined a couple of times a year with my back going out (hey as Tyler Durden says “even the Mona Lisa is falling apart” )…I try to maintain “back healthy” practices but I still need some help to get straightened out. Anyway…since I am anything but an expert on this stuff I thought we could talk to someone who has a lot more experience with it.

My good friend Brock, who is a surfer and a Certified Athletic Trainer, (that has been patching me up on and off the field for years), put this article together for us. He has been working on developing new therapy technology…and has some pretty sweet new heat therapy systems. Make sure to check out his website if you get a chance…

Thanks guys…I hope this can help a few of you get back into the water faster.

Let me know what you think about the health section (or any topics you might want covered ).




Back Pain, and the road to recovery.

As you all know surfing can be a demanding sport. The conditions are always changing and the terrain if you will, constantly moving. The dynamic actions surfing requires as well as the plain old exertion from paddling can put a lot of strain on ones back. One of the most common complaints in sports medicine as well as surfing is “my back hurts”.

As we get a little older and more consumed with adult life, we find ourselves in the water less and at a desk more. (Some of us anyways.) And unless your one of the lucky few that surf everyday, then you know what I’m talking about. So what do I do when I hurt my back and all I want to do is go surf, or mow the lawn? I hear this question all the time and the answer obviously differs with each situation/ injury. So I would like to outline a simple and easy guide to back pain recovery in this short but helpful article Back Pain and the road to recovery.

*Disclaimer, this article is just some advice for the generic questions of back pain. If you injure your back or neck in any way, please go see a doctor or your local physical therapist for a proper evaluation, treatment, and program specific to your needs.*


First and foremost let’s start with a little pain relief. With out going to the medicine cabinet you can gain quite a bit of relief from thermal modalities alone. The debate over ice or heat when injured has been going on for longer than I’ve been alive; however I like to recommend a simple answer to most injuries.

Ice for the first 72 hours.

I know a lot of people like the heat for the back, hey it feels good. But when it comes to new injuries or re-aggravations of old injuries Ice will help dull the pain and reduce any swelling that may occur. Even though you may get a little stiffer in the muscles the joints will thank you for it later.

Ice for 20 min at a time and off for an hour. This is an easy interval and quite effective without over icing and burning the skin.

After 72 hours you can if you choose, switch to heat. This will increase blood flow and relax the muscle spasms as well as introduce fresh nutrients into the injury site. Not to mention heat feels nice and loosens up those stiff muscles. Same principals apply to heat, as they do for Ice.

Heat for 20 min at a time and off for an hour. Be very careful when using microwave heat packs as they can easily get too hot and cause burns. If the skin is very splotchy and white after heat, you may have caused tissue damage and should avoid further heat for a day or two. For the best and safest heat therapy pads on the market you can contact us at Therapy Innovations and get one of our Portable Smart Heat pads. (Shameless plug).


This is an important component to the healing process because you need to give your body time to heal. Now rest does not mean doing nothing! Often people with back injuries or back pain will opt out of any movement at all. I understand, and have been there when your back locks up and everything hurts, but doing nothing will prolong the injury cycle and slow down your progress to get back in the water. Rest in my opinion actually means rehab not surfing, bungee jumping, helping a friend move, or any other pesky house chores you don’t like doing. Rest and Rehab.

Core exercises, light stretching and easy movement are very important right from the get go. After you’ve taken your day on the couch and realize one day of doing nothing didn’t miraculously heal you, its on to a little light rehab. Below are some easy stretches and exercises that will help get the muscles moving and begin strengthening up the core. Keep in mind these are the most basic and safest exercises for the early stages of injury recovery. Light movement should include easy exercise like walking, using an elliptical machine, or light swimming depending on the level of injury. Using light exercise will get the blood flowing and warm up the body to better facilitate the stretching and core exercises. Stretching cold is much less effective than stretching warmed-up. Remember to breath and relax into each stretch to get the most out of your exercise.

