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Without the Support, It’s Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

Lebron James is arguably the greatest multifaceted player in NBA history, but it has not always been a smooth ride. His low back issues have been well-documented, dating back to 2006 at age 21. He continues to play in 2021 at an elite level, and his longevity and durability is tops amongst active players and currently 19th all-time in NBA history. In addition to playing in 18 regular seasons and counting, he has played in THREE AND A QUARTER, FULL 82 GAME SEASONS in the postseason alone, including 10 NBA Finals and 4 NBA championships. Incredible when you think about the amount of wear and tear accumulated over the years and his consistency in performing at the highest levels. By the way, this is coming from a diehard Warriors fan; Run TMC days for all you true blue and gold! There has been speculation that he spends $1.5 million on his body yearly to ensure his ability to maintain his freakish physical capabilities. Interestingly, out of that amount, he uses a simple tool (go Google: picture of Lebron James and lumbar roll) that is translatable to you and me, the regular person, non-NBA future Hall-of-Famer, to prevent, and promote the recovery of low back pain.

A Simple Task That is Often Forgotten

Low back pain can be debilitating, not only because of the discomfort but also because of its capability to negatively affect the nerves coming from the back. Nerves that have been irritated lead to a decrease in performance of your muscles in your hips and lower extremities which negatively affect your ability to perform your usual activities.

These activities can range from performing a snatch with a barbell, picking up a child, or transferring to and from your car. If we forget to perform a single straightforward task, the recovery process becomes slow, and low back pain prevention becomes less likely. A simple lumbar roll can promote an environment for your back so that your nerves can avoid irritation. If you think about how long we sit in a day, most of us 10-12 hours, the accumulation of stress on our bodies, like the sum of Lebron James’s years of playing basketball, can soon start to add up, leading the way to a back injury waiting to happen.

Does it Really Matter?

Now, let’s be clear, the research out there is very sparse and currently does not definitively show that changing the low back angle to be a more forward curve is going to be helpful for all of us with low back pain. There are other factors to consider as well: age, the diagnostic classification of your low back condition, and the activities that you do during the day, to name a few; items that your physical therapist can help you sort and modify. But if we find sitting unsupported to be irritating and a straight upright posture pain-relieving, then using a lumbar roll to promote a less rounded low back when sitting can help you avoid slow progression for your recovery from low back pain.

Taking Action With Prevention

A lumbar roll is not as sexy of a treatment option compared to passive spinal manipulations or soft tissue work; “massage.” However, there is no doubt that this self-treatment option is more practical, PROACTIVE, and arguably a more effective contributing solution for low back pain. Some naysayers say there is no perfect posture to help all low backs, and they would be correct. There is an irrefutable volume of evidence that ACTIVE movement of the spine is imperative for good back health; motion is lotion. However, suppose a directional preference (a beneficial position or movement) for a straight lumbar spine posture is determined to remove your low back pain. A lumbar roll will help maintain that directional preference by facilitating a straighter spine thereby, decreasing the frequency of mechanical (caused by movement) low back pain. That mechanism is achieved by not allowing you to go back and forth between the positive and the negative ranges for the Body Bank Account of your back.

Learn by Doing

Countless times a patient’s progress has been delayed by the failure to incorporate a roll to the back when sitting in the car, the office chair, or at the kitchen table. “It just didn’t seem that important at the time” is the usual response received. However, in my ten-plus years of practice, having postural awareness and knowing exactly where to place a lumbar roll has repeatedly shown its value in overcoming low back pain and staying well for hundreds of patients. We want to avoid the typical two steps forward and one step back narrative when healing from or preventing an injury.  The goal is not to have you go buy a specific product by informing individuals of the benefits of a lumbar roll. With a folded beach towel duct-taped on both ends, you can make a roll at home. The goal is to bring awareness of a simple, inexpensive tool, often overlooked, that can help you stay out or get out of rehab as quickly as possible.

Whether you are preventing or recovering from low back pain or surgery at age 25 or 65, this may be the most significant and most uncomplicated bang for your buck tool to own and implement. But don’t take it from me and don’t take it from a basketball player who uses it and has achieved the pinnacle of success in his chosen profession not once but four times. Try it out for yourself and if you need guidance, always feel free to reach out.  We will be here for you. If you’re ready now, schedule an appointment by clicking here!

To find out how to determine where to place your lumbar roll and what type to use check out our video:

Jeff Lum PT, MPT, OCS, Dip. MDT is a physical therapist and owner of Mobile Spine Specialist serving the North Austin Texas communities, including Cedar Park, Round Rock, Georgetown, Leander, and Pflugerville. You can learn more about how he helps individuals overcome pain and improve mobility. To make a connection, reach out to him.

Reference List

Amick, B.C., Robertson, M.M., DeRango, K., Bazzani, L., Moore, A., Rooney, T. and Harrist, R. 2003. Effect of office ergonomics intervention on reducing musculoskeletal symptoms. Spine. 28, 24 (2003), 2706–2711.

Steffens, D., Maher, C.G., Pereira, L.S.M., Stevens, M.L., Oliveira, V.C., Chapple, M., Teixeira-Salmela, L.F., Hancock, M.J., 2016. Prevention of Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med 176, 199.

Williams, M.M., Hawley, J.A., Mckenzie, R,A., van Wijmen, P.M., 1991. A comparison of the effects of two sitting postures on back and referred pain. Spine. 16, 1185-1191.

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About the Author

Jeff Lum

Jeff Lum

Physical therapist and owner of Mobile Spine Specialist serving the North Austin Texas Communities.

Find out more about how he helps individuals overcome pain and improve mobility:

Your Local Texas Physical Therapy Specialist

Serving the Central Texas Communities

  • Austin, TX
  • Cedar Park, TX
  • Pflugerville, TX
  • Leander, TX
  • Round Rock, TX
  • Georgetown, TX

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