A seemingly simple question strength athletes find themselves often wondering. Unfortunately the answer is rarely as straightforward you might hope. There are many exercise and lifestyle factors that can lead to back pain but in this post we’re going to address the most common causes, what you can do to ease the discomfort, and when you should seek professional medical help.
Our bodies rarely utilize muscles individually, they complete tasks as energy efficiently as possible which means using every muscle it conveniently can to complete a movement. Everyday activities, like sitting for long periods, encourage the body to continue to do what is easiest and most energy efficient. It’s this quest for efficiency that makes your hips and low back move as one unit, which explains why tight hips can lead to back pain. Using whatever muscles are easiest to complete the movement instead utilizing the proper ones can lead to weak hip flexors and extensors, and general hip tightness.
A well moving athlete should be able to squat, run, walk, and most other physical activities with the hips and low back working independently. However, as fatigue begins to occur, the body reverts back to efficiency and starts using whatever muscle is convenient again. This can overload the hips and bleed into lower back pain. Another frequent cause is a lacking range of motion through the hips as the lower back will compensate in place.
An easy way to help prevent this issue is through regular stretching, both dynamic and static. Before each workout, couch stretch with your knee on an ab mat and your shin against the wall. Keeping your hips level, lunge forward with the opposite knee and stay in that position for at least a minute per side. It is important to move with intent and remain active in your stretches.
Rolling out regularly can also help to release tight hips. Placing a lacrosse ball just on the inside of your hip bone, apply enough pressure to feel some discomfort but not enough to feel intense pain. Roll around that area, making sure to also reach the muscles where the hip and leg crease. The rolling should be enough to bring more attention and awareness to the area.
The thoracolumbar area refers to the thoracic and lumbar regions of your spine and the surrounding fascia and muscle tissue. Lack of thoracolumbar control is another common factor that leads to back pain. Essentially, lacking thoracolumbar control means that a person is unable to control flexion, extension, and rotation through the junction between their thoracic spine and lumbar spine (the thoracolumbar junction).
To break this down further, if people move poorly through the thoracic spine they require more lumbar movement to compensate. This leads to undue strain on the lower back. While this can be difficult to prevent or treat yourself, it is possible to remedy through corrective movement patterning from a trained coach.
“Keep your core tight,” says every athletic coach on the planet.
It’s almost certain you’re sick of hearing it, but it continuously needs to be said. Having weak, or unstable, core muscles will almost certainly lead to back injury. The best prevention for this is a strong, engaged core. A strong engaged core allows the spine to be stable enough for the limbs, like the shoulders and hips, to move more freely from a stable fix point. Having a strong core also means that having a strong awareness of your spine to ensure a equal distribution of tension.
Many weightlifting accessory movements can be helpful for abdominal strength, such as front squats and planks, but look to incorporate slow and controlled bird dogs. The slow and controlled movements bring about more awareness of when you begin to use your low back to compensate different ranges of motion. Start with a straight back in tabletop position and knees hip width apart. Raise the opposite leg and arm while keeping the core tight, a good rule of thumb is that you should have such a straight back that you could rest a cup of tea on it. If this is too difficult, feel free to just start with your arms, just your legs, or alternate between the two. Lowering the limbs slowly, repeat on the opposite side and perform this exercise in 10 repetitions for 3 sets.
Ultimately, when it comes to back pain it’s better to be safe than sorry. Seek professional advice if you are at all unsure of the cause of the pain, or if it worsens. Specifically if you experience any numbness, stabbing sensations, loss of movement, or limb numbness you need to seek immediate medical attention.
There is no reason to be in continuous pain or limit your quality of life and movement. Most back pain is treatable, it’s just a matter of identifying the correct root cause. If you have any further questions on the subject, the Dynamic team is always at hand to help.