Dr Stuart McGill: The Exceptional Back Mechanic
Everyone I know, at one time or another, seems to have pain issues with their back. I suppose it’s a part of growing older, perhaps softer and flabbier, and certainly a condition exacerbated by chronically poor posture and sedentary lifestyles. The just rewards of prosperity. Or maybe it’s the dozens of golf courses within a driver and 7 iron of my home? That irregular torso twisting can be a bear.
Whatever the cause (pick your poison), severe back pain is a universally debilitating disorder that saps the fun out of life while costing the health care system many billions per year in pain medication, physical therapy appointments, and if all else fails, risky surgeries.
When I was younger and a lot more active, I struggled with a painful lower back condition caused by nerve compression called sciatica. In contemplating its origin, I remember foolishly helping a friend carry a sofa up a long, narrow and steep set of stairs. When we finally got to the top, a burning sensation in my lower back radiating down my leg caused me to immediately drop myself on that very same sofa – for about a week.
Being neither a moving professional nor a hopeless idiot, it was a mistake that only happened once. But once was one time too many. I no longer respond to suspicious invitations from friends to “please attend” their “Saturday Moving Parties,” except for sending along my condolences and best wishes.
A few years later, seemingly out of nowhere, my lower back was hurting so badly that I needed help getting out of bed. I couldn’t even tie my own shoes. It was the first time I learned that the “for better or worse” clause in the marriage contract came with several caveats.
I was diagnosed with “a slipped disc from some unknown earlier traumatic event.” To me, the “traumatic event” was hardly “unknown.” It was the cursed couch and stairs debacle.
I needed what is called a “microdiscectomy” to repair the injury and the good news is, from the moment I woke up after surgery I’ve been relatively pain-free.
Because so many of my peers have struggled with similar issues, I decided to find an expert who could teach us how best to deal with back issues. I found the right guy – – The Back Mechanic – – who is known as the “world’s leading expert on lower back pain.”
Until “retiring” recently, Dr. Stuart McGill spent 30 years as a professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where his lab and research clinic focused on the causes of back pain and how best to design a rehabilitation program. His patients range from the very best athletes competing on our planet, to other physicians, security professionals and legal experts, just to name a few. His objective is to educate his patients insofar as proper mechanics so they become pain-free and stronger than ever, thereby meaningfully enhancing their lifestyles.
Dr McGill’s vast experience is captured in his 39-page CV. He has written close to 400 peer-reviewed scientific articles, a variety of textbooks and several “mainstream” books including Back Mechanic, Low Back Disorders and Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance. There are also several videos featuring his advice and programs available on the internet.
Trust me, McGill is the man – the expert’s expert.
Resolving Your Back Pain
If you are experiencing lower back pain or are interested in preventing a future problem, how should you proceed? Here’s the gospel, according to Dr McGill:
One: All back pain has a specific cause. The challenge is to identify the cause and address it. When Dr McGill meets with patients, he spends three hours with them, yes, three hours, not the customary 10 to 15-minute medical appointment. In order to determine the cause, McGill needs to learn about the person’s mechanics, the neurology, the social situation and their history so that he can fully understand and diagnose the cause of the pain.
Two: Once the cause of the pain is discovered, the patients will learn which specific behaviors and activities absolutely need to be avoided.
Three: Once the pain has been eliminated, the patients will learn how to re-build the foundation for pain-free movement, improving back strength while avoiding injurious activities.
The “Big Three” Preventative Exercises
According to Dr McGill, “Optimal back health doesn’t come from doing nothing. It comes from doing the perfect optimized amount – not too much and not too little.”
For those with pain, rather than engaging in exercises designed to strengthen the back, McGill recommends enhancing physical endurance via his “Big Three” preventative exercises to reduce the risk of back pain.
The first activity is known as the “curl-up,” the second is the “side bridge,” and the third is called the “bird dog.” Each of these activities is demonstrated by Doctor of Physical Therapy AJ Ludlow in the following video:
Following are six common myths about back pain and Dr McGill’s brief words of wisdom:
Myth #1 – Back injuries are rare. “Most people will not get through life without some element of back pain impinging on their activities.”
Myth #2 – You need a flexible back. “Statistically, those who have more range of motion in their back have a greater risk of back disorders in the future.”
Myth #3 – To avoid injury, you need a strong back. “Having an extremely strong back is not really preventative for a back injury.”
Myth #4 – Bend your knees when you lift. “Proper lifting mechanics require you to actually lift with the hips, not your knees.”
Myth #5 – Suck in your belly to work your core. “This idea of drawing in your belly when you are performing exercise is highly problematic.”
Myth #6 – Sit-ups/crunches give you a six-pack. “There are much more efficient ways to achieve this with a better reward/risk ratio.”
From my experience, there are few things worse than extreme lower back pain. Once the impingement or other injury impacts the nerves, the pain flows throughout the body causing severe discomfort and limiting our enjoyment of life.
There are countless impressive, well-trained local practitioners such as chiropractors, physical therapists and others, who stand ready to provide our relief. There are also plenty of so-called experts who are willing to offer us a quick fix, including prescriptions for addictive pain medication.
I advise moving forward with caution, patience and always getting a second opinion.
Most of all, I recommend consulting with the supreme expert in back mechanics. Dr McGill’s book “Back Mechanic” was written for the lay public to guide them out of pain. You will obtain an empowering perspective and feel infinitely more secure about the advice you’re receiving. And by following his proven pain prevention protocol, you may not need that further advice and treatment after all.
Our thanks to Dr Stuart McGill for spending some time with us, and for helping so many people prevent and heal the misery of lower back pain.