Getting Low Back Pain After a Long Shoot? Here's Why and How You Can Fix It!

Getting Low Back Pain After a Long Shoot? Here's Why and How You Can Fix It!

Being a working photographer, and even as a weekend warrior, I'm sure we all suffer from low back pain after finishing a long day of shooting. This pain can last for days and sometimes weeks, and as photographers, if we can’t move, then we can’t work. So lucky for us, there is a simple solution.

Low back pain is reported to affect at least 80 percent of people at some point in our lives, and most people abide by the thought that these instances of back pain will go away on their own. The truth is that 62 percent of people that suffer from back pain will still experience pain 12 month down the line and this pain accounts for more than $90 billion dollars in health care expenses per year.

One of the main problems we face as photographers is that we live in a world of two extremes. We either sit in a chair all day behind a computer or we are on our feet all day behind the camera. The problem with this is that most people don't know how to do either in the most optimal way. In addition, sitting in general — even when done properly — leads to a host of compromises in that position.

When sitting in the recommended position, major joints are stuck around 90 degrees for extended periods of time.

First let's talk about sitting. Most of us have seen something similar to the image above and this is known to be the best sitting position. The problem with this is the amount of time we spend here. Our muscles and joints get locked down in these 90-degree angles which end up limiting us from fully closing or fully opening the joint. When we can’t fully open our hips, the only way we can fully stand up is to overextend at the low back. Below is a video that demonstrates this idea along with some mobilizations we can do while sitting:

Over the course of a day you may wake up and sit down for breakfast, then sit while you drive to work, sit while you work, sit while you drive home, sit for dinner, then you relax and sit down for some TV time. It’s easy to see the ratio of how much we sit to how much we stand, and our bodies are getting locked down in the position we spend the most time in. The key to this concept is that once we are done sitting, we need to try and reverse the damage we have caused from being in a compromised position for so long. Below is another video that walks through some basic fixes to try and reverse the effects that sitting can cause:

As photographers, not only do we spend time sitting behind the computer, we also deal with a lengthy amount of time on our feet. Not only does spending time on your feet have its own issues, but it may already be difficult, since we are going to be fighting the problems we caused from sitting. Now that we have an idea of how to address these issues, we need to address the proper way to stand. The following video shows some concepts about how to maintain stability in your trunk while relieving tension in the low back by applying external rotation in the hips:

Now that we have seen some of the problems we face from sitting and we have a better idea about how to stand, the next logical step is to move to a standing desk. More and more companies are incorporating the standing desk into their businesses along with entire school systems ditching the traditional desk. The below video walks through some more concepts about how to stand and how to incorporate this into a standing desk:

All of the above information is just some of the basics about the problems caused from sitting, how to fix them, and how to stand correctly. The last video I want to share with you is a longer presentation about these ideas from a talk given at Google headquarters. The video outlines additional ideas about how to move and sit correctly, as well as giving more movements you can do to fight the effects of sitting as you're sitting down.

What does everyone think? Have you experienced back pain after long days of sitting or long days of shooting? What are some other things that cause you pain after a long day? Give the stretches and concepts a try and let me know in the comments if they have helped you. You can also find a lot more information on mobility and movement from Mobility WOD.

[Statistics source: American Spinal]

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17 Comments

Jordan Schooler's picture

I wanted to thank you for posting this excellent overview of techniques for preventing back pain. Maintaining strength and flexibility is indeed critical for our health. However, as an ER doctor, I was surprised to see the statement that "62 percent of people that suffer from back pain will still experience pain 12 months [later]." The site you link to for this appears to promote some sort of surgery for back pain, and so I think they may be biased. The general consensus is still that most back pain does resolve within 4-6 weeks. See, for example: http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=736814

Jason Vinson's picture

Thanks Jordan! I'll look more into that stat and see what else there is. But the source I linked is actually promoting non surgical options. "The American Spinal Decompression Association brings together patients and leading specialists in Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression all across the country"

Jennifer Kelley's picture

Well it certainly feels different at 34 than it does when I was 17. I think the congenital skeletal problems, car accident, and triathlon training are much to blame lol.

I like to stand up to work at a computer. I slouch like a teenager when I sit down all day. In terms of shooting, I'm not sure there is a way to solve the problem. I carry my gear around like a pack mule and try to keep it as close to my body as possible so there isn't any pulling or major changes in my center of balance. This isn't ideal but I'm ditching my Canon gear to trade out with a mirrorless system. It is simply too heavy to lug around and hold for any length of time without causing my car accident injury to flare up.

