Learn how to manage overwhelm if you have low back pain


back pain back rehab back relief back surgery lower back pain pain spondy spondylolisthesis stenosis May 07, 2022

If you've got back pain, OVERWHELM can be a significant barrier to your recovery.

M.V.A. is your ticket to ride.

I’ll explain what M.V.A. stands for in a sec, right after I tell you about Bob.


I recently saw Bob, who is eighty-six.

I'm always impressed by Bob; he’s active, mobile, in generally good health and he seems quite happy.

In recent years though, Bob’s balance has become more of a challenge, so he’s been seeing a physical therapist twice weekly.

I asked him how it's coming along and he admitted that he wishes he could go more because he can really feel the difference on the days that he doesn't see this therapist.

The conversation turned and soon Bob and I were discussing his plans to go away for the summer.

When I asked if he'd be doing his physical therapy while he travels to maintain his balance gains, he said, "No, when I go away for the summer, I don't do my exercises at all."

He knew as he was saying it that it sounded illogical so he laughed it off and called himself lazy.

But I know that there's more to it than that: Rehab exercises can be boring! And there's so many of them!


This was the perfect opportunity for an M.V.A. chat!

M.V.A. stands for Minimum Viable Amount.

There’s two ways to look at it:

  1. What is the minimum viable amount of movement practice that you need to do to keep from hurting? or
  2. What is the minimum viable amount of time that you need to put in to maintain wellness?


To demonstrate M.V.A with Bob, I shared my own process for determining my M.V.A. for my ankle maintenance this year...

As a youth soccer player, I sprained my right ankle more times than I can count.

As a young adult, I made the mistake of wearing high heeled sandals in the rain and boy did I wrench that same ankle! It was bad. But I never went to rehab for it and it's been more or less okay. Not great, but barely okay.


For the last few years though, I’ve been complaining about my ankle aching with annoying regularity (just ask my husband!).


Several times, I’ve started an ankle rehab program and then stopped days later.

Let me know if this sounds familiar: You start some kind of self-care program and when your thing started to feel a little better, you stop.

Have you ever done this??


Well I’ve done that over a dozen times with this freaking ankle.


Finally, at the start of 2022, I resolved that I would fix the damn ankle.

And yes, I know better than to label my injuries like that, but I still do it. This ankle has been a little sonofabitch for years!


So I set about on the first Monday of the year, to do 15 minutes of ankle rehab every day.

On day 3, eve I was surprised when my ankle felt significantly better.

By day 9, I thought i heard the angels sing as I declared, “I’m amazing! It's healed!"

By day 14, I thought, "Okay, I’m getting the hang of this, maybe I don’t need to spend so much time every single day on it."

SO (here's where it gets good)...I cut back from daily ankle rehab to three times per week. After a month, the old ankle was feeling pretty darn good!

So.... I cut it back to Mondays and Wednesdays 10-20 minutes. Still good! Woohoo.

Then I cut it back to just Mondays 10 minutes. But immediately I felt the old ache well up again.

Alas, just ten minutes, one day per week wasn‘t enough, so I upped my commitment to Monday and Wednesday ten minutes each session. That seems to work well.

Then I tried just doing ankle rehab on Mondays for twenty minutes - and that also seems to keep the ouchies at bay.


Do you see what I did there?

Just like you, I don’t want to spend all day every day on my ankle. I'd much rather spend my time doing more exciting fitness activities than just boring old ankle rehab exercises.

But I (we/you) need to figure out what the minimum viable amount of work needed to maintain pain-free movement functionality.

Said otherwise:

How little maintenance work can I get away with?


This Minimum Viable Amount equation will be different for everyone.

But the moral of the story is that if you want to live without pain, you’ve gotta invest the time.

If it’s too much time, it’s annoying.

If it’s not enough time, it’s not worth it.


Finding your M.V.A sweet spot will require an initial investment of time + a period of over-doing it + a moment of not-enough but eventually, if you resolve to be pain-free, finding your M.V.A. and which exercises to squeeze in to it, is well worth your time and effort.

Really, what's more important than getting yourself out of a state of constant discomfort??


If you’ve got some body aches and pains and you’d like me to coach you through the process of getting back to the moving how you love to move, get in touch and let's figure out your minimum viable amount!