View Full Version : Martial Arts conditioning for bad backs?

December 25, 1998, 02:44 AM
As a veteran of four back surgeries, I'm wondering if any of the martial arts disciplines emphasizes a style of training that would be therapeutic for a bad back; with the least amount of strain.

Like many young back sufferers, I find it difficult to get motivated to do stretching routines and other therapy that is important to maintaining strength.

Bad back sufferers need to engage in a lot of stretching activities; while strengthening back and abdominal muscles. Developing leg strength to take the load off the back muscles is also important.

If any of the martial arts disciplines focuses on these areas; it might be an great help to younger back sufferers.

Martial arts might provide a goal beyond "just" rehabilitation and offer a powerful psychological motivation to keep training. I know a number of injured "ex-jocks" with bad backs who would much rather train for a purpose beyond physical therapy.

I don't know anything about martial arts, so please forgive me if this is a naive question. Are any of the martial arts disciplines better suited to stengthening and physical conditioning that would benefit bad back sufferers?

Any thoughts you might have would be very much appreciated!

Happy Holidays! Kurt

December 28, 1998, 01:44 PM
Jujitsu may be a candidate... less kicking than the other arts. Less strain on the spine.
Just make sure your Sensei knows clearly the nature of your injuries.
If it is as severe as it sounds... the Martial Arts you need can be found at either Thunder Ranch or Gunsite...
I would favor a solid "Punch Draw" technique. To keep the bad guy off you and punch a few holes in him quick.

Kenetic Defense Institute
[email protected]

December 28, 1998, 10:20 PM
Kurt - I've hurt my back a few times fallng off of roadracing motorcycles. Oddly enough, the best therapy is riding one of those torture rack racebikes again. I think the strain on my back builds up the muscles, stretches them, and strengthens them. If its at all bearable, something akin might help. I find that, when you have to move or run off track, you do, and work whatever muscles it takes.

I'm not a doctor, yada, yada, yada...

December 29, 1998, 12:57 AM
Kodiac, Morgan,

Thanks for responding to my post!

I know too many injured old jocks sitting home watching TV. They/We need to get motivated, get out, and DO something to get into some reasonable physical shape!

I was, at one time, an over-zealous jock (I think my buddies were into "extreme" sports before it had a name) in any case my back problems are the result of injuries and they have become a problem and it is pretty serious.

I haven't succumbed to becoming a 300lb coach potatoe. My wife and I eat right and I've managed to keep weight down; but keeping active and staying fit is much more difficult working around the injury.

I've made a commitment to find a trainer/therpaist to help me get focused and into better shape. I'm going to talk to one tomorrow.

Morgan, pursuing any martial art or even any "normal" sport would be getting "back on the bike" and that is my goal. When you have a serious injury everything focuses on the injury; especially the kind of physical training you do. In one sense, you have to; since a major operation generally puts you at "ground zero" physically.

On the other hand, I've been through this process several times and it seems to me that a training routine that has a goal "above and beyond" the necessary therapy for the injury; would give a back sufferer "something else" to focus on that would provide motivation. An incentive to keep traing.

Martial arts is the kind of activity that could provide that additional incentive and motivation.

The martial arts seem to have a lot going for them in terms of offering fellowship, motivation, and a goal orientation. Young injury sufferers would respond too that!

I apologize if this thread is somewhat off topic; but I know at least a dozen ex-jocks (one an pro football veteran) that can barely tie their shoes because of back injuries.

Martial arts might "give back" something that was once very important to them. The sense of accomplishment in a sport. Training in a martial art, even at a reduced level with no contact, would emphasize progress at a discipline, boost self confidence, and, hopefully, hasten the recovery process.

I truly know nothing about the various martial arts; but reading your posts has sparked this idea and I want to follow through with it.

I know too many talented guys who are now sitting home on their butts; because they can't get motivated to get into the physical activity they desperately need. At times, I am one of them!

Kodiac, I will look into jujitsu to see if it might be appropriate.

As far as GunSite training goes, I certainly agree with you! Obviously, folks who are injured, are far better defended by systems that utilize ballistic energy!

