If you currently have back pain here are some ideas for how you might participate in exercise without exacerbating pain. However, please note a couple of things:
- The pain I am talking about is not the sort of pain that means you can’t even tie up your shoelaces. This severe and acute pain may need rest before you consider returning to the gym.
- Everyones pain is different and no one solution fits all. These tips are designed to help you figure out what you can do and what you should avoid until symptoms disappear.
STOP if it hurts
Whilst this might sound logical I am constantly surprised by how many people ignore pain thinking it will either go away or that it will be ok. Most of the time these thoughts are NOT true.
Substitute the movement for something else
So if a particular movement is hurting please ask your coach or Physio for a substitution For example, burpees hurt but mountain climbers don’t or sit ups hurt but crunches don’t. Start compiling your list of can do’s and stick with these while you are recovering. Remember it doesn’t always hurt at the time of the exercise so give yourself 24 hours after completion of a WOD to decide whether any of the movements were provocative or not. I also suggest introducing one new exercise at a time so that you are not confused by which movement may be aggravating pain.
Avoid lifting from the floor
Where possible you should elevate a barbell or dumbbell to above knee height and lift the object from here. Even deadlifts can be elevated by placing the barbell on jerk blocks or a small stack of weight plates where no other equipment is available.
If you still cannot lift the weight without pain, then try doing a single leg deadlift (example: golfers lift or single leg deadlift – see pictures below). You will need to significantly reduce the weight as this movement is much harder but it rarely causes back pain.
When it comes to your Olympic Lifts, try sticking to high hang muscle cleans and snatches. Use low loads and increase repetition schemes to give you a workout. However, where this still causes pain you could try simply practicing the movements over and over with PVC or do simple strength exercises that do not cause pain such as knee extensions, leg curls, weighted bridges, hip extensions on the GHD, back extensions on the GHD, reverse hypers and so on. Again, you need to build a list of can do’s and use the available resources creatively.
Avoid full depth squats or perform lunges instead
Often back pain can be avoided if you squat up to 90 degrees (and not deeper). This tends to avoid compensation of the spine from tightness elsewhere in the body which compromises form. Exercises such as box squats give you a chance to work on your squat mechanics and improving the activation of your posterior chain (ie gluteals, hamstrings etc).
Alternatively, it may be less painful, and just as effective from a strength and conditioning point of view, to perform lunges instead.
Try to control your posture and midline position with your exercise
In other words, if you are losing control of your posture and your spine is flexing/extending or your pelvis is tilting forward or backward with your movements when they are not supposed to be, you will be changing the force load and distribution of load through the structures of your spine. This may cause pain or injury. If you are unsure you could try watching your form in a mirror or video yourself and watch it back to see if you are showing good control of your posture/midline with your exercise.
Avoid exercises that cause flexion/extension of the spine
For example, sit ups, toes to bar, back arches, kipping pull ups. Perform movements with strict form instead for example, strict chin up/pullup with no swing.
Sometimes you can bend your spine forward but backward bending is very painful (or visa versa). If you find this is you then it is most likely ok to perform movements in the direction that is pain free.
Avoid high impact activity
You may need to avoid movements that require jumping and high impact landing if this hurts your spine. Instead you can use low impact exercises to get the desired effect without pain. For example, mountain climbers instead of burpees, easy walk instead of star jumps, step ups instead of box jumps, squats instead of double unders, fast step ups onto a plate instead of double unders, bike or row instead of run.
If you need more specific ideas and advice to suit your particular type of back pain then please see your Allied Health Professional. Or if you continue to have symptoms despite everything you do then please book an appointment to see us.
HAVE FUN AND STAY WELL!