Whether it be acute or chronic, chances are that you’ve experienced back pain at some point in your adult life . In my opinion it’s one of the poopiest things of all time ’cause it affects just about everything you do.

Too many people either push through the pain and cause more damage, keep their resistance too light, or avoid important exercises completely because of back pain.

There are literally probably a million different causes of back pain, and to be honest, us practitioners (PT’s and docs included) sometimes will never to be able to point out exactly what it is from one person to the next. But we have some pretty good educated guesses. In my opinion, they can be broken down into two categories: personal exercise habits and movement dysfunction. In part 1 of this post, I’ll give a general overview of what I think is most important; in part 2, I’ll discuss what to do about it. Let’s talk about habits first.

You don’t do a proper warm up

When I was in college, I used to walk on the treadmill for 10 minutes as a ‘warm up’ before I’d go embarrass all the boys in the weight room (joke). Little did I know, that doesn’t really cut it. We recently started to coin a phrase here at Fitcorp: RDA. This stands for Rolling or Release, Dynamic stretch, and Activation. There are a few different methods to warming up, but we’ve found this outline to be the most successful in preventing injuries. You release where you’re tight, reinforce with dynamic stretches, and active the muscles that need help turning on. An example for the hips/glutes would be 1) release hip flexors with lax ball or foam roller, 2) 3D hip flexor stretch or spiderman stretch, 3) Supine hip bridges for glute activation. If you’re not properly warmed up, the muscles that should be working aren’t ready, and your back can take the fall.

You flex at the spine instead of hinging at the hips

This is a tough concept to understand if you lift without a trainer or a buddy. Here’s a pictorial representation

This is a particularly common mistake when deadlifting or rowing. The reality is, any exercise you do to strengthen your legs (ie squats and deadlifts) is also going to strengthen your back. However, your glutes and hamstrings are very strong and when you load them correctly, they should do most of the work. I will go over some drills to learn how to hip hinge in part 2.

For whatever reason, your form is just poopy

Alright I need to be a little harsh for a second.

It never ceases to amaze me some of the asinine things I see people doing in the gym. I understand that most people are just under or ill-informed when it comes to this…

But like…. Really!? Do you really think your floor-hump-of-a-pushup is helping you look sexy??? ‘Cause it’s not. In fact, it looks like you’re humping the floor.


My favorite comment: “How would one even get that idea?”

My sentiments exactly.

Okay now that I got that off my chest, I understand that there are many issues why form can slack, some of which I’ll cover in more detail below. You might be using too much weight, you might be missing some mobility or stability, or you simply just might not know what proper form should look like. Whatever it is, I recommend figuring it out to avoid issues down the road.

Let’s look a little deeper into the second category: movement dysfunction.

You have dysfunctional breathing patterns.

I’ve written a little bit about this before, and it’s important to reiterate. As a result of chronic stress and inactivity, breathing patterns shift from belly breathing to chest breathing. This can cause all sorts of issues, one of them including back pain. Quick self assessment: Take a deep breath. Did your chest and shoulders go up immediately? Then chances are you’re breathing incorrectly. Part 2 will entail some breathing drills so you can reconnect with that old flame we like to call our diaphragm.

She’s a beauty eh?

You’re lacking some mobility

The two most common culprits are hips and shoulders. Since these two joints have the most range of motion, by the same token they’re the most complicated and prone to dysfunction. The good news about mobility is that it’s usually just a matter of knowing what you need to work on, and doing it consistently.

You’re lacking some stability

If I were to pick one area of the body that’s most important to be stable, it’s your core. I know… shocker.

A lack of stability can often be the real issue in a lot of movement dysfunction, but it often will disguise itself as a lack of mobility! Tricky, that human body… very tricky. The best example is a squat. In the next post I’ll have a video for you to prove my point… But for now just take my word for it.

Shoulders, hips and extremities also require stability, but I’d argue starting with your core will give you the most bang for your buck.

Your posture is less than ideal

I’d be hard pressed to find someone with perfect posture. That’s because I think we are innately imbalanced. By god giving us a dominant hand/brain/whatever, we are automatically uneven. So for me to say that everyone needs to have perfect posture and no asymmetries to be found is completely ignorant.  However, if your walking around with a pigeon towed-pronated-bow legged-hyperextended-lordotic-kyphotic posture… that could cause some problems.

I’m talking to you smeagol

 Fortunately, there are a lot of posture problems that exercise and good habits can fix. Stay tuned for the best exercises to improve posture.

Conclusion

So there are the 7 most important factors of back pain. Of course, they’re all intertwined issues and if you have one, you probably have a couple. The good news is it’s fixable! Call me old-school, but I like to fix things organically. Proper exercise is solution #1 to back pain, before drugs, injections, ultra sounds, or surgery.

Part 2 coming soon!

-L

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