Have you ever contemplated buying that magic gel cushion the salesman promised would eliminate all your lower back pain?
Have you ever bought one of those velcro braces to strap around your trunk to give you “extra support” because the doctor who sold it to you said it will help brace your spine?
When it comes to dealing with back injuries or typical back pain, there are things you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to getting relief. I know one of the number one things I have gained experienced with is not relying on a specific back pain product to bring me the relief I want. If you’re dealing with back pain, you need to be aware of the million dollar industry selling products that convince you that their product is the answer
Today, I want to cover 5 common products that back pain suffers purchase in hopes to eliminate their pain that don’t work!
I have to be completely honest, I have purchased, been given and have used all kinds of products in hopes to fix my dysfunctions. Before college and really becoming anything in the “Movement Scene” I used all of the above when it comes to putting a band-aid on my dysfunctions rather than digging in and learning to self-explore. I want to give you a look into real life applications of some of the most popular gadgets out there and hopefully motivate you to make better, long lasting decisions towards getting the relief you want.
Remember, everything I talk about here is from personal experience. I am not a doctor so don’t take what I am saying as THE answer to your problem. I want to simply promote self-exploration for solving common issue when it comes to back pain. Always consult with your trusted professional before changing your own program or trying something new.
Products for back pain that don’t work
Orthotics, wraps, and braces for flat feet.
I can’t remember the exact age but I’ll never forget the first time I got my feet wrapped to be fitted for custom orthotics. I eventually was told I had extremely flat feet and lucky for me my dad is a PTA and has been his whole lif,e so I had the hookup with whatever I needed. Since I can remember, I have always had orthotics in my shoes. These things were so big they would rip the sides of my shoes before the shoe got a chance to break in. When I went in to get fitted for these different orthotics they would send me home after with a complimentary foot wrap which was actually pretty cool. They would basically tape my foot in the right position and use the strategically placed tape to act in place of the arch I didn’t have. I actually felt great while wearing this but one shower and they were destroyed. I would always be back to square one with no real solution.
What I was told by the foot specialists I would see is that flat feet can’t be reversed. I remember always hearing “You can’t just grow an arch”. I believed this for years until I started learning more about proper foot health. I learned that your arches are not a single muscles or bone that God just designed in the shape of an arch and plugged them in for some people and shafted others. I learned that the lack of arch I had was a from simply not be conscious about how I would use my feet. The majority of my life was spent on flat feet, never giving it a thought that it was me who was making my situation worse.
What to do if this is you.
Stop using artificial wedges under your feet to fix what laziness is causing. Yes, I still have flat feet today but I have only really been working on it for less than a year (from the date this is published) but I am confident that the work I have put in is making a difference. I am becoming more aware of how I use my feet and what poor foot mechanics does to everything upstream. There is no quick fix for back pain. There are only methods to follow that involve auditing your entire life and movement habits and breaking your own pain cycle. One of the key points in a method that works is addressing your feet.
Orthotics, braces, and wraps only fix the problem but don’t offer a solution. Unless your artificial support is mandatory for your situation, I encourage you to go barefoot and explore the muscles of your foot. Wiggle your toes and learn to activate them while you walk, stand and even sit.
Great resources on how you can take action!
This video will give you some pointers as ot how to release what could be some bound up tissue in you foot.
Here is a great video on exercises you can do to start addressing flat feet.
I remember when I was in middle school my parents only gave me a $30-40 budget to buy a pair of shoes. I was the kid wearing knock off brands. Instead of Jordans they were Shmordins. Anyways, fast forward to now and I have owned hundreds of shoes both cheap and expensive and guess what I’ve learned.
They all suck.
Yup, there is no beneficial difference between a cheap knock off pair of Nikes and a $180+ pair of brooks other than cushion and modified support for your specific dysfunction. If you have high arches. They have a shoe for you. If you have flat feet, they have a shoe for you. The more money you have the more specific you can get to your foot. Sure, maybe the quality of material is a little better but none of those things help towards finding a solution to fixing your bad feet and what could be causing your back pain.
I have had numerous clients complain about back pain and immediately respond with “I think I just need to get better shoes”.
No, you just need to learn to use the feet you stuff into those shoes! I am here to tell you today, stop thinking “the more you spend the better you will be”. My back hurts worse wearing my $180 Brooks all day compared to alternating between a pair of zero drop shoes and my bare feet.
It doesn’t just stop there. Even wearing a pair of zero drop shoes isn’t enough. Another brand of shoes that I have grown to love are Altras. They offer a wide range of shoes that have this “zero drop” design which is just a cool way of saying from your toes to your heel is a flat surface. Except for the arch support, you can have built into your shoe….for your personal dysfunction. What I like about Altras is that they are solving the elevated heel issue but still offer a crutch for those who don’t want to work on strengthening their foot.
