One of the most common ailments encountered by weekend and tournament bass anglers is back and neck pain. Think about how many top bass fishing professionals you have heard about who undergo back or neck surgery due to chronic pain. Denny Brauer and Byron Velvick come to mind right away, but there are many more. Riding in a boat, especially on rough water, can cause repetitive trauma to your back. Even the long drives to and from the lake, sleeping in cars, tents or on couches all contribute to stress on the back. Think about it, every time you hit a wave, turn sharp or make a long run the force goes straight to the back. Then, you get to your fishing spot and repetitively twist and turn to get casting angles, fight and land fish. This being the first installment of the article is focused on getting your spine ready for the upcoming season.
First of all, many of us that enjoy the outdoors tend to carry a few extra pounds. Late nights, poor dietary habits, and odd meal schedules contribute during travel, pre-fishing and during tournaments. In the next couple months try to establish good dietary habits. Limit “junk “ food and learn to count caloric intake. A great way to start is to keep a food diary for 3-4 days. Eat what you normally would, then find an app or website (there are many available) that you can input your intake and just see where you stand currently. Next look at what you took in, and see where you can easily cut calories. Try to cut out simple sugars and fats, but don’t skimp on protein as it helps with muscle development, repair and maintenance. For every 3500 calories you cut out you will lose one pound. Two regular 12 ounce sodas/pops/cokes or whatever you call them in your area is roughly 350 calories so if you cut 2 per day you will lose 1 pound every 10 days if you did nothing else. A great way to reduce intake is by drinking 20+ ounces of water prior to meals. It not only will help body hydration (coming soon will be more in-depth discussion of hydration) but will fool your stomach into feeling full. You can eat the same meal just won’t need that second serving. Set reasonable goals and plans you will be able to follow long term to improve your chance at success. All calories burned follow the same 3500 calories per pound, so regular aerobic exercise should be added. Start slow and gradually increase your effort and time at whatever you choose.
Part of your back preparation program should include exercise. Bass fishing, especially tournament bass fishing is a strenuous activity. Those who don’t fish may laugh at this comment, but most of them have never spent 12+ hours in a boat pre-fishing. Exercise also can help relieve the mental stress we go through as we prepare for the next big event. Assuming good overall health, start now to get better prepared for when tournaments are in full force. You don’t need to sell your best pre-Rapala wiggle warts to join a gym. Walking, biking, jumping jacks are a good place to start, and with spring cleaning garage sales an exercise bike should be an easy find. Put it in front of your tv and watch all those fishing dvds you have stocked away. Build up slowly, and if you have unusual discomfort, dizziness, seek medical care. Start slow, 5-8 minutes of lighter activity and gradually build up. It does you no good to get sore and then take days off (which in my experience quickly turns to months, then years). In addition, some “core exercises” such as sit ups, crunches, burpees, push-ups, and “wall sits” or lunges can be done in the comfort of home and help to strengthen your core muscles.
As part of your exercise program, perhaps the most important part is stretching. Most of us participated in sports or at least P.E. in our younger days and know some basic stretches, and with the internet there are plenty of reputable sources showing pictures or videos of stretching exercises. You should include all body parts as you stretch- neck, shoulders, arms, legs, but especially the back. Toe touches, back bends forward and to the side are basic stretches that will help. Remember neck rolls, stretching in all directions, and pushing your head against the resistance of your hand for 8-10 seconds at a time. Don’t bounce, take it slow and easy, but 5-10 minutes 2-3 times daily and you will see range of motion improve. Also, remember it is better to stretch a warm muscle. Light stretching in the morning and before exercise, and then stretch during or after exercise when the muscles are warm will help. If you already have pain, see your doctor and ask about a referral to physical therapy for instruction on proper technique. Take what they teach you home and DO THEM!!
Along with the above, there are obviously other things that can be helpful for aches and pains. Tylenol, Motrin and Aleve are otc medications that can be used. Motrin (Ibuprofen, Advil) and Aleve are NSAIDS- they can help with inflammation but if you have abdominal pain or change in urine or bowels seek medical care. Massage can help, as can care by a reputable chiropractor, even acupuncture or acupressure might help some of you.
Finally, your ergonomics are important. How you sleep, sit and stand play a big role. Newer boat seats with “shock absorbers” can help, as can sleeping flat. While sitting or driving, remember what grandma said and keep your back straight. All of these can help you avoid short term pain and long term problems from your back and neck.
Thanks for reading, good fishing, and please let me know if there are other issues you would like to see addressed in future columns.