Does your back hurt during or after exercise? Many individuals experience mild to severe back pain during or after physical activity. Exercise-induced back pain can occur due to over exercise or injury, but typically occurs due to improper form. It is frequently described as muscle aches, shooting pain, or a burning sensation.
Implementing these tips into to your exercise routine may help avoid back injuries, and prevent back pain.
To learn more about why you experience back pain during your workout HERE.
1. Avoiding Back Pain by Maintaining a Neutral Spine When Squatting or Bending Over (Hip Hinging)
How to achieve a neutral spine: To ensure you have a neutral spine, use a one-inch diameter, four-foot length PVC pipe or pole (a broom handle or yardstick works great). Place it behind your back vertically. The pole shoulder be centered between the buttock muscles and the shoulder blades making contact with the sacrum, middle back, and the back of the head. Then grab the pole with both hands. Place one hand in the small of your back and the other hand behind the neck. Practice your squatting and bending technique while holding the pole. With proper form, the pole should maintain its three points of contact – on the head, middle back, and sacrum. Your hands should remain in contact with your low back and neck.
For the entirety of the squat or hip hinge, maintain a neutral spine and avoid rounding your back (flexion or hyperextension of the spine) to prevent your spine from bearing too much weight and causing injury. Back flexion occurs when your spine bends forward from the waist. Back hyperextension occurs when your spine bends backwards from the waist.
Conclusion: It is highly encouraged that you achieve and maintain a neutral spine during the entirety of each exercise, especially when squatting or hip hinging. Maintaining a neutral spine cushions and protects the spine in addition to preventing injury and optimizing results.
To understand more about achieving a neutral spine HERE.
2. Avoid Back Pain by Squatting Correctly
Whether you are lifting weights at the gym or just lifting your laundry basket at home, it is important that you use proper form when squatting. Rising from a squat or sitting position improperly can easily cause injury.
Correct Squat Form: To initiate the squat, place your feet shoulder width apart. Gently elevate your chest and lightly draw your belly button in while engaging your core muscles. Begin to bend at your hips, knees, and ankles while you lower your buttocks down and back towards the ground. As you descend, take a breath in, keep your head up, and maintain a neutral spine (See Tip #1). Then, using your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles, pull your hips forward while extending your knees to return to the starting position. As you ascend, breathe out, keep your head up, and engage your core. To ensure a neutral spine, use a pole when performing the squat as explained in Tip #1.
Correct Sit to Stand Form: When getting out of the chair, it is important to first slide forward towards the edge of the chair. Bend your knees so your feet are directly under your knees. Then gently elevate your chest and draw your belly button in towards your spine to activate your deep core muscles. Then bend forward at your hips (not your waist) so your chin is over your toes. Breathe out as you rise from sit to stand, pull your hips forward, and straighten your knees. All motion should occur at your hips, knees, and ankle, and not in the low back.
Conclusion: Learning to squat properly benefits your entire body in addition to preventing injury and avoiding pain. When you squat, your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and other leg muscles work together simultaneously. It strengthens the muscles you use daily when walking or climbing stairs, and helps improve stability, balance, and overall function.
3. Avoid Back Pain by Bending (Hip Hinging) Correctly
For simple activities at home such a brushing your teeth or doing dishes, and more advanced activities at the gym like bent over rows and hang cleans, learning how to properly bend at the hip will help to avoid pain and injury. When done correctly, your hips, hamstrings, and glutes should bear most of the weight without putting stress on your back.
Correct Hip Hinge Form: To perform the hip-hinge, stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart and lightly bend the knees. Shift your weight to your heels and push your hips backwards. Begin to lower your torso until it is midway between vertical and parallel to the floor. When lowering your torso, maintain a neutral spine by only bending at the hips to avoid rounding or hyperextending your back (See Tips #1). Reverse the movement by engaging your glutes and pushing your hips forward until you have returned to the upright, starting position. To ensure a neutral spine, you may use a pole when performing the hip hinge as explained in Tip #1.
If you have difficulty maintaining contact with the pole when standing, you can attempt the same hip hinge exercise in a tall kneeling position or quadruped position.
Modification 1 – Tall Kneeling: Begin in a tall kneeling position holding the pole as described above. To initiate the movement, lower your buttocks down and back to your heels. Let your torso and shoulders lean forward in order to maintain the three points of contact. Keep your torso upright. You should primarily be moving at the knees and limiting motion at the hips.
