My first moderately serious bout of lower back pain happened in 2009. I was living in South Africa and playing for a local baseball team. I don’t remember how the injury occurred but I distinctly remember my lower back locking up while I sat waiting for a train to take me back to my host family’s house after spending the day sightseeing in Cape Town. When I got home, I lay on the floor of the bedroom I was using and watched a movie on my laptop, hoping the pain would subside in time for me to play a doubleheader the next day. Somehow it did. I played the next day without any lingering effects and pushed the incident to the back of mind shortly thereafter.
Over the next eight years, I suffered an equivalent injury about once a year. Sometimes it happened when I was squatting or deadlifting fairly heavy weight. Once it happened while I was kneeling on the floor of our home office, assembling a new standing desk. Once it happened as I was rolling over on the floor between post-workout stretches. Each time my lower back would lock up for a few days. I would skip workouts, move around stiffly for a few days and stretch and foam roll as much as I could. The pain would subside within a week. Another week, and I was able to resume my normal activity level as though nothing had happened.
True to Form is the first resource I’ve found that combines general advice about relieving lower back pain into a specific routine of physical poses.
After one instance, I remember folding myself into the back of a cab to go out for dinner, riding the few blocks my wife and I would normally have walked. After sitting through an uncomfortable meal, I decided to try walking home, thinking I didn’t want to spend another minute sitting. It was January in Chicago, and it was frigid. We tiptoed home as I tried not to slip on any patches of ice and stopped every few minutes when pain lanced through my spine. My wife was not happy that it took us twice as long to get home on that cold winter night. But we made it, and once again I seemed to make a full recovery within a couple weeks.
In 2016 and 2017, my attacks of lower back pain became more frequent but less severe. In May 2017, I felt pain while performing a set of moderately heavy deadlifts. But I recovered enough to bike thirty miles two days later. Four months after that, I tweaked my back doing snatches. Yet I was able to run the next day and lift weights again the day after that.
Over time, I learned an assortment of tricks to help manage my occasional flare-ups. I lay on lacrosse balls (single and two taped together) to massage tight muscles. I applied Dr. Kelly Starrett’s quick spine and pelvis fixes. I discovered ELDOA, a set of specific stretching poses designed to improve joint and spinal health. All of these techniques offered some measure of release. But none of them gave me a system for preventing future injuries.
Finally, I purchased the book True to Form: How to Use Foundation Training for Sustained Pain Relief and Everyday Fitness by Dr. Eric Goodman. In it, Goodman, a chiropractor who once suffered from low back pain, presents a simple series of exercises to treat and prevent lower back pain. Goodman’s general advice is not novel. Sit less. Be aware of your posture. Take deep belly breaths using your diaphragm. Bend by hinging from the hips instead of rounding your back. I’ve encountered all these recommendations in my years of health and fitness experience, and I’ve tried to adhere to them. But True to Form is the first resource I’ve found that combines this general advice into a specific routine of physical poses.
The majority of True to Form is devoted to the rationale behind these poses and examples of how they can be applied to everyday movements. The language and reasoning are easy to follow even if you don’t have a background in anatomy or strength and conditioning. Frequent and simple diagrams help illuminate the text. But the book’s highlight is the set of twelve exercises listed at the end, which Goodman calls Foundation Training.
Foundation Training consists of two groups of six exercises. Goodman recommends performing each group three days per week, alternating between the groups on consecutive days and taking one day per week to rest from the exercises and focus on quality movement in normal life. Each group of exercises takes about ten minutes to perform and they require no additional equipment, save for one exercise during which you may prefer kneeling on a towel, pillow or yoga mat instead of a hard floor.
Most importantly, the exercises work. I’ve been following Goodman’s recommended routine for almost a year and haven’t experienced another back flare-up (knock on wood). My back feels strong, even when I’m performing heavy deadlifts or squats. Occasionally, I can actually feel my back decompress as I perform a Foundation Training exercise. I can’t say for certain that my back has completely healed. But I do feel confident that Foundation Training has made my spine healthier and less susceptible to injury.
Only time will tell if I remain pain-free. For now, I can simply say that True to Form represents the most thorough, effective and systematic approach to low back pain and spinal health that I have encountered thus far. If you suffer from chronic back pain or repeated injuries, you owe it to yourself to read this book.
Rating: 5/5 stars