Lower back pain is an overview term used to describe the pain you feel in the lumbar, or the lower portion of your spine. This type of back pain affects about 80 percent of adults and is the number one cause of job-related disability. Further, research shows nearly 10 percent of the population worldwide deals with back pain.
When experiencing back pain, you may be wondering if lower back pain while exercising is a good combination. Having an exercise routine is usually good for back pain, as long as you’re doing it correctly. Exercising with back pain is encouraged since it helps boost flexibility and strength, supports the back and promotes healing. However, you can make some common exercise mistakes that will make back pain worse.
To ensure you protect your back and benefit from your workout routine, always consult with your spine specialist first before you start or continue an exercise program when dealing with a back injury. They can go over the causes of lower back pain after exercise. In the meantime, here are eight exercise mistakes that cause back pain, along with tips to prevent lower back pain when exercising and what exercises to avoid with lower back pain.
Eight Common Exercise Mistakes That Cause Lower Back Pain
Can exercise cause lower back pain? In some of these cases, individuals caused their back pain by making exercise mistakes. If you’re asking yourself, “why does my back hurt when I exercise?” you could be making some common mistakes, such as the following eight.
1. Not Knowing Your Pain Triggers
If you’re experiencing lower back pain, the last thing you’ll want to do is go to the gym or start an intense exercise program and begin moving around with the mindset of “any exercise is great for me.” This is not a good plan. A better plan is to begin understanding what your pain triggers are.
Start a “pain trigger list” or write in a “pain journal.” Write down how your back feels before, during and after working out. By making a habit of logging your pain levels, you can begin understanding which exercises are triggering your pain. When you know this, you’ll be able to plan a workout around your pain triggers, providing you with relief and avoiding back pain altogether.
2. Not Warming up Before Your Workout
Not warming up before your exercise can not only worsen your back pain, but it may even cause new injuries. When muscles remain dormant or aren’t warmed up properly, they can become stiff and inflexible, which causes them to strain and tear when exposed to sudden, great exertion. Before you perform any exercise, always start with some low-impact, gentle warm-up exercises.
3. Not Stretching Adequately or at All Before Working Out
You can relieve back pain by strengthening your core muscles, but it’s not enough. You’ll want to do some full-body stretching since tight muscles can cause back pain. Pay particular attention to your hamstrings and hips. After each workout, take 10 minutes and stretch. Avoid static stretches at the start of your workout since they can impede your performance.
4. Beginning With Heavy Weights
Many injuries happen at the gym because the person lifted weights that were too heavy. While you should challenge your body’s performance, you’ll want to take small steps by starting with lighter weights and adding more weight gradually as you start mastering the exercise, especially if you’re a beginner.
5. Using Improper Form
A leading cause of back pain in the gym is poor form. Curving the back while you lift weights is the most common mistake. Overarching your back can also cause injury. Always keep your back straight or in its neutral position when you lift weights or heavy objects. When performing push-ups or planks, avoid sinking your hips.
6. Not Exercising Enough
When you move more, you don’t ache as much. Although most people aim to stay fit, a fundamental cause of lower back pain is lack of exercise, with weak core strength being the main culprit. According to a University of Sydney study, exercise combined with education decreases the risk of a lower back pain episode over the next year by 45 percent. Out of all ways of preventing back pain, exercise is the one with evidence supporting it.
7. Not Stretching After Your Workout
Always do some stretching after a workout. Stretching after you exercise can help prevent muscle fatigue and soreness from a lactic acid buildup in the muscles. Not to mention, stretching post-workout is less likely to aggravate or cause injuries since the muscles are pliable already.
8. Exposing Yourself to Repetitive Stresses
A lot of physical injuries don’t happen all of a sudden, but instead, over time are caused by performing the same motions repetitively. A good example is tennis elbow. If you perform the same exercises over and over, in the same way every time, or if you’re only focusing on one muscle group and not the others, you’re creating an imbalance that could lead to gradual inflammation and tearing.
Instead, develop a balanced exercise plan that changes your movements up from time to time and allows you to work for various muscle groups.
How to Prevent Lower Back Pain When Working Out
Lower back pain during a workout is common when you have a back injury, but it is possible to prevent lower back pain when exercising. Here are six suggestions to do just that.
1. Avoid Motions That Cause Pain
If you’re performing an exercise and your back starts hurting, stop performing that exercise. Jot it down on your list of “pain triggers” and avoid that exercise from now on.
Experiencing any pain while working out is a sign you should stop whatever it is you’re doing and rethink your plan. Your goal is to always be in a pain-free zone. If you leave that zone, it means you’re doing something that is causing you pain, even if you don’t have a back injury. If it doesn’t feel good or causes discomfort, stop doing it.
2. Set a Clear Exercise Routine
Once your back injury is to the point where you can work it out a bit harder, set the intention for the type of exercise you should do.
For instance, assess your pain level and decide if you can stick with the usual activity or if you’d be better off scaling it down a bit by performing an easier activity — for example, you may choose aquatic exercises or light stretching over running or lifting weights.
3. Strengthen or Train Your Lower Back Muscles
Your Lumbar region is located around the lower half of your torso and contains your lower back muscles and abdominal muscles. This region carries most of your bodyweight. It’s because of this that lower back pain is very common and why lower back muscle strengthening is important.
Injury prevention is the most obvious advantage of lower back strengthening. Lower back pain can occur from a sedentary lifestyle, bad posture or an active lifestyle. Gym, work and sports can also lead to lower back pain when the muscles are underdeveloped.
