Is your exercise routine causing your back pain?
About the Author
Dr. Spindler is a practicing chiropractor with 18 years experience specializing in chronic conditions and sports injuries. He has also been a personal trainer and strength coach for over 40 years with a certification as a strength and conditioning specialist. Through college and beyond he competed in bodybuilding shows, and powerlifting competitions throughout the New England circuit. He can be reached at 530-544-4400.
You may have heard this over and over again: “Exercise will eliminate your back pain.”
You go to the chiropractor or doctor for back pain solutions and they tell you to start exercising. You begin an exercise program and now your condition is worsened. And to add insult to injury, your couch potato friend (sporting a sizable food blister) has no back pain whatsoever.
How do you make any sense of this?
The reason your couch potato friend won’t experience much back pain is because after he sits all day at work, he then sits all evening at home and didn’t stress the discs. But because of lack of exercise, he may have other health problems down the road.
Back pain can be caused by many mechanisms. One of the most common mechanisms is stress or damage to your spinal discs. The spinal disc can lose its normal thickness due to degenerative arthritic issues thereby causing nerve root pressure.
When two adjacent spinal vertebrae lose their normal range of motion, the disc in-between will dehydrate and become thinner. The thinner your disc, the smaller your margin of error. You’re just one or two bad moves away from injury. Your spinal disc can also become herniated. This is often due to poor posture and weak muscles combined with compressive and or rotational stresses again creating inflammatory pressure on the associated nerve root.
Disc injuries may present localized pain only, or accompanying symptoms such as leg pain or intestinal issues.
If exercise is so good for back health, how can it hurt your back?
The answer is fairly simple: Spinal discs are made up of a series of layers of collagen rings with a gel-like substance in the middle. When you sit for hours in a chair at work, video gaming or watching TV day after day, your spinal muscles atrophy at an extraordinary rate. As you sit there you’ll also relax into a slouching or forward flexing position. The combination of weakened muscles, poor posture and the compressive effects of gravity cause the layers of collagen in your discs to begin separating.
Imagine a loaded sandwich or burger. What happens when you bite down on one side? The stuff tends to squeeze out of the other side and end up on your lap.
Now imagine after sitting all day at work, you decide to go and work out. First you warm up on the stationary cycle, which can stress your spine and discs with forward flexion under load. Next you lie on a mat and start a series of crunches to strengthen your abs. Again you’re stressing your spine and discs under load with repetitive forward flexion.
Remember the loaded burger?
Next you start training legs with some squats, leg presses and maybe some stiff legged deadlifts and “pow!” You feel that strange sensation in your lower back and you know something just went really wrong. You just squeezed the stuff out of the burger. This is how a spinal disc can herniate.
This describes how lower back injuries commonly occur while you were doing the very thing you were told to do to protect your back. Don’t get discouraged! It’s not necessarily what exercises you were doing, but how you were doing them.
Much has changed and advanced over the past few years regarding exercise choices and technique. Avoiding exercises with repetitive forward flexion, maintaining good posture and including exercises that improve joint mobility and overall symmetry is a great place to start.
Try planking exercises instead of crunches. Try incorporating motion stretching and yoga into your program. Get away from machine training — which encourages bad form — and start learning free weight and functional exercises instead.
Always be aware of your posture while training. Flexing or slouching your lower back forward is all too often the last straw.
There also are many other contributing factors that may predispose you for back injury while working out. Obesity, pre-existing spinal issues, poor balance and symmetry or possibly poor hip and foot mobility.
Please join me this Saturday, Feb. 23, for a special exercise class. Class begins at 10 a.m. We’ll meet upstairs in my SpineFit Training Center located on the second floor of FitRepublic, 2565 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
This class is free as always but space is limited. I’ll be teaching the best way to safely and effectively strengthen and tone your abs and core. I will also be teaching Stick Yoga exercises for strength, spinal mobility and symmetry.
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