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Old 07-20-2007, 04:57 PM   #1
Justin
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Backpacking with back problems

Any folks out there have alot of back troubles, and it really effects you when you hike with a full pack? Or when hiking in general? What are some of the things you do, or bring to help you out?

I'm 30 years old, and I've been suffering from back problems for many years now. This is from many reasons, but mostly from my line of work, and my lack of doing my stretches and exercises that I'm supposed to do everyday.

My back will get REAL sore when climbing steeper hills for extended periods of time with a full pack. And I've certainly had my share of rough times with my back while in the woods. But for the most part though, I can do very well without having too much back trouble while in the woods. However, I have thrown my back out a few times to the point where it is very painful to even stand up straight, and it's put me in bed for days. Luckily this has not happened while in the woods.

This is someting that I really worry about. If I ever did have another episode where I can't even stand up straight, while being miles deep in the wilderness, I could be in alot of trouble.

Backpacking in the Adirondacks is my single favorite hobby in this world, and I hope to do it 'till the day I die, but I know I have to be realistc. So, does anyone else have similar problems and would like to share some thoughts?

Thanks.. -- Justin
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Old 07-20-2007, 05:04 PM   #2
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My back issue sounds less severe than yours. I strained a muscle in the lower part of my back 7 months ago, and if I'm not careful I still get reminders that it's still healing.

I've done a few backpacks in the last 2 months. Both times my injury were fine, it's my mid and upper back that feels the weight the most. Then, when I shift the weight to my hips, my hips get sore. So it's constantly adjusting, resetting, and readjusting my pack. It also helps to have a pack with suspension to absorb the shock of the thousands of steps we take while hiking. Extra padding helps too, mostly to save brusing of the shoulders and hips.

There's definitely some things I could be doing and choose not. Back exercising and stretches daily would strenthen the weaker mid and upper back muscles. I just can't seem to get myself to exercise regularly. I feel like a human gerbal.
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Old 07-20-2007, 05:18 PM   #3
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Oh, and it should be noted I don't climb mountains with a full pack. Too much effort for my tastes. I prefer base camping or dayhiking is there's more than 1,000' of gain involved. I have bushwhacked recently (Ouluska Pass) with a full pack and it wasn't noticeably tougher. That may have been a result of the terrain being, at times, impossible to navigate (which detracts from the weight being an issue).
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Old 07-20-2007, 05:43 PM   #4
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I have degenerative back disese. I have had it since I was 40 and to date have had three surgeries to remove discs. I was told i would be in a wheelchair when I was 50....

That would have been 15 years ago. When i did "baby" it, it got worse, and at one time you might have mistaken me for Quasimoto (Google him up if you don't know what I'm referring to). Anyway, I sucked it up, got rid of the cane and got my butt back in the woods.

best treatment I ever had!!! Oh, after a while, the few ties I carry a heavy back, it aches, but I ut one foot in front of the other. If i stop and sit for a while, or when I go to sleep, it's stiff when i get up, but in a few minutes I walk it off.

So, my advice.... Keep on keeping on. It's the best thing you can do for yourself, emotionally as well as physically.

Do situps to develop the abs and that will take much of the strain off your spine.
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Old 07-20-2007, 06:55 PM   #5
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First of all, I would suggest you get medical advice for the underlying issue. Sounds like you have already.

Try to pare down the weight of your pack. I'm not talking about cutting
.5" off of your plastic spoon handle. Pack responsibly, but think about upgrading older, heavier gear with newer, lighter gear if you can swing it.

PM sent.
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Old 07-20-2007, 08:06 PM   #6
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Every back problem is different. What worked for Redhawk might make Kevin worse, and so on.

Two patients can present with identical symptoms. However, their treatment and prescribed exercise programs might be totally different.

The best exercises are those that are prescribed as a result of a very specific clinical examination and target very specific issues that are particular to the patient.

The best advice so far is to decrease the pack weight. To that I might add: sleep in a hammock.
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Old 07-20-2007, 08:13 PM   #7
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The last 3 discs in my back are paper thin.( have been for 20+ years) Added to that I fell down a flight of stairs this winter and screwed up my middle back. Once a year or so I manage to screw up and twist my back out of place to the point I can't stand up. I still back pack a lot and climbed the DIX range last weekend. I find the key for me is pack light and use a good fitting pack. I just picked up a Gregory Z55 to help me with that part of it. I have to carry most of my weight on my hips. For me I find anything over about 35 lbs causes me more pain then I want to put up with. I can carry 30 lbs pretty much all day ( did 64 miles in a day and a half a couple years ago) . I'm heading out on a solo thru hike of the NTP trail in a couple weeks. I also carry some good pain killers in my med kit so if I do really screw my back up while hiking I can hopefully kill the pain enough to get out of the woods. I jump down 5 foot drops like I did years ago and I try to be a little smarter about what I do out hiking now. I guess I'm saying is be sensible and a little careful and you should be ok. I also sleep in a hammock.