If all shoes suck, what should I do?
What I have learned over the years is that you can’t really have 1 shoe for all occasions. This is where I think a lot of people go wrong. They buy the super expensive shoes thinking they will stand up to the next 8+ months of abuse. Well, a good pair of Brooks may do better when running but they won’t treat your body the same when standing all day at work. It doesn’t matter how much cushion or support they have, they are not helping you align your pelvis and maintain a neutral spine all day. What I suggest is always making shoe purchases around the idea of being as close to your bare feet as possible.
With that being said. There are different ranges with this rule. For example. If your an ultramarathon runner and can’t handle running in “barefoot shoes” I can understand that. Instead, buy a pair of shoes that match your feet and only use them when you are running. For daily walking, standing and work shoes I would stick with barefoot style shoes such as Merrells or Lems Shoes. If you’re not wearing these, go bare foot. If you’ve spent your whole life in shoes then work up to going barefoot slowly. Your feet are not going to be ready to make the full-time jump from super squishy shoes to something like a Lems shoe. Wear the minimalist shoes for an hour or so then you can jump back in your other shoes. Work your way up to full-time minimalist shoe or barefoot after a few weeks.
That super expensive ergonomic chair
Listen, your back pain is not from your chair by itself. Buying a more expensive chair still isn’t going to fix the consequences of sitting all day. Just because it has more cushion and support, you’re still not moving your body which in return will result in irritated tissues if you don’t make a habit of getting up and moving around. Now, if you’re reading this and have zero back pain this idea is going to be a hard sale for you. If you actually have back pain, I know exactly how you feel. You are willing to do whatever it takes to get a little relief and I’m telling you right now, more cushion is not the answer.
How to approach improving your sitting.
If I was to give you a crash course on how I feel about sitting today this is what it would be.
Have a variety of sitting options: A stool, hard surface chair and a regular seat with aback rest
Alternate between standing, and sitting with a braced core and properly stacked body.
Get up every 45 minutes and stretch the opposite way you have been sitting.
Here are some great examples (Instagram Links)
I am all about supplements but to be honest, nobody really knows what they are deficient in unless they go get blood work done. The average person isn’t or hasn’t gotten this done so let’s clear some things up. Yes. cold water fish oils are great for your body. Yes, more Vitamin D is beneficial. Yes, taking a joint health supplement over the long run MAY help. Yes, Devils Claw is a great natural anti-inflammatory.
This is the kicker.
1 – One, two or even three of the best-targeted supplements are not going to rid you of back pain.
2 – You can take anything in the world but if you move like crap, your body is going to feel like crap regardless of what you’re shoveling into your mouth.
I have experimented with a lot of different supplements and the biggest problem I ran into was not being able to tell what worked and what didn’t. For example: I was taking MSM for a while which I did feel was making a difference in how my joints overall felt but I was also supplementing a few other things at the same time so I can’t sit here and tell you it was all from MSM.
If I was going to suggest any kind of natural joint repair or natural Anti-inflammatory it would based around building a solid diet around anti-inflammatory foods.
If you are going to experiment with a supplement stick with one and try it for 3 months minimum just to give your body a chance to adapt. Only add a second if it pairs well with the first.
The Back Brace
I still have the one my doctor gave me a year after diagnosing me with a ruptured disc. He said to wear this under my clothes and it will help stabilize my trunk. Forget about training the core the way you should to support a healthy and stable spine. Just slap on this brace and off you go.
I want you to understand that if you’ve had some major work done to your back and your surgeon says wear this contraption to keep your spine straight while you heal. Please don’t rip it off and tell them some internet guy said back braces suck. I’m not talking about those. I am talking about the ones that are given out to patients to replace proper core bracing.
These back braces give instant satisfaction when it comes to “feeling” more stable and thinking you can handle more. My position against braces is that people become dependent on them and wear them every day. They don’t use the muscles God gave them and instead rely 100% on this false sense of stability the brace is giving them. If you are healing from an injury listen to your doctor and work to progress away from the brace. If you’re 3 years post surgery, don’t keep pulling out that same old brace the second your feet hit the ground. Learn to rebuild your core and use it the way it was designed.
Final thoughts on back pain products.
I am a firm believer that the more back pain suffers move away from thinking a physical product is going to fix our pain and focus more on our responsibility as a human to move and care for our own bodies, the more freedom we will have. There is no law that says if you have back pain you have to be seen by a medical professional. I would suggest that you do, just to rule anything major out but I am a self-explorer through and through and have learned to leverage doctors and the medical “process” to give myself the upper hand in my own recovery and pain management. This may not be for everyone but if you want to break addictions to painkillers and stop from having pointless, problem focused procedures than start digging into your own life. Stop over complicating it and just simply learn to move better. Break the negative habits that are destroying your tissues and causing pain first, then work up from there.