Low back pain is one of the most common physical setbacks in America. In fact, studies show that more people have low back disc problems than not --- it's simply a matter of if you are showing symptoms.
Do you "throw your back out" a couple times per year? That's not normal.
Do you have "tight hamstrings?" That's not normal.
Do you avoid bending over to pick things up from the ground? Again, not normal.
The truth is, we work with people at Elevate daily who experience back pain or discomfort. Some of them nearly gave up on exercise before seeing us. Many of them have been able to move forward, get stronger and avoid the recurrence of that pain.
We want to share some of our insight with you on how to possibly improve your low back pain situation so that you can get back to life and fitness!
[More of an audio learner? Check out our episode of The Elevated Life podcast about low back pain!]
Assess, Don't Guess
Not only have our coaches worked with hundreds of people over the years, but we would venture to say our collective knowledge of joint health and mobility exceeds that of your average trainer (because we've invested greatly in educating ourselves).
In addition to our study and practice of targeted mobility work, Elevate has also worked with Active Life to dive deeper into assessments and corrective protocols that help people get out of pain.
This is why having a thorough assessment is critical. If Elevate isn't an option for you, find a knowledgable coach or practitioner who knows about movement and mobility. An assessment will let us know how your joints are functioning NOW so we can create a plan to improving them in the future.
There could be a number of issues contributing to your low back pain.
Know the factors contributing to your pain
Have you been guilty of blaming your "tight hamstrings" for your low back pain? Muscle tightness is a symptom, not a cause. I want you to start thinking differently about how your body works and why things are hurting or tight (so to speak).
Why would a muscle be tight? Well, one reason could be that your body is going into protection mode. It's stopping you from going through certain ranges of motion because something else is wrong.
Anecdotally, a common finding in our assessments of back pain is that the individuals' hips and or spine don't move optimally...or even normally...whatever normal is. Think about it this way --- if your hips don't move in the full range of motion that they should, your body asks your low back (the nearest group of joints) to do things that it shouldn't do. To quote a friend, "Your spine makes a terrible hip." I'd have to agree.
An assessment will tell us which joints need work, which allows you to create a plan of attack to shore up those deficits and relieve the stress on other joints that are forced to do extra work.
Keep working, just modify
Injuries suck. Plain and simple. BUT, injuries can also teach you a lot about your body. If it's possible for you to keep moving through an injury, we find the blood flow and activity can be really helpful.
Unfortunately a lot of practitioners will just tell you to stop doing anything physical if your back hurts. Of course, you need to consult your medical professional about your specific condition. Once the pain subsides, there are plenty of things you can do to build up strength and avoid pain.
Our favorite modifications for strength training and exercise to avoid recurrence of back pain are as follows:
Unilateral exercises - switching from traditional squats to single leg squatting variations will allow you to keep your torso upright and reduce sheer force on your spine. So think of things like split squats (there are tons of variations), single leg deadlift variations, step-ups, etc.
Limit your range of motion - avoid end ranges of motion in movements that cause any hint of pain. For example, perform deadlifts from a raised platform rather than working from the ground. Test out ranges that feel perfectly fine and slowly add more.
Go isometric - isometric holds are static; think of things like planks, wall sits, anything where you are holding a challenging position. This allows you to focus on specific positions while building strength.
Listen to your body, it knows stuff
Seriously though, you'll need to learn the signals that warn you about pain coming on. When you warm up and move around, your body will feel better and start to shut down some of those pain signals. That doesn't mean you aren't potentially doing damage.
Don't "work through" pain or discomfort. Instead, use it as a warning and make a modification or stop for the day. With back pain, you often don't know how a workout affected you until a day or two later. Proceed slowly and with caution so that you can learn from these signals.
At Elevate, we're all about empowering you to live a healthy and active life for the long term. For some of our members, that means just taking things a little slower. For others, it means working one-on-one with a coach or receiving customized workouts to get out of pain. Contact us to start with a free assessment and move forward with your fitness!