Lower back pain is definitely one of the more common things I see in clinic. Often a big part of resolving lower back pain is figuring out what things in peoples' day to day lives are aggravating and maintaining their pain. Now of course everyone is different and there is no one size fits all solution.. we don't all have the same body, we don't all do the same things with our body, we don't all have back pain in the same place and even the way we experience pain is unique. However, there are some things we can pay attention to during training that help us to reduce further strain on the lower back, so that you feel good from working out rather than finishing a session with a familiar burn at the base of your spine. So here's my top five things to watch out for in training to help minimise lower back pain - enjoy!
1) THE BUM TUCK - beware of the bum tuckers, the butt grippers, the duck footed among us. Many of us are incredibly tight in the backs of our hips, muscles like piriformis and our deep lateral hip rotators working super hard all day long when we're walking, sitting and you guessed it, squatting. When you're tight here you can struggle to relax these deep muscles whenever you move into hip flexion (think forward folds, seated forward bends, squats, deadlifts). This means that you can find it difficult to really sit back into those hips. Often to compensate, we flex more through our lower back which can lead over time to it taking the strain with exercises you're doing in the gym. Do you tuck the bum under at the bottom part of a squat? Lower back pain after deadlifts? Rounded lower back when you go to stretch your hamstrings? This could be part of your issue. Loosen up with some pigeon style stretches (below) or a simple thread the needle stretch on your back.
2) THE LAZY ABS - is your lower back pinching when you do pilates style exercises like leg lifts on your back or planks? Core exercises are amazing, when done correctly, however if you experience pinching its typically because the abs have lost the control in the exercise so the lower back is arching and taking the strain! Drop back the difficulty dial of the exercise e.g. try the exercise with bent knees instead of straight legs, or start with a plank on your knees first to get the hang of the exercise and build up strength slowly. No point racing to the the most difficult exercise if you're using all the wrong muscles because the abs gave up in the first two reps. Build the strength up slowly, only when you can do it consistently without back pinching can you then progress.
3) SLEEPY GLUTES - now I bang on about this one a lot and for good reason. Glute strength/ hip stability is essential for controlled movement in basically any exercise that involves your lower body. Weak glutes can lead to many things such as knee pain, hamstring problems and ta-daaaaaa... back pain. Lazy glutes can again lead to the lower back taking too much strain in exercises, so watch out for things like the hip dropping when you're in single leg stance, or that knee creeping inwards with lunges, squats and all their variations. Try some glute activation exercises like hip thrusts and monster walks before you start your gym sesh!
4) STIFF-BACK-ITIS - the curse of 21st century living. Ok so stiff-back-itis isn't really a thing, but overall spinal mobility is very important. When we're sitting all day hunched over a computer or staring at our phones, it does mean we spend a lot of our time in one position - think of that typical bad posture position, rounded mid back and shoulders. Now of course 12 hours of bad posture does not get rectified with one hour in the gym (unfortunately), so when we go to train and we ask our body to move in ways it hasn't all day, it's going to struggle and find ways to cheat/ compensate.
A stiff immobile upper back (thoracics) can lead us to take more load through the lower back - think of the spine as one continuous structure, if part of it doesn't move very well/ isn't pulling its weight then to achieve the same movement another part must do more to compensate. How do we resolve this? Hop on the foam roller and work through the mid/ upper back, get it moving by doing some rotational exercises on all fours - GET MOVING. You'll not only help your lower back, but your shoulders and neck too.
5) LACK OF VARIETY - now this one is a more general point and it applies to all sorts of training and is important for avoiding all sorts of injuries, not just to the lower back. Our body moves in different planes of motion - front to back, side to side and rotational movements, but many sports are quite dominant in one plane e.g. running is very dominant in the sagittal (front to back) plane. It's important when you train to not only be doing the same thing all the time e.g. be sure to incorporate into your training exercises that challenge your movement and strength in all planes, to keep functionally strong and balanced.
If you're struggling with chronic or acute lower back pain, it is important to get your pain properly diagnosed. If you would like to book an osteopathy appointment with me at the Balanced Osteopathy clinic in Farringdon EC1, just click here.