3 years ago, I injured my lower back warming up for the 1st match of an NVL tournament, early in the season. It was one of those, I can’t stand up straight, muscle spasm, lower back injuries. Don’t worry, I played and we finished 5th. I don’t recommend it. I’m sure I made it much, much worse. It took me over 2 years to fully recover. I re-injured it multiple times because I refused to rest.
I finally went to the doctor and they said I had 2 compressed disks in my lower back. Being in my early 30’s the doctor said that it was to be expected since I had been playing sports for so long and there wasn’t much I could do about it. Not satisfied with that answer, I kept searching for anything to give me relief. I went to a chiropractor, who gave me some relief but it was temporary. Massage seemed to help, but again, temporary. Rest helped, but let’s be honest, not playing volleyball isn’t a long-term solution.
So, fast-forward to today. Does my back still hurt? Yes, from time to time, but I am totally able to train, lift, and compete without pain. How did I get back on track and how do I manage my back? It takes a combination of these things and it will totally depend on what works for your body.
This was the most difficult part. I spent 3 years trying to find someone who could help me get to the root of the problem. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. I was fortunate to meet a great chiropractor who wanted to get to the root of my issue, not just adjust me every week. She found that the cause of my issue was actually my hips. I have what’s called a “Shallow Acetabulum”. My sockets weren’t properly formed when I was a baby. Even though they fixed it, the sockets aren’t quite as deep as they need to be. This causes my body to put a lot of pressure on my lower back to hold everything together.
Find a good one and see if it’s right for you. The good ones will take x-rays to make sure you don’t have any major issues and will talk you through the process. If you have questions or concerns, ask! It’s your body and you need all the information to make good decisions.
Same as above. Find someone who can treat your specific issue and that makes you feel comfortable.
Can’t go wrong with massage. Flush your muscles and get some blood moving around. These feel good things are more important than most people give them credit for.
Once you’re past any muscle spasms and feel like you’re able to work out, you’ll need to strengthen your core, back muscles and hamstrings. I have found that pilates does exactly that. It’s very focused on keeping your core engaged and it’s low impact.
Dynamic Warm Up
Take 10 minutes to make sure you are warm before you start playing. Take a few laps, warm up your big muscles with lunges and squats. Don’t do your static stretching ’til after. Deep static stretching can actually cause loss of strength and speed.
I have a love/hate relationship with my foam roller. It hurts so good. Use it on your IT bands, quads, hamstrings and your whole back. It breaks up the lactic acid and flushes your muscles to get new blood flowing. This speeds recovery and healing.
Even when you’re in the middle of season, you have to have at least 1 rest day per week. If you’re battling an injury, you might have to suck it up and take a week or 2 off. This doesn’t mean be a couch potato, it just means you have to find other ways to stay active. Yoga and pilates are both good for your body and mind, and they are low impact.
There is an ongoing debate over ice/heat for injuries. Acute injuries, like a rolled ankle are usually better treated with ice, to decrease swelling. But chronic injuries, like a lower back injury you’ve had for 3 years, might need both. I alternate between ice and heat to decrease swelling and promote blood flow.
This is actually really important. I have found that sleeping on my back with a pillow under my knees relieves the pressure on my lower back and I wake up with less pain in the morning.
I know this sounds like a lot, but once you’ve integrated these elements into your life and recover, you’ll be free to play volleyball and enjoy your active life. Beats sitting on the sideline and watching!