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Old 07-20-2007, 09:18 PM   #8
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Thanks for the great replies.

It's amazing how much I've cut down on pack weight over the years. I am now very basic when backpacking, and do not bring alot of the gear I used to, like when I was younger and crazier. I'm sure alot of us are like that.

I use two different hammocks from time to time that I have, but I find that I have a hard time sleeping in them. So my preference is to just bring a couple of lightweight tarps for shelter, and sleep on the ground, which really helps my back if it's hurting. Lean-tos on the other hand, really hurt my back so I'll almost never sleep in a lean-to.

If my back is sore from a hike, I'll stretch, and find a good rock or log to lean my back against, and arc backwards over it as much as I can. Man that feels good. And after a good nights sleep on the ground, I'll feel like a million bucks the next mourning.

So, I think if you try and keep your pack weight down, have a good fitting pack, Stay off of the longer, steeper climbs with full gear, stay in shape and do your exercises and stretches, and keep on hiking and doing what you love, I'll be just fine.
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Old 07-23-2007, 11:11 AM   #9
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This is not medical advice, my situation may be different than yours...

Every once in a while I have a disk slip such that it becomes extremely painful to bend over enough to put on my pants or to tie my shoes. (Why does this happen near the time I am planning a major backpacking hike??)

A therapist told me about performing the McKenzie pushups which seem to do the trick after a couple of days. Before the normal course of getting better I was concerned that carrying a backpack and hiking but she said it was ok to try it. I was surprised to find that once I donned the pack and got into the woods trail my back pain disappeared quickly. I use a stiff external frame pack that keeps my back straight, maybe that is the key.
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Old 07-23-2007, 11:11 AM   #10
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As I'm writing this, I'm a little doped up with Flexeril because my chronic back pain has resurfaced in the last few weeks. Like Redhawk, I have degenerative disc disease, two of my last 3 lumbar discs are disintegrating and the other one has a central annular tear and an anterior bulge. (L3-L4, L4-L5, L5-S1 are the bad discs...)

Physical therapy helped me a great deal, but for some time I haven't kept up with the stretches and exercises and I've suffered for it. This last bout of spasms and radiating pain came after painting the ceiling in my bathroom.

I've found that hiking with a full pack can very adversly affect me, but walking or running with no load seems to loosen things up and actually alleviates the pain somewhat.

After doing Algonquin from the Loj a couple of months ago with an overstuffed daypack, I fought the muscle spasms all the way home, at one point I nearly went off the road because the pain was so severe. Several weeks after that, I "ran" the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge with the team from my company and was very surprised that my back actually felt better after the race than before it. I stretched very well before and after the race and didn't push myself too hard.

My best advice is: do the stretches and exercises that your doctor recommends, and definitely lighten up the load.
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Old 07-23-2007, 04:42 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Justin Farrell View Post

... I'll feel like a million bucks the next mourning.
All green and wrinkled???
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Old 07-23-2007, 05:34 PM   #12
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My wife has back and hip problems and here's what helped with her.

1. Do the stretches! They are not just for when you have pain, but good to fight it off and keep you limber

2. A proper fitting pack is worth its weight in gold (light weight gold!) I beleive that TNF and others make a suspensino systems that are made to help keep your pack upright, instead of moving from side to side when you are at an awkward angle

3. Trekking poles -- I say this because she tends to begin to stumble a little when getting tired. Putting her body in an awkward position causes her to preform some weird twisting with the full pack on to maintain balance. With the poles, she is always upright, and loss of balance and thus the trunk twisting associated with it is not a problem.