Ralph Hightower's picture

And 60 feels different than 30!

james darden's picture

Kelly is the man. This dovetails nicely with the CrossFit article previously posted as Kelly Starrett has been involved with the CrossFit fitness movement for years. He owns a gym in San Francisco. His boook "Becoming a Supple Leopard" is full in mobility and myofascial movements. He consults for the military and several professional sports teams. I've been following and doing his mobility drills for several years. One of the problems we have stems from the constant sitting we do that results in very tight hip flexors. All the myofascial and mobility drills he illustrates often reverses the effects. There's a video done by an Apache helicopter pilot who started implementing Kelly's movements to counteract the effects of sitting in a cockpit and wearing the heavy helmet for hours at a time each day. It gets very uncomfortable after a few hours. Spending 15-20 minutes/day doing mobility drills helped to the point where he no longer felt discomfort at the end of the day. Also reducing the old waistline and strengthening your core so your pelvis isn't tilted forward which throws your low back out of alignment is one of the best things you can do. So all this can't hurt photographers who often find themselves getting in weird positions to get "the shot".

Jason Vinson's picture

yes!! Kelly is amazing, I wish I could share every one of his videos with people! lol And I know what video you are talking about too! Have you seen that he has 2.0 version of his Supple Leopard book coming out soon?

Christopher Nolan's picture

Squat more!

Jason Vinson's picture

strength training will definitely help, but it wont fix tight joints. All the above mobility stuff is actually very helpful for strength training and is the original intent of the videos.

Christopher Nolan's picture

very familiar with mobility routines, been around the world of it for a while, not too mention I have actually shot Kelly a couple of times., having said all that, anyone that does strength training, or any training at all, would be a fool to not be incorporating mobility into their work up, and post cool down phases.
Supple Leopard is a great book!

Jason Vinson's picture

agree 100%!! Im actually a crossfit and Olympic lifting coach on the side.

Anonymous's picture

Jason: Great article. Maybe a second article on upper back pain? That's where it normally hits me the most. Thanks!!

Jason Vinson's picture

That's definitely on my list of things to write about Mark!

Paulo Macedo's picture

Thank God at last the damn solution!! I get this pain every single time i carry my cameras for more than 5 hours.
Thank you sooooooo much for this article!!

Jason Vinson's picture

so glad its helpful to you!!!

Jeroen de Jong's picture

Allways had a bad back. Runs in the family.
Had my first hernia a couple of years a go. Got an operation but during the recovery allready felt something wasn't right. Had a new scan and discoverd a new hernia in the exact same spot.

Deceided not to operate. It cost me to much time and fuzzle. I can live my life with a few limitations and I have to keep that in mind. It's a problemm but not the end of the world.

Long days with standing a lot in the same place are hell so I try to avoid that. Take a small walk or lean on something.

What helped was a new camera strap. A shoulder strap like from Black Rapid saves me the heavy load on my neck. And when I have to walk around; a belt-system from Lowe-Pro. This was realy a change. All the weight was distributed on my hips and not on my back in a backpack or on my shoulder with a bag.

Swimming to strenghten my muscles also helps. But it takes time

Jason Vinson's picture

yes it really is amazing the difference it makes when you get the camera off your neck and onto a bigger muscle group like the shoulders! i went the same rout with the black rapid and now with the moneymaker from holdfast for double camera days.

Ralph Hightower's picture

This was different that what I had expected. I plan on following up.

For me, standing all day causes lower back pain as well legs with ribbons of pain. But as a photographer, I am now convinced that neck straps are a "Pain in the Neck". Just having my 5D Mk III with 24-105 f4L hanging around my neck for a few hours is torture.

I think shoulder harnesses are better with distributing the weight. I photographed a practice round of a PGA tournament, The Masters. I used the OP/Tech shoulder harness for the 5D Mk III with EF 100-400 f4.5-5.6L lens and a F-1N with FD 28mm f2.8; I removed the battery grip from the 5D and the motor drive from the F-1N to save weight. My wife and I walked the perimeter of Augusta National. I spent a lot of my time on my feet and it was brutal. But the next day, I wasn't in as bad a situation that I thought I would be in. The shoulder harness was definitely a "neck saver"!