3 Fitness Mistakes That Could Be Causing Your Lower Back PainJul 15, 2021
What’s the harm in getting a bit casual with your form at the gym sometimes? Lower back pain, for starters. This type of pain isn’t always a minor ache, either. Lower back pain can interfere with daily activities, and cases have increased by nearly 200 million in under 30 years!
Fitness mistakes are one of the prominent lower back pain causes. Stuart McGill, professor emeritus at University of Waterloo in Canada and author of Back Mechanic, says that more than half of the people who seek out his company cite their training as a cause or contributing factor for their lower back pain.
Here are the biggest mistakes you should watch out for, as well as when you need to see a professional about lower back pain.
3 Fitness Mistakes That Cause Lower Back Pain
These three mistakes are some of the top contributors to fitness-related lower back pain.
1. Pushing too hard
There’s a big difference between challenging yourself and pushing beyond your capacity — and you need to know the difference. McGill calls this the tipping point.
“If you are under the tipping point, it builds your body,” he explains, “but if you cross the tipping point in terms of load, repetition, or lack of rest, the same exercises and movements lead to cumulative trauma and pain.”
This is one of the biggest mistakes Physical Therapist and Strength Coach Leada Malek, DPT, CSCS, SCS, sees as a cause of lower back pain. Pushing yourself too hard includes continuing to exercise when you’re experiencing pain.
“A big issue for many is the belief that their back pain is from weakness, so they increase the training load,” explains McGill, adding that “in many [cases], this is exactly the wrong conclusion and way to go.”
If you’re experiencing lower back pain, try these exercises.
2. Ignoring your core
Weak core muscles can also increase your risk of experiencing back pain, as their primary job is to support and stabilize the spine. You need “stiffness and stability” at the center of the body, even for exercises that work away from the body’s center, explains McGill.
So don’t neglect your core, and don’t rely solely on abs exercises such as crunches and sit ups to work it. Try these seven exercises that can help anyone sculpt a rock-solid core.
3. Forgetting your form
You should never attempt a lift (especially a heavy compound lift) without knowing if you’re performing it correctly.
Malek explains that, “It’s not so much that bad form is guaranteed to cause pain in regards to lifting with a rounded spine,” but it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back — or injures yours. Add more weight to a lift you’re doing with improper form and you “may overload it before it’s ready and then pain may occur.”
Work with a professional on your form, but also “give yourself time to adapt,” Malek suggests. While perfecting your form, this may mean sticking to lighter loads longer than your ego would like — but your back will thank you.
When Should I Be Worried About Lower Back Pain?
Answering this question depends a lot on the type of pain you’re experiencing, says McGill. If your pain has been building for some time with the way that you’re training, he recommends “stopping that approach sooner [rather than later]” so that you can replace it with an approach better suited for you.
And if you feel lower back pain radiating down through your glutes, legs, and feet, McGill says, “it is better to stop the cause sooner.”
Malek adds that you should also watch for “pain that persists more than a few days or worsens, limits your ability to function daily, or pain that dissipates and returns with a higher intensity.”
These types of pain require attention from a professional. Malek also adds that if your lower back pain comes with nerve symptoms such as pain, numbness, or tingling down the back of the leg, you “should be assessed ASAP by a physical therapist or health-care professional.”
But lower back pain is “very common,” she stresses, adding that it “may not always mean there’s something ‘wrong.'” Worrying about a little ache “can actually contribute to worsening pain and has been correlated with higher levels of perceived disability,” she explains. Still, she says that “paying attention to pain signals your body may be relaying or things that feel off is important.”
When in doubt, have a professional check it out — and avoid further aggravating your lower back pain at all costs.”