Retiring Captain of the Australian men’s cricket team , Michael Clark, was diagnosed with a degenerative back condition as a teenager. It was found during a scan, at the tender age of 17, that he had three degenerative discs in his lower back. Degenerative disc disease is the most common causes of back and neck pain. Disks act as shock absorbers for our spine and are able to deal with pressure from multiple directions. The disks themselves don’t hurt but they can harden or degenerate and don’t offer the cushioning and can “sensitise” the nerves that run through or by them. Also with the disc hardening, the jelly like “inner disc material”, can cause a bulge of the disk or cause a “slipped disk” which can greatly irritate the nerve.
These impinged nerves can trigger pain, causing soreness at the site or referred pain at a different site, typically down the nerve at the buttocks or legs. This soreness causes muscle tightness both at the back and elsewhere which is a secondary issue but can be the most painful when in “spasm”.
A typical care plan for both general back pain and this specific condition are:
- strengthening of the core muscles
- and relaxation.
While lots of people have degenerative or general back conditions they can lead a relatively pain free live. During an episode where the nerve becomes irritated they need to manage the pain, rest the muscles concerned, relieve strain and tension and protect the area.
A general management plan may include the following:
- stretch the muscles and increase mobility of the disks
- strengthen core muscles to avoid injury
- manage pain
- relieve tension – through massage, acupuncture or other approaches
- resume stretch/strengthening plan
Bulging discs in our back cause pain, reduction in mobility and causing us to modify our activities, with the pain even referring down the legs in some instances. Between each vertebrae of the spine there is what’s called a disc which separates each bone. The discs are made of quite pliable material allowing a cushion for the joint and allow normal rotation of the trunk. Michael Clarke has a far greater issue: he has decimated discs at two to three different levels. This causes a whole host of problems and is quite clearly linked to his recent hamstring problems.
Treatment for this is more a management plan, which includes keeping his core strength in magnificent shape, which he does, maintaining mobility and flexibility around the back and surrounding structures, keeping well-conditioned for his activity – in this case international cricket and avoiding activities that aggravate the condition. will have problems in the future, as he has had since he was 18 when he first came into the NSW squad. He does everything in his control to keep fit, keep his back strong and mobile, and get regular rehab and mobility work in. He even stands during most travel on a bus or plane, which he has done since he was 20 years of age. – Jock Campbell – leading expert in athlete high performance, strength and conditioning.
A typical day for Michael Clark looks like the following:
- 5.15 wake up, have breaky and read email detailing rehab plan for the day.
- 6.15 arrive at SCG, constantly supervised by medical staff.
- 6.30 ½ cardio session to warm up his body – cross-trainer or the stationary bike
- 7.00 1hr rehabilitative strength work in the gym – (Some exercise might include)
- Isometric contractions (muscle contracts but muscle length does not change or shorten)
- Standing knee flexions – Heel to buttocks (gravity and slowly increase weight)
- Hamstring catches – leg drops and stop before it touches the ground
- Glute Bridge – raise buttocks off ground
- Seated Hamstring Curls – Heel to buttocks
- Good Mornings – like dead lift
- 8.00 Day 1 Pilates for an hour. Stretch, Strengthen, develop core and enhance endurance.
- 8am Day 2 Jog on the grass or do shuttles (sprints).
- 9am – eat some food
- 11am Day 1 – Gym – upper body circuit to build endurance or strength while keeping heart rate up
- 11am Day 2 – Pilates
- 12pm – 30 minutes back mobility with specialist machine MedX machine designed by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s former personal trainer Arthur Jones….“I sit in position in the machine while it stretches me to full flexion and full extension.”
- 1pm – lunch and rest for a few hours.
- 4pm – running, walking, stretching in water. speeds up recovery
- 6pm – Treatment and massage
Michael strengthens his back for the rigours of international cricket which includes standing all day, running quickly between wickets, diving, throwing, twisting, etc. He said of his back “..it gets irritated when I’m in flexion and I rotate…” like it did while twisting to avoid a ball in first day of opening test against india Dec 2014. Check out the video here…
While many of us don’t have the time and energy to devote to a care plan such as listed above, but for those living with chronic back pain, stretch, strengthen and relax is all they know. If you have lower back problems as I do, I hope what you have read here highlights that there is no “solution” as such but there is definately “management plans” available. Speak with your Doctor, Physio or PT about a care plan to manage your back condition.