Modification 2 – Quadruped: Start in a quadruped position with your shoulders over your hands and your hips over your knees. Lower your buttocks down and back towards your heels. Maintain a neutral spine throughout and ensure all motion is occurring at the hips and knees.
Conclusion: Bending (Hip Hinging) is an essential movement in the gym and at home. Performing it correctly prevents injury and back pain and reduces the wear and tear of your back. This exercise builds strong glutes and hamstrings to promote good posture, stability, and balance.
4. Avoid Back Pain by Strengthening Your Core Muscles
Engaging and strengthening your core muscles is an overlooked detail of building a strong, stable back. Without a strong core, the bones and ligaments bear more weight than tolerated resulting in pain or injury. When you have a strong core, it takes weight off of the bones and ligaments and distributes it throughout the core.
The core not only includes your abdominals, but it also includes the muscles on the front, sides, and back of your abdomen. They surround your spine and provide stability, strength, and balance when performing any exercise.
Perform the following exercises to strengthen your core:
Place your forearms on the floor with elbows aligned below the shoulders. Your arms should be shoulder width apart and parallel to your body. Ground your toes into the floor and squeeze your glutes (butt). Keep your neck and back in a neutral position (straight). Engage and squeeze your core. Hold the plank for 30 seconds for beginner, 45 seconds for intermediate, and 60 seconds for advanced.
Kneel with your knees hip-width apart and place your hands shoulder-width apart. Engage your core the entire time. Simultaneously, lift one arm straight in front and the opposite leg straight back from you. The extended arm and leg should create one straight line while your hips stay square to the ground. Hold the extended arm and leg for a few seconds and then return them to the ground. Repeat with the other arm and leg. Complete 10 times each arm and leg.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Your arms should lay by your side palms down. Engage your core. Using your hamstrings and glutes, push through your heels to lift your buttocks and back until you have created a straight line from your knees to mid-back. Hold and then slowly lower back to starting position. Complete 15 reps.
To get into the starting position, lie on your back with your arms extended straight over your shoulders. Bend at the hips and bring your feet off the ground. Your torso and thighs, and thighs and shins should both form a right angle. Engage your core. Keeping your right arm and left leg still. Then lower your left arm over your head towards the floor, and lower and extend your leg out towards the floor. Reverse this motion slowly and repeat on the other leg and arm. Complete 10 reps each arm and leg.
Lie face down on the floor with your legs straight and arms extended straight in front of you. Raise both arms and both legs at the same time so they are about 3-5 inches off the ground. Hold this position and then return your arms and legs to the ground. You should feel this exercise throughout your back, glutes, and hamstrings. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 3 times.
Conclusion: Your core muscles are vital to the protection and stability of your back and spine. Strong core muscles aid in injury and pain prevention. In addition to this, strong core muscles provide a strong foundation for daily activities like walking, sitting, and climbing the stairs.
5. Stretch to Relieve and Prevent Low Back Pain
It is important to stretch your hamstring muscles because it may relieve low back pain and help prevent injury by decreasing pressure on your joints and muscles. Hamstring stretches may also relieve leg pain associated with lower back pain like sciatica.
Consult Your Physician: It is important to note that not all stretches provide relief for back pain. Talk to your physician or physical therapist to find out which stretches are suitable for you.
Click here for 5 Stretches to Help Relieve Lower Back Pain:
Conclusion: Regular stretching of the muscles, tendon, and ligaments of your legs can be effective in treating mild back pain. Hamstring stretches may reduce built up tension in the muscles that support the spine, and can increase range of motion and mobility.
Learn more about why a strong core may help reduce low back pain HERE.
Our Spine Therapy Specialists
Sean Magee and Ryan Otto are spine therapists at Orthopedic Institute. They are certified in Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy from the McKenzie Institute. They have years of experience working with patients struggling with back and neck pain.
Learn more about Sean Magee and Ryan Otto: https://orthopedicinstitutesf.com/physical-therapists/
The McKenzie Institute is recognized as a worldwide provider of education, training, and support of the McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy that effectively treats patients with back and neck disorders.
Read more about The McKenzie Institute HERE.
Experiencing Ongoing Back Pain? Make an Appointment with Orthopedic Institute.
If implementing these 5 tips into your exercise routine does not alleviate your back pain, make an appointment with Orthopedic institute and receive a personalized care plan for your pain or injury.