However, my inquiry is not directed at pure self defense. I simply think that a martial arts environment; might be an excellent place for injured old jocks, like myself, to get the motivation and physical training they need. The self defense goal may have practical value; but it primarily offers incentive!

Thanks again for your responses! I appreciate any thoughts you might have on the subject.

Best regards,


December 29, 1998, 02:07 AM
Kurt - I'm a great fan of swimming. I've always been good at it, state level in high school, blah blah blah. Excellent workout, and I enjoy the solitude and challenge it brings me. It's low impact, too, so it may be ideal for you.

I haven't been in a while, though. Methinks I should get wet (maybe back to three or four times a week?).

Let us know how it goes for you.

December 29, 1998, 12:52 PM

I can personally recommend Tai Chi, and "walking" in waist to chest deep water of a pool. Swimming, recumbent bicycling, cross country skiing (actual or machine) are also excellent sources of aerobic exercise and stretching of the back muscles without ballistic stretch or impact shock.

December 29, 1998, 01:30 PM
I can second Tai Chi. That is a good way to get into the right spirit.

Good luck.

Kenetic Defense Institute
[email protected]

December 29, 1998, 03:10 PM

I'm putting this on TFL (rather than e-mail)so the medical professionals on-line can support, refute, or supplement my comments.

'Bout five years ago, I injured my back. As time progressed, the orthopedic surgeon diagnosed: "traumatic arthritis, osteoarthritis, probable spinal stenosis, bone spurs, & spinal curvature due to obesity ... inoperable". He said I would be in a wheelchair within 2 to 3 years and sent me to therapy. They gave me exercises that caused much pain, including sudden flashes of severe pain and failed to increase my strength or flexibility.

My wife (a Registered Massage Therapist)explained at least some of my pain was caused by muscles trying to "protect" the sore back. As those muscles tired, they began to hurt, so the adjoining muscles tried to protect the sore muscles, and this created sort of a "cascade" of increasing back pain. My back felt like a series of "charlie horses".

By gently pressing on my back, she could tell me where the pain was the greatest and when it was strong or weak. (I tried to trick her and couldn't.)

My wife put me on a program of therapeutic massage and helped with my exercises.

Two to three years after I was supposed to be in a wheelchair, I am still teaching CPR (among other things) and I can pick up my own "empties" at the range. I can live with the continuing "discomfort" but I don't try to lift heavy objects and the more I move, the more I maintain my ability to move.

1) Testimonials only apply to the testifier.
2) My wife explains there is a great variance in the knowledge/skills/effort among RMTs.
3) I'm NOT a doctor, etc.

I'm only an EMT. I tell my patients, "Find a doctor you can trust, then trust your doctor."

But if I take my car to three garages for an estimate, why should I NOT take similar care of the only body I'll ever have?

Doctors on-line, comments?


December 31, 1998, 11:33 AM
Thanks to everyone for some great ideas!

Mkyl, Kodiac -- Tai Chi? What is Tai Chi? I've heard of it and may have seen a video on the subject; but I'd really appreciate some backgound information. Is Tai Chi a martial art or a meditation technique? I'm under the impression that Tai Chi is pretty passive. Does it help to strengthen, stretch, condition or is it mainly a relaxaton technique?

Morgan, you and the trainer I talked to must be exchanging notes! You both want to to put me back in the pool!

At one time my wife and I lived a mile from a brand new community pool. We swam, at least, three times a week for almost four years! I swim with a mask and snorkel and, like yourself, find it very peaceful as well as a good work-out! My wife has never needed or cared much for excercise, the fact that she stuck with it for so long is a commercial for how enjoyable swimming can be!

I seem to be particularly sensitive to the cold, after this last surgery. Hitting the water when it's 14 degrees out is definitely more of a mental challenge than it once was! We now live forty-five minutes from the closest pool; which makes it a little inconvenient.

While I have plenty of excuses not to -- you and Mykl are certainly right that swimming, water walking an other low impact work in the pool is the right thing to do. Now if I could just get a heated suit!

