The Gift of Injury; Rehab Low Back Pain on Your Own

Once upon a time there was a power lifter, Brian Carroll, who was trying to recover from a low back injury. He sought out specialists in the field including a number of orthopedists, all of which said that he would need surgery and that he would have to stop power lifting. However, lifting was too important to him to call it quits. So he found Stuart Mcgill and they worked together on rehabilitating his back. Within a year and a half he came back stronger than ever and went on to break several world records. In an effort to help others with the same age old problem of low back pain they wrote a book together, The Gift of Injury. They went on to live happily ever after- pain free!

This book goes over several key components of rehabbing low back pain. Although the book is geared toward power lifters and strength athletes, there is valuable information for anyone recovering from an injury, especially chronic and recurring low back pain. For the sake of efficiency, I’ll give you the short version.

Rehabilitation Process

Phase One: Let it Heal

This part of rehabbing can be as simple as avoiding things that aggravate it. In addition to resting, this is the time to enjoy some of the manual therapies that offer relief including spinal manipulation, myofascial release, and acupuncture. The point is to determine what the injury is, treat accordingly, and don’t push it. Training through the pain winds up pain sensitivity and increases tissue damage. During this stage it is also important to relearn basic movement, coordination, and stability and implement that “perfect” moment into everyday life 24/7. There are a number of simple movements that can help correct any muscular imbalances that could be contributing to your back pain. To get you started check out my videos on side plank and bird dogs.

Phase Two: Come Back Stronger

According to Stew and Brian, the trick to coming back stronger than ever is training the nerves instead of the muscles. This begins with powerful thoughts and ends with better communication to the muscles, thus better, stronger movement. To help in this regard, here are some additional tips to make coming back stronger even more attainable.

5 basic strength principles:
  1. Healthy movement 24/7- This means all the perfect posture and balanced movement that you do in the gym should translate into everyday life.
  2. Proper warm up- An appropriate warm up depends on age, injuries and pre-existing injuries but should be anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. For power and strength athletes this should include minimal to no stretching.
  3. Form- This should go without saying.
  4. Purpose- This includes careful selection of exercises which means that you might have to incorporate some things that you don’t love. Purpose also includes lifestyle choices outside of the gym including getting plenty of rest and proper nutrition and avoiding drugs and alcohol.
  5. Train in phases/cycles- This is a simple rule that will pay off. Essentially you should include a light/deload week every 3-4 weeks and your weekly workouts should have speed days and heavy days.


As always, it is a good idea to seek professional help even if you plan to do most of the rehabilitation on your own. Make sure you are on the right track with appropriate exercises by asking a evidence based chiropractor, physical therapist, or personal trainer.