Even easy exercises like hiking, running or a basic ab routine can lead to pain in the lower back — ignoring the lower back while over developing the abs can cause injury. When you strengthen your lower back, it can help improve sport and gym performance.
4. Start Slow
After a back injury, your first workout should begin with gentle stretches to improve the flow of blood to your muscles, loosening and warming them up. Then, you can proceed to strength and range-of-motion training. If your pain doesn’t come back, you can gradually work up to performing low-impact, moderate aerobic exercises like walking long distances or swimming. Avoid high-impact activities like football or running until your injury has healed completely — and even then, start slow.
Before you return to a full-scale workout routine, you should consult with your doctor. However, you will see certain signs when your back is ready for you to get back to the gym. These are:
The absence of inflammation and pain in the injured area
A restored full range-of-motion
Muscle strength is back to normal
Getting to this point, however, is going to take some time. You don’t want to rush it, or you could end up with another injury and have to start rehabilitation all over again.
5. Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice
When your doctor does tell you it’s fine to get back to physical activities, ensure you make the right adjustments to your exercise routine to avoid injuring yourself again. For instance, you need to address incorrect techniques and sub-par conditioning, whether you’re with a training partner or coach.
Avoid overusing muscle groups that lead to strains and fatigue. You might have to alter your exercise or training program to include more core strengthening exercises, lower back stretches and other changes your doctor or physical therapist recommends. Also, don’t make any sudden changes to your exercise program from one day to the next and educate yourself on ways you can prevent common injuries in your activity or sport.
6. Look out for Signs of a More Severe Problem
You might think you’ve completely recovered from back pain and injury, but all of a sudden, you’re experiencing pain that radiates down into your legs, or you’re suddenly experiencing nighttime back pain. You might have numbness or tingling in your extremities. Seek medical attention for these types of symptoms, as they could indicate a more serious medical issue.
Exercises to Avoid With Lower Back Pain
Certain movements will worsen your back pain, even if it seems like you’re helping to strengthen your back muscles. In general, here are five lower back pain exercises to avoid.
While sit-ups do help strengthen your abdominal muscles, they can also add a good deal of pressure on your spine. Try partial crunches instead. You can isolate your abdominal muscles better with these without risking lower back injury.
To do these, you lie on your back, bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Put your hands behind your neck, then raise your shoulders off the floor and tighten your abdominal muscles. Hold this position and lower your shoulders down slowly. Make sure your arms aren’t pulling your neck off the floor. Repeat this exercise the number of times suggested in your exercise plan.
2. High-Impact Aerobics
Although low-impact aerobics can help people with back pain, you should avoid high-impact aerobic exercise of any type. Running or jogging — particularly on hard surfaces — are two examples. Exercises that twist or jar the spine, certain types of dance and tennis are also examples.
If you’re not able to keep your spine in a straight position while working out, you might not be able to prevent pain and protect your back. You’ll also want to avoid any contact sports that put a lot of strain on your back and lead to lower back pain post-workout, such as soccer, volleyball, trampolining and snowboarding.
3. Standing Toe Touches
You should stretch to reduce muscle soreness after exercising and prevent injury since it’s quite common for hamstrings to be tight and contribute to back pain. But, standing toe touches might end up stretching your back more than your hamstrings and could aggravate your existing back injury.
Instead of toe touches, try towel hamstring stretches instead. For this exercise, you lie on your back and bend one knee, while wrapping a towel around your other foot. Use the towel to gently pull your leg up and straighten your knee. Hold the position for 20 seconds and do the same for the other leg. While performing this exercise, keep your back flat.
4. Exercises That Twist Your Spine
Yoga is often extremely helpful in building flexibility and strength, but certain movements — like forward folds and spinal twists — could aggravate your back injury. Twisting movements are typically aggravating to individuals with existing lower back problems, especially when performed with improper form. When performing these types of exercises, be careful, avoid movements that don’t feel right and listen to your body.
Your yoga instructor can provide modifications for certain poses if needed, so be sure to ask. Depending on your pain level, you might need to skip the yoga and try a different workout until your back injury heals.
5. Superman Back Extensions
Superman back extensions are where you lie face down, lift your legs and arms off the ground simultaneously and hold the position. This exercise causes a lot of people discomfort and can add stress to the lower back joints.
Try the bird-dog instead for strengthening and stabilizing the lower back while not overloading the spine. Begin on your hands and knees, engaging the muscles of your stomach. Lift one leg and extend it behind you at hip level. Don’t tilt your pelvis. Lift and extend the opposite arm to the level of your shoulder. Hold this position and go back to the starting position. Repeat this exercise eight to 12 times, then switch sides. Don’t sag your lower back when performing this exercise.
Remember not to be overly ambitious. A common misconception is that working out harder will bring faster results. When it comes to healing back pain, this isn’t true — even though our subconscious may guide us in this direction.
For instance, we may lift weights that are too heavy, exercise longer than we should or push ourselves further when our bodies are giving us a clear sign to slow down or stop. Being too impatient or ambitious can make things worse. Intensity is not the key to healthy exercise — consistency is. Work out smarter and regularly, and you will get much closer to easing your back pain for good.
Experience Lower Back Pain Relief — Contact Us Today
Following these suggestions above can help reduce lower back pain during exercise. If you find your back pain is intolerable with or without exercise, International Spine Institute can help. Our goal is to offer the least invasive procedure options for each patient’s individual needs. We tailor treatment to provide each of our patients with a quicker recovery and pain-free lifestyle.
Contact us today to get the lower back pain relief you deserve by calling 225-313-4700 or completing our online form.