Dennis, congratulations! I know exactly how you felt. I am truly very happy you've been able to manage without going the surgery route. Muscles working to compensate for other muscles, an injury, or some structural weakness can go into severe spasm and create the worst imaginable "cascade of pain". Yes, I've been there -- too many times!

You might be interested to know that my orthopedic surgeon uses massage therapy as a diagnostic tool to confirm a need for surgery. In fact, I know plenty of ortho docs who are big fans of massage.

IMHO, therapeutic massage is a great benefit for anyone -- whether to help an injury or to relieve muscle tension from working out! Before a second injury made surgery inevitable for me; I kept my back under control with excercise, swimming, and massage therapy.

I've tried chiropractic, myo-therapies, acupuncture, and every other "non-traditional modality" you can think of -- for me, nothing relieves muscle spasm better than traditional massage techniques!

I'm sure your wife's profession will continue growing and become "more mainstream" as people realize the benefits and get more comfortable with it. Unfortunately, it is expensive and medical insurance plans don't cover it.

My resolution for '99 is to work out as much as possible. I'd like to learn about Tai Chi and find things I can do locally. If it warms up a few degrees I may be able to get myself into the pool!

Thanks again for all your good advice.

Happy New Year!


Shutoku Shia
January 3, 1999, 09:04 PM
Kurt, what is your email adr?

Shutoku Shia
[email protected]

January 9, 1999, 03:16 PM
Believe it or not, my experience would suggest one of the kicking arts like Karate or Tae Kwon Do. This will force you to get flexible in the legs and back and it will build up your back and abs. I would talk to a doctor or physical therapist first of course.

Another option would be one of the slow more graceful arts like Tai Chi (already mentioned) or yoga -- laugh if you want but they are big on balance and flexability.

January 9, 1999, 11:42 PM
I have to tell you, as a clinical psychologist, this sounds like a group session of some 12-step program. Not necessarily a bad thing either. Ok...Ok...my 2 cents worth:
I had been a back sufferer since my early 20's, and had never been able to touch my toes with knees straight. I always thought my recurrent back injuries were the result of a "weak" back. After a vigorous workout in the gym one day, I was complaining to a fellow sitting in the sauna with me that I was determined to strengthen my back enough so that eventually my back wouldn't injure itself again. He said he was a chiropractor, and that most people have recurrent back injuries for a different reason. He explained that when I work out my back, I tighten the muscles in my back, and that when I don't stretch out frequently, I carry my back in a constant state of heightened tension. This means that the vertebrae are pulled closer to each other; hence, tightening the bones on either side of each disc (pad). Then, within the next day or two after strenuous exercise, I move in the wrong direction, and the discs are pinched or damaged. He explained that the problem most likely wasn't my back strength (or lack of it)as much as my inability to effectively stretch and relax the muscles after exercise. I assured him I stretched, and demonstrated the technique as I had been taught in high school football (you know, the old bounce down toward your toes). He pointed out that that is a "dymamic" stretch which is very in-effective, and showed me a much better, and simpler technique. A "passive" stretch which I have refined using the same thing you'll find in most meditative styles. That is, I "place my mind" fully on something else as I "hang forward" like a wet rag. More specifically, I "allow" myself to bend forward at the waste while standing with knees slightly bent at first. I passively "allow" (not force or push) my head and arms to hang toward my toes. As I do this, I mentally think about the air as it passes in and out of my nose and mouth. At first it is tempting to keep trying to re-focus on the stretch and "how much farther to my toes", but each time I notice that I'm thinking about something else, I re-focus my thoughts to the air going in and out of my nose and mouth. As I practiced this, I was truly amazed at my progress. Within one week of practicing this 2 or 3 times a day for only 2-3 minutes at a time, I was touching my toes easily with knees totally straight (the first time in my entire life at age 32). My recurrent back problems went away, and have only re-occurred when I get out of the habit of stretching. As you can tell, I'm quite the apostle for spreading the gospel of passive stretching now, and teach the technique when teaching stress management techniques to the finest Air Force in the world. I have seen it repeatedly praised by my patients. I am no exercise physiologist, nor a medical doctor, but am passing along something that has changed my life for the last 10 years.