Back problems in tree care


Well-Known Member
Louisville, KY
Back problems are common in the general population and the tree industry. I had similar issue a few years ago and started practicing yoga. In yoga you learn to lengthen the muscles that you typically contract, and contract the muscles you typically release. Usually tight hamstrings and a tight psoas compress the vertebrae in the lower spine. If you want to know whether you are tight in the lower spine, try squatting. If you cant squat comfortably, with both feet on the ground, you're tight in the hamstrings. Yoga has done wonders for my body, which has also greatly improved my general mood.

I can't encourage you enough to find a consistent yoga class. Hot yoga is great. 5 times a week is great. You'll literally be a different person in 6 months.


Well-Known Member
Huge fan of the thera-cane, too.
Mobility exercise cannot be beat, though. Yoga, somatics, tai chi, dynamic stretching, etc...
Keep as much functional range of motion as possible.
The body needs to be cared for in ways similar to equipment. Lube the joints, smooth out the rough spots, tighten things that get loose and loosen things that get too tight.


Active Member
Strasburg, Pa
I blew out my L5 a couple years after I got started in the industry.

I went for 1.5 with horrible sciatic pain, numbness, and limited movement.

Hours and and hours of just physical therapy, no relief.

Then someone turned me on to SPINAL DECOMPRESSION!!
I sounds like an infomercial but it really worked for me.

The science behind it is cool, its like traction but way better, people dumb it down to just calling it traction. Basically the spine needs oxygen to heal it does not have blood flow to the discs individually. The way to accomplish giving the spine oxygen is by a pumping motion. Its really slow and painless, I fell asleep everytime. I did this for almost a year with physical therapy and also chiropractic care. The pain is gone and I feel great. It does flare up because of sleeping patterns and lack of stretching. For some people it has worked but other not.

If you find a good chiropractor he should offer this! It took a long time and patience but way better than surgery that really doesn't solve the problem, surgery for a herniated disc has never made too much sense to me and most of the time the pain comes back!

I hope that helps and take it all with a grain of salt, I had so much pain and no what its like, I wish someone had told me sooner about it, but alas I learned a lot from it.

I hope you find relief in it and heal quickly!!


I too employ Somatics and have gotten great results with a herniated disc. Also, becoming way more mindful of my movements and how much and how I lift things. Merle what kind of saddle do you climb in and is it a result of trying different brands and finding that your current saddle also helps in managing your back issues? Thanks.


Well-Known Member
Eastern PA
I attribute most of my back problems to tree... buzz! ;)
Tree work is hard on your back, and then you go home and hunch over at a computer... I have to remind myself to sit up straight while I'm here. Seriously, good posture at the computer can help a lot. I know most issues are definitely related to tree work and lifting, but I just wanted to point that out!

Merle Nelson

Well-Known Member
SF Bay Area, CA
Actually John ..... most of the adult population of western society has back issues at some point in life (pointed out or eluded to by someone in an earlier post) and some high percentage of that group have chronic back issues. Yet...most of those people don't do tree work. Your first premiss hits pretty close to the mark.

Yet almost no kids have back issues - - possible clue there.

Merle Nelson

Well-Known Member
SF Bay Area, CA
Ctree saddle type was one of the things I had hoped would fix everything for me. Used the Sierra Moreno wide backed EucMan Saddle for years with suspenders, the BryDan, tried an Ergovation for similar reasons and just got the Monkey Beaver saddle on the way to me. And yes, purposely moved to wider back saddles and suspenders after more issues with narrow non-suspender models.

I would say saddles can help some but only personal invested effort can be the answer.

Some of the other things I thought would be a fix through the years included back braces etc. All may be good for temporary crutch in my opinion but, end up bringing about their own problems.

Merle Nelson

Well-Known Member
SF Bay Area, CA
KiLimbWalker, how much time do you spend on yoga each day or week?

I had a weekly Restorative Yoga class that my wife and I went to for about six years. That was always beneficial and enjoyable. However, once a week could never keep my muscles in check from doing what they want to do and are willing to work 24 hours a day seven days a week at doing.


Well-Known Member
Yoga has changed everything for me. Back bends and forward bends will help the most for lower back pains


New Member
A couple weeks ago I thought I pulled a back muscle so I took it easy and let the workers step up. After about 10 days my recovery plateaued and I scheduled a visit to the back doctor. If I have a herniated disc or something serious I have to look at both short and long term alterations to my work.

I'm putting this out here to see if any other tree guys in the moderate production racket have had this happen to them and how did they recoverer from it.
I am currently experiencing similar issues. I am 32 years old. For the past two months I have been unable to work due to injury. It all began with three weeks in a row of big removals, and lots of heavy lifting. I also am a big backcountry skier and have been since I was very young. I did a big ski mountaineering objective on my weekend even though my back was feeling a bit rough, thinking it would just loosen up as I moved around. Big mistake. The following day I could hardly get out of bed. I have severe sciatic nerve pain down my left side. It starts in my lower back and sends shooting pain down the back of my left leg into my foot.

