Updated: Jan 11, 2021
All injuries suck. But back pain is one of the worst. And typically once you struggle with back pain, it tends to be a long lasting injury.
Now there are many reasons that your back can hurt. Muscles can be tight, bulging discs etc.
Just want to clarify that I’m not a doctor or physio so if you have serious back issues, get medical professional help.
However, if you are just an average person whose back gives them issues, there is something you can do.
I’m going to generalise back injuries as a whole. I’m not looking at any specific back issue. This will vary from person to person. What works for someone might not work for you.
I have had many clients over the years with back issues, thankfully nothing too serious, but I have managed to help all of them in some way. Whether it’s knowing how to avoid aggravating their back and when it is bad what to do.
So if lower back pain or tightness is something that you struggle with from time to time some of these suggestions will hopefully help ease the issue.
Like I said, this is very general. Not going at a particular injury. This is the sort of things that when a client says that they are having back issues, these are the things that I suggest. Hopefully they help you too.
The first thing that people do when their back tightens is to stretch it. Usually not correctly and it usually isn’t the answer.
Firstly, I’ve seen a lot of people when their back tights they drop down and stretch. Good idea. But what I’ve seen a lot is people doing a cobra stretch.
This is where you’re in a press up like position and push your chest up and hips stay on the ground.
This is a great stretch... for your front. Not your back.
You are stretching you abs. And if the front is stretched, then the back must be shorter. Which means you are compressing your back instead of stretching it.
So if you are going to stretch you back, make sure you actually stretch your back!
Good stretches for this are:
Childs pose Lie on your back and hug your knees to your chest. Lie on your back pull your knee across to the other side of your body
There are many more but these are good for taking the pressure off when it gets tight.
Staying on stretching, when your back is tight, it isn’t usually your back that is the issue. That’s just were the pain manifests. Yes stretching your back help a bit at the time because your back is under pressure back it is not the main cause which means it’s not the main fix.
As mobility expert Kelly Starrett says, think up stream or down stream. Meaning, look above or below where the issue is. If you back is tight, what is happening that’s making it tight?
I can use myself as an example. So a while ago my back would get tight training sometimes. Especially doing judo, it was giving me problems.
So I went to a physio mate who I was personal training with to check me out.
It turns out I have a slight APT or Anterior Pelvic Tilt, which means my pelvic tilts forward slightly so the front part sits lower than the back. So this means that my front is lengthened and my back is shortened.
This is what was causing my issues. It had nothing to do with my back. It was my pelvis that isn’t straight that is causing the issue.
But you have to go deeper again. Why is my pelvis tilted forward? It is actually due to very tight quads. The quads being the front thigh muscles being tight, pulled my pelvis forward, therefore putting more pressure on my lower back.
So yes, when it tightened up, stretching my back did help ease a bit. But no amount of back stretching would ever solve the problem. Tightening my core and stretching my quads is what I needed to do.
I have similar experiences with clients. Tight hamstrings and tight glutes can seriously put pressure on your back. My clients have fixed back pain by stretching their hamstrings more and taking pressure off their back.
Weak core is another big problem. A lot of what I will talk about also ties in with technique when lifting weights too.
It’s not even so much core, it’s more how your body is organised. Meaning do you have a strong foundation.
Again, stretching can be linked to this too.
So say you have an anterior pelvic tight too when you stand. That means when you are standing, your abs and your front are lengthened and your back it tight and under pressure.
This is a posture issue. So you need to focus in strengthening your glutes as you need to tuck your hips under more. And you need to tighten your core. Mainly looking at strengthening your abs to tighten them up, and to brace your core better.
Now I’m not saying that you should walk around like you’re bracing like you’re doing a standing plank. But you need to be more aware of how your body is organised. Make sure your hips are under your body and not tucked too far underneath and not sticking your butt out like you’re a duck.
Your training will have a big impact on you back. This ties in with the previous parts, especially the last bit.
How your body is organised when you lift is soooo important.
Let’s look at over head pressing for example. Bracing your core and having a well organised body is crucial. It’s almost as much a core exercise as it is shoulders.
If you don’t squeeze your glutes and tighten your core, when you press overhead, you’re going to extend your back and push a heavy weight overhead with your lower back all jammed up and compressed. It’s common sense that this is a not going to go well.
One thing I tell clients all the time, if your front is tight, then your back isn’t. You can’t load both. If you load your body incorrectly, your abs etc will be doing nothing and your back takes all the load.
Once you know how to tight your core up and take the pressure in your abs and brace (a bit like you’re about to get hit in the stomach) there just can’t be any pressure on your back. There just can’t.
One thing I started to do is do some core training before lifting heavy to get my core ‘turned on’ and get it engaged. I even lightly hit by abs, patting them and feeling the tightness, feeling my trunk brace knowing that my trunk solid ready for me to deadlift or squat.
Same goes for squats. I had a new client do this this week.
Whenever she was sitting back into her squat, she was losing her core position, curling her lower back and putting it under pressure when squatting. Then after a few reps complained that her back was hurting.
That’s because she didn’t keep her core tight. As she was hinging back, she was pushing her butt back at the expense of her core and curling her back and putting it under pressure. As soon as worked on bracing her core and organising her body better, here squat was fine and no more back pain.
But your weight training can also be the thing that fixes your back pain, a bit like that example with my client.
Doing the likes of deadlifts will teach you how to organise your body and tight up your core. If you don’t then you’ll hurt your back. It is a bit of a trial by fire but it’s important that you know how to go through those movements correctly.
I look at resistance training has movement training. Learning how to load your body correctly and how to move properly. The weights are just resistance to challenge you in those movements.
The correct technique and understanding how to move and load your body is the most important thing. Not the amount of weight you can lift.
Those are some of my things that can help with back issues. There’s a lot more so I’ll probably do a follow up on this. Take what works for you and what applies to you and see how you can manage your back issues better.