Back Pain and Foam Rolling

I often talk to people with some form of back pain, ranging from a little stiffness, an injury sustained at work or whilst performing exercise or to a chronic condition that they were born with. Back pain is a very debilitating pain to have and can make a persons life a misery.

The Office for National Statistics say that 131 million days were lost to due to sickness absences in the UK in 2013, equivalent to 4.4 days per worker. The main cause for working days lost in 2013 was musculoskeletal conditions (such as back and neck pain), leading to 31 million days lost. The next most important cause was minor illnesses such as coughs and colds (27 million days lost), followed by stress, anxiety or depression, at 15 million days lost.

So just from looking at those figures alone, back pain is clearly a huge problem!

I myself have a back “made of glass” as I like to describe it. If you go to and read about how I got into this healthy lifestyle you will see that one of the “catalysts” to my change was actually the result of a back problem.

The reason I am writing this post is because I want to highlight to you how there are ways to relieve back pain other than the “normal” procedure of going to the doctors, chugging a load of pain killers and taking time off work whilst you wait 6 weeks for your physio date to come through the post.

Now before I get into this, I must stress that I am not a doctor, an osteopath, a chiropractor or a back specialist in any kind of way, I’m just an expert in MY back. If you have a back problem or a fresh injury and are in any kind of pain then go to a doctor or better yet an Osteopath or Sports Therapist. I’m just going to give some tips on what has helped MY back issue, as you can see from the image below, there are so many muscles, nerves and joints in the back that there can be many kind of back issues.


In February 2015 I spent 10 days traveling around Egypt with a friend, we started off in Cairo and then made our way down the Nile to Aswan, little bit north to Luxor and then had to catch a 11 hour train journey in a “3rd class smokers carriage” back to Cairo for our plane home. For 11 hours I was sat on the floor of this giant ashtray, behind a metal door that kept on swinging open and crashing back on its self with my legs crossed, reading a book with my headphones on trying to keep mentally sane. I look back at that journey now and laugh, those 10 days were the best of my life.

Needless to say, by the end of that train journey my back was feeling a little “off”. When I was back in the UK, 3 days after being home my back really went downhill and one night while I was at work my lower right back/buttock really started to give me immense pain. The next day I booked myself into the doctors and my Chiropractor for the same day. The doctor examined me for 10 seconds by pressing his thumbs into my spine and asking me if it hurt, “no” was my reply. He came to the conclusion that I had a herniated disc and that I should take a week off and if its no better then I should go back and see him. The Chiropractor disagreed with the doctor and said its definately not disc and said that it was my Sacroiliac Joint that had been thrown out by the sitting crossed legged on the floor of the rocking train for 11 hours.


I started having treatment with the Chiropractor for a couple of weeks, but unlike all those years ago when he sorted my last back injury, this time, for some reason I wasn’t getting any better, he would use his big massage machine on my upper and lower back but he wasn’t getting right down deep into where the main part of the pain was coming from. So I went home and decided to do more research and decided to try a Osteopath/Sports Therapist that is situated in the gym that I go to. He agreed with the Chiropractor that indeed it was my SI joint that was out but he also noticed that I had incredibly tight calves, hamstrings and piriformis muscles. So he got me to lay on my front and then he stuck his elbow in my buttock and put his weight on my piriformis muscle and did a rubbing motion…I nearly hit the roof in pain but at the same time I said “YES! THAT’S WHERE IT HURTS”.  I walked out of there not cured but feeling much better and relieved that I had got to the “bottom” (sorry!) of what this injury was. He told me to come back and see him in a week and he gave me exercises to do and told me to do foam rolling and to get a hockey ball to replicate his elbow in massaging the piriformis, calves and hamstrings as they were all tight and that the piriformis was pressing on the Sciatic nerve and that that was what was causing my SI joint to dysfunction. The sciatic nerve runs either under or through the piriformis depending on the person

I continued to have treatment with him for about 3 months and then I decided that I was feeling ok again and stopped having treatment.

All was well until January 2106 when, at my own fault, I attempted to lift something at work that was too heavy and tried to lift it incorrectly, this resulted in a slipped disc and me having to have 2 weeks off work whilst being back at the Therapist again. This was an easier injury to treat than the SI joint but again it was mostly down to the same issues, tight leg muscles and piriformis. So I was back on my foam roller and dog ball, doing my stretches and yoga that helps massively.

I think that when I stopped having treatment with him, I kind of got complacent and didn’t carry with the foam rolling, stretching and exercises as much as I should have. So this time we have agreed that we will give it a lot more time before I stop seeing him. I am feeling much better now and am even doing the National 3 peaks challenge in July.


What I have found with back pain is that one of the worst things you can do is stop moving and just lie in bed, yes if you are in extreme pain because the back is going into spasm then of course rest and wait for the inflammation to go down, take some painkillers if you have to (I only took 2 tablets through both injuries and they didn’t do a thing). Go down the gym and start strengthening your muscles, all over the body! Weight training will help you strengthen and maybe tighten some muscles that need tightening.

As I have mentioned, Foam rolling and some kind of small hard ball (tennis ball, hockey ball, golf ball or in my case a rubber dog ball) will help you massage the tight muscles and will give you some pain relief. Check out youtube for some good foam rolling workouts. The picture below is of my 2 foam rollers and my rubber dog ball. The 2 foam rollers are different from each other in the sense that the red one “The GRID X” is basically solid rubber and  it hits deep into the tissue, this one as well as the dog ball are great for getting down to the Piriformis muscle because, unlike the leg muscles, the pirformis has no bone underneath it that you can use to “squash” the muscle against with the foam roller so you need something to be more “pinpoint” to get deep. The green roller is much softer and is good to use for a all round massage on the rest of the body where there is bone.


Stop spending so much time on your butt! Since these injuries I spend much less time sitting down, sitting for long periods in front of the TV weakens the abdominal muscles that help to keep a good posture and will make muscles tighten.  I’m writing this blog stood at my laptop that is on a stand up desk, I threw away the chair in my bedroom and even raised my TV as high as possible so when watching it I can be stood up.


Yoga is a nice, relaxing way to strengthen your core, I try to do my own little routine once or twice a day, there are loads of cheap yoga classes around, tonnes of videos on YouTube or you could buy a book and teach yourself.

As far as nutrition goes, this is a tough one and its a reason why I hate injury so much because unlike an illness, I find it hard to treat as a juice poured on my back won’t do a damn thing. However, after doing some research I have found that pineapple juice, ginger, turmeric, high doses of Vitamin C are great for anti inflammatory uses. I used high dose Vit C as my pain relief in place of ibuprofen or paracetamol, that’s the way I do it, I’m not telling you to do that, go see your doctor! lol. Magnesium is also very important for relaxing muscles.

Epsom salt baths are good way of getting magnesium, they help muscles unwind but be careful with having a very hot bath if you already have inflammation that you are trying to reduce as cold will have a better effect so ice packs applied to the inflamed area is a better idea.

Whew! I think I have covered everything I wanted to say, this has probably been the hardest blog I have ever written because it’s a bit complicated and as I said above, I’m no expert in this but I just wanted to try to maybe get you thinking a bit differently about ways you can treat back pain. When I was suffering with the SI joint, everything I read on a NHS site said that there would be no cure and that in the end I would need fusion of the joint! Now I love our NHS, it truly is an amazing thing to be lucky enough to have in this country, but never be afraid to try different approaches, just do your own research!

Hope you have found this interesting or helpfull, I may add to this in the future.


Take care

The Mad Juicer

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