I was told it could be Piriformis syndrome by my dr or it could be a herniated disc. X rays show that I have “severe disc narrowing in my L5-S1 (between my lowest vertebrae and my sacrum bone). This could indicate a herniated disc...In relation to the disc space narrowing I have “mild arthritis” in that L5-S1. X rays also showed I have femoracetubular impingement syndrome in my hips (basically the top of my femur has grown extra bone that is not allowing my top of my femur to articulate in the hip socket properly, which impacts my range of motion, could be contributing to the nerve pain, and left untreated could lead to arthritis in my hips).

I am getting and MRI coming up to determine if the nerve pain is due to a herniated disc or the piriformis syndrome or some combination of factors.

Prior to the injury, I have had lower back pain issues for 10+ years that comes and goes, but usually resolves on its own within a couple weeks.

this time improvement is SLOW and some days I wake up feeling worse than the day before...

I have been to the chiropractor 4 times, acupuncture three times, and started physical therapy...hoping I’ll start seeing improvement soon because being unable to work for two months and being out of any source of income is becoming financially challenging to say the least.

it’s hard to know what to do when I want to return to climbing and working with trees, but also not wanting to end up in a whee chair before I’m 40...

I have found acupuncture to help with managing the pain. Best of luck to you, I feel your pain! My device would be to start making calls to see your Dr and to get MRI ASAP. It’s hard to know the right path to recovery when you don’t even know what’s wrong with your body. It’s also been a painfully slow process to get in for and MRI and has required me to be quite persistent to get an appointment. The whole process is slow and frustrating. My dr didn’t even want to give me x rays at first thinking it was unnecessary, and that I was young and fit and would just get better quickly...I wish he had been correct. Sometimes I think folks just don’t know how hard tree work can be on your body..


Well-Known Member
I'm 210lbs and approaching my mid 60s. I had back surgery about 15 years ago for a herniated disk and sciatica in my leg and foot. Since then I have had lower back flare ups, usually taking a few days to run its course. They are few and far between, but they can be completely debilitating. I'm also dealing with arthritic joint pain on a pretty regular basis. I do find that general exercise, sports, especially climbing is excellent for working the core, and leg muscles, but I also now use an inversion table, sliding bench and a vertical climbing machine. Keeping fit comes easy for some production climbers, but for a rec climber like me, it requires an ongoing commitment.

I rarely take Ibuprofen unless things are somewhat unbearable, which is usually a pharmaceutical dose of 600 or 800 mg.
I'm able to overcome muscle and joint aches by taking MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane), or a generic Osteo Biflex like product containing MSM, sold over-the-counter. Its considered a dietary supplement, but it works for me when it comes to treating and healing damaged cartilage and achy joints. I only use it when needed, but when I do, it significantly reduces my recovery time. It takes a few days to build up in your system, when using just MSM, but products like Osteo Biflex have other ingredients to accelerate the benefits of MSM. In fact, MSM is often prescribed by vets for hip dysplasia. IMHO, this shit works!

I've since managed to avoid steroid injections in my spine and other draconian procedures, in favor of PT and less invasive drug therapies, but I've also learned how to operate within acceptable parameters and be mindful of my limits.
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Well-Known Member
Have had significant damage to back recently due polesaw use. Whilst nothing seems ‘out’ in spine etc muscle tears are significant. Have been put on two different magnesium supplements to assist recovery - which is happening, but feels slow - which may not be that slow considering the amount of damage...


Well-Known Member
I kind of skimmed through the comments but all I will say is chiropractor all the way. All of your health starts with a healthy spine. I’ve seen a chiropractor all my life and he has helped me through some bad injuries. Often times, disc problems happen from trauma, or the spine was already out of alignment and it was a slow approaching injury that you don’t feel until the real damage is done. A chiropractor can really help with this, as long as the subluxation isn’t irreversible. Go find one. It will change your life.


Well-Known Member
This routine has helped me a lot. Very much a yoga based approach, focuses on lower back stabilizers and loosening up hammies, QL, etc. I try and do it everyday. This may not help you recover from a new injury when inflammation is high but in combination with chiro you may find some progress in recovery and it goes a long way towards prevention. The routine was originally developed for Lance Armstrong after he suffered from chronic back pain.



Well-Known Member
Had a lot of bad experiences with Chiropractors, Had a bad experience with a fake Osteopath too. I think one needs be selective with getting help and find one with a reputation of competence and not one seeking a forever client.

I personally won’t go the Yoga path due the eternity consequences as is a Hindu religious practice.

Finding a decent Physio is hard enough as not many today want to do the massage component - I have even been warned about the issue by other Physio’s when I have been seeking help for an acute problem when their client lists were full.

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