Take it slow and do what you can pain free for the first week or so of rehab. During the healing stages of injury recovery try to do your stretches and exercises just to the point of discomfort, don’t over do it. Pushing yourself hard here will just make the injury last longer.


I believe this is one of the most overlooked and underappreciated aspects to reducing pack pain. Your mom told you to sit up, stop slouching, and stand up straight! But did we listen, no and where did that get us? On the couch with a back spasm and no surf! As a society our posture is terrible, mine is terrible and I’m sure that most of us wish we could improve it. And I’m sure your saying I know I know, tell me something I don’t know. Well I got nothing here other than listen to your mom and sit up straight! There aren’t enough reminders in a day to get you to practice good posture.

Practicing good posture not only lines up the spine to a more natural position it also strengthens the core muscles. If you have terrible posture, try sitting up straight and pulling your shoulders back for about 10 min and see how tired your back gets. This is proof positive that you should work on strengthening those muscles. Keeping the spine in good alignment will take stress off of the joints and release chronic tension in areas that may always seam sore.

Getting the spine in good alignment can reduce an amazing amount of back pain and discomfort. We don’t always have to go to the chiropractor for this either. In fact if you don’t practice good posture, strengthening, and flexibility no amount of chiropractic visits will cure your back.

When you find yourself laid out on the couch, standing a little crooked, or just plain stiff and sore remember these three helpful tips to get you feeling better and on the track to recovery. Ice or Heat, Rest and Rehab, and Posture. Doing a little everyday can make a world of difference.

About the Author
Brock Rutherford MS ATC, is a certified athletic trainer and owner of Therapy Innovations. He has worked in clinics and training rooms at all levels from High School to professional sports as well as orthopedic and physical therapy clinics. He has more than 12 years of experience working in Sports Medicine and Allied healthcare. Brock currently runs Therapy Innovations where he invented the Smart Heat Systems.


ADHemi said...

awesome post. thank you very much Brock and Adam. any more resources/ideas/websites for posture work you can point us too?

Danny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danny said...

Great article. My back isn't an issue, but about 6 years ago I severely sprained my shoulder surfing. I went through 6 months of physical therapy, and thought the problem was gone, but about a year ago the pain came back.

After several trips to the doctor and orthopedic surgeon, an mri, and a month-long round of painkillers, I was scheduled to go in for cortisone injections, then if that didn't work, surgery. I read an article about posture and just started paying attention to how I sat at my desk at work, and carried my self when I was up and about. Less than a week, and my shoulder felt like it was new again. Posture is huge and I'm not going to forget that now.

Anonymous said...

Sweet post Adam I really got alot out of it. Oddly enough I have shoulder problems like Danny. I however have a shoulder dislocation/seperation thingy going on. I went the physical therapy route at first which helped but I did my shoulder again and now its something that happens every few months when I fall awkwardly on a wave.

I have looked into getting surgery but the 6-9 month layoff really bums me out as well as the possibility of lost mobility that may never return.

Is there anyone who also has overcome similar problems? If so what worked for you? I heard Nathanial Curren on the WCT had similar disloaction problems, anyone know how he fixed it?

Sorry everyone for the long comment, hopefully this can be a topic in the future!

laduke13 said...

more deadlifts

Robert said...

Great idea for a new section. Love it. I have acute arthritis in my lower back (at only 45 years old) and have lived with back issues for about 15 years. While I believe surfing has helped strenghthen my back (holding my chest up while paddling) two other things have kept me in the water. About 5 years ago I ditched my office chair and sit on a yoga ball. I saw instant benefits. I also practice a mild form of yoga. Everyone's issues are different, but these two things really worked for me.

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Strengthening the core muscles can help improve physical activities. Further, one will have a good blood circulation, endurance and good resistance.
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Tony Za-Za said...

Bikram Hot Yoga has worked wonders for my back pain and surfing.