I can’t squat because my back hurts…
If I had a quid for every time I heard this in my gym I’d have….. well I’d definitely have some money. I’d usually follow this statement by asking “why? were you in a car crash?….did you fall down your stairs?” I then get looked at blankly while hearing a vague explanation that basically outlines some spurious reason as to why it hurts. My point is that most of the time, the reasons people suffer from back pain is because of other reasons as opposed to real injury or trauma. Before I get sued, I must say that if you have a legitimate injury get specialist treatment do not blame me for crippling you when you have a bulging disc. For all you other people out there with nondescript back pain, please take note.
One of the most common reasons we get back pain is because of imbalance. Your lower back is supported by a network of muscles all pulling together to keep it inline, much like the pillars on a suspension bridge. All the cables apply opposing tension with its counterpart on the other side to keep the pillar upright. If any of those cables were to be loosened or over-tightened it was cause the pillar to bend or buckle. Now imagine it’s your spinal column out of line, hey presto back pain.
One of the biggest causes of imbalance are long term positional adaptations. If your legs, hips, pelvis, abs, spine and back muscles all work together in harmony to support your back, imagine if these muscles are too weak or too tight. Now lets think about a typical position we all assume daily. Sitting down. You wake up, sit down and eat breakfast, you drive to work sitting down, you get to work and sit at a desk, you drive home again still sitting, you then slump into your sofa to watch tv and eat your dinner in our favourite sitting position. In a 16 hour long day you’ve probably sat for about 12-14 hours!
When we assume the seated position, our hamstrings are shortened and our quads are lengthened. Our hip flexors are flexed and our glutes are pulled long. Our abs are compressed and shoulders drop forward and inwards, and, our spine erectors are pulled long, around a curved back. Spending long periods in this position ends up with all of these muscles retaining these positions. Hamstrings, hip flexors, abs, and pecs are tight, and, quads, glutes, spine erectors and traps are long and weak. This will all lead to your back being unstable. Instability will force the wrong muscles to work too hard and become inflamed, inflammation causes pain.
How can we stop this craziness and go back to squatting 200kg for reps I hear you ask… Simple sit less! ha ha, well not so stupid…., but, there are also a few things that can help get you back to having a healthy spine. Firstly, ice it daily to reduce swelling, then before you train, stretch your hip flexors and foam roll your quads. Incorporate more hamstring work to strengthen them. This may seem counter productive if they’re tight, but if they’re tight and weak they’ll definitely interfere with your back stability when lifting. Also the lowering phase of hamstring lifting will regain your flexibility. Lastly, when you do come to squats or deadlifts, look to engage your glutes and squeeze them hard, this will control and stabilize your hips and will prevent your spine erectors working too hard.
There you have it, how to relieve your back pain, get back to squatting and generally make you more awesome, all without pills or medical intervention.