Also, while reading a recent backpacker or outside mag ( i dont remember), I read an article about increasing your daily mileage. The writer suggested when walking around the neighborhood he carried a pack with 25 lbs of chain in it. He claimed that the short 1-2 mile walks combined with the strain on his (not normally used) back and chest muscles allowed him to significantly increase his hikes. Maybe this would be a good trainer for your back for longer hikes?
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Old 07-23-2007, 05:38 PM   #13
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The worst back pain I ever had on the trail was after sleeping in a lean-to. (I had a pro-lite 4 thermarest). However, a month ago I slept on the hard, cold, uneven ground and my back felt great. My prescription: eschew lean-to's, sleep on the ground. (That would also settle once and for all the tents in lean-to's debate.)
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Old 07-23-2007, 07:30 PM   #14
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A therapist told me about performing the McKenzie pushups which seem to do the trick after a couple of days.
I'm not sure what the Mckenzie pushups are, but I do alot of cat stretches along with some normal pushups.

I was told to lie flat on the floor, on my stomach for at least 20-30 minutes. Then do the stretches; put my hands down on the floor as if doing normal pushups, and extend my arms straight while keeping my hips on the floor, forcing my back to arc backwards, and really exaggerate keeping my hips to the floor for 10 seconds or so, thus influencing the problem discs to correct themselves. After 10-15 of these stretches, after arcing backwards for 10 seconds or so, slowly bend my knees and sit back on my heels with my hands still straight and on the floor in the same spot, arcing my back forward, and hold for another 10 seconds or so and repeat, doing all of this at least once a day.

I've added some other things along with these stretches, such as some push-ups and sit-ups in between,and other stretches. When I do these everyday for weeks on end, my back will feel fine. and strong. It's when I get away from doing them for weeks on end, the problems will start again.

I also do find that when I'm using a hiking stick, it really helps. It helps me keep good posture and I won't fidget with my pack as much.

It's good to get other's input on this. Thank you.
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Old 07-23-2007, 08:07 PM   #15
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A therapist told me about performing the McKenzie pushups which seem to do the trick after a couple of days.
McKenzie extension exercises are pushups where you leave your pelvis on the floor and arch your lower back as extremely as possible. The idea is to squrit the protuding disk material back into the center of the disk, away from the roots of the sciatic nerve.

If McKenzie exercises increase low back pain that is generally OK. If the McKenzies cause a peripheralization of pain into the buttock, thigh or beyond then stop and don't do them further unless of course you like the idea of blowing a disk and spending weeks or months in bed with a pee bottle.
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Old 07-23-2007, 09:12 PM   #16
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I fractured a transverse process in the lumbar region of my spine a few years back. Six months later my orthopaedic doc hung a pic of me backpacking in the Rockies with a full pack -- I was fortunate to make a full recovery. But in the process of treatment, I learned that I have bony spurs forming along the interior of my spine, and I was told to expect chronic back pain as I age, as they will continue to conglomerate and eventually may dig into the tissues surrounding my spine all the way down its length.

But, its not stopping me now, and I'll keep going until I can go no more.

Best advice is to seek the treatment of a good sports medicine group, and have your therapy tailored to helping you hike safe and strong. When I was in PT, I told them I wanted to hike stronger and better, not just hike again. They really helped me with not only my back but other issues that were showing signs of strain, too.

Good luck! I'm sorry to hear that you are going through this.
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Old 07-23-2007, 09:17 PM   #17
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McKenzie extension exercises are pushups where you leave your pelvis on the floor and arch your lower back as extremely as possible. The idea is to squrit the protuding disk material back into the center of the disk, away from the roots of the sciatic nerve.
That's it, what "Buffy" (no lie that was my 20-something therapist's name... try explaining that to your wife) told me to do. Anyway, about twice a year when I feel teh disk slippage coming on I'll repeat a sequence of ten of these, at ten times a day. It fixes the problem in about 2 days. Unless I go backpacking, which cures it in about an 3 hours.
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Old 07-23-2007, 09:42 PM   #18
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I'm use to calling them "cat strectches." Not sure why. I heard it years ago.


Unadogger, Thanks for sharing your story. I think what you've said, and everyone else, will really help others reading this thread. At least, I know it's helped me. Thanks again!
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Old 07-23-2007, 10:40 PM   #19
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Get an Exped downmat to sleep on...I tried one and couldn't believe the comfort. One is on my short list.

A good nights rest is often understated for backpacking.
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Old 07-23-2007, 10:45 PM   #20
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Backpacking with back problems

Hello All,

I've had a problem as well ever since I went ice
skating one night and landed smack on the tail
bone.

But the MacKenzie exercises that everyone is talking
about sounds a lot like a simple yoga posture with the
difference that in yoga you point the fingers on your
hands toward each other and after a while can almost
do an inverse sit up using the back muscles.

It works, as do the other yoga postures including the
breathing and leg stretches.

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