4 Ways to Alleviate Lower Back Pain and Lumbar Strain for CrossFitters

Injuries always feel like huge setbacks but with the right attitude and intelligent training solutions you can be back on the right track as soon as possible.

When it comes to lower back pain I will admit, I didn’t pay attention to my weakness. I didn’t educate myself in fixing the problem and didn’t do my accessory work.

The next 4 weeks were the hardest I’ve ever had in my career and I saw my lifts going straight down. Eventually, I believe I pulled my quadratus lumborum (QL) muