Low Back Pain and Exercise

Recently a patient asked me this question:

“I was at the gym during sit-ups and had back pain. Am I doing something wrong or should I avoid doing them?”

 

Great question! I’m glad this lady asked because as people begin to get more active, we see a big rise in the number of people suffering from back pain.

And even though sit-ups are one of the most common “go-to” exercises to get your abs summer ready, are they really that effective? And more importantly, can this exercise cause back pain?

If you’ve ever tried to do an abdominal workout and realized that your back is feeling things it shouldn’t be feeling, you are not alone.

To understand why this happens, you first have to remember that the abdominals and lower back are part of your core.

While we often think of our core as being our abdominals, but they are only one part of the equation!

Your core is made up of a group of muscles that work together to support the body. It wraps around the entire body and includes muscles that are in your lower back too.  When you do any exercises for the core, you’re impacting all of the other parts that make up your core too, including your lower back.

Lower-back pain during any exercise involving your core is usually a sign that your core is too weak to do that exercise.

So, why does this happen?

If your low back isn’t strong enough, the core exercises you’re doing may just be asking too much of your back causing the muscles to strain.  Alternatively, if you have a weakness anywhere else in your body, your low back may overcompensate by taking on more stress than it can handle.

But pain during exercise doesn’t always mean your back or core is weak.  Pain in your back can also be a sign that the way you perform the exercise needs tweaking.  For many abdominal exercises, a small mis-step in how you perform the exercise can put pressure on your back and the spine becomes irritated each time we move into a position that isn’t correct.

One of the most common mistakes we see people make when performing these types of exercises is ‘hyperextension’ (this is when your hips aren’t tucked under causing a curve in the spine). If you can focus on keeping your tailbone (hips) tucked under, drawing your belly button towards the spine, this will help alleviate back pain and prevent it from getting worse.

Another helpful hint to keep in mind is that the lower back needs to remain ‘glued’ to the floor for the majority of exercises involving the abdominals.

When you back arches off of the floor, your back is in a vulnerable position.

Before you progress with any core exercise, make sure you can perform them with your back flat on the floor first, that way you’ll protect yourself from back pain and you’ll be strengthening your back at the same time.

Not only a weak core, but muscle tightness and fatigue can also lead to poor form and lower back pain too.  If your glutes and hips are really tight, chances are you’ll feel the strain in your back during your daily activities, not just exercise.

So, what can you do to stop back pain getting in the way? First off, stop doing any movements that cause you pain. Pain is your body’s way of telling you to stop what you’re doing no matter what. Basically, if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it!

However, the good news is that there are plenty of simple ways you can strengthen your core without straining your back.

Exercises like dead bugs, gluteal bridges and planks, (as long as you perform them with your hips tucked under and your core and glute muscles are tight) are great examples of movements that will help strengthen your back and core along with decreasing your chances of getting any injuries.

There are so many non-abdominal specific exercises that can give you a “sneaky” core workout – lunges, kettle bell swings, body-weight squats.By adding them to your routine, you will help gain core strength without ever having to do a crunch!

In conclusion, sit-ups aren’t bad for you when performed correctly. Just make sure you have good flexibility and a strong enough core without your back coming off of the floor, until you progress to being able to perform them safely.

We love to help people in Aliso Viejo, Anaheim, Foothill Ranch, San Juan Capistrano, and the surrounding areas live without back pain.   If you or a loved one want to ease that low back pain, here’s a free guide to help you keep active with less back pain – just go to this website to get your free copy instantly:https://intecorept.com/back-pain/

Andrew Vertson

Andrew Vertson

Andrew received his Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science from California State University, Fresno in 1991. He then earned his Master’s degree of Physical Therapy in 1996 and his Doctorate degree of Physical Therapy in 2002 from Loma Linda University. In 1996 he also earned his Certification as an Athletic Trainer. He has also completed extensive post-graduate course work in orthopedic manual therapy through Kaiser-West Los Angeles and the Ola Grimsby Institute.
Andrew Vertson

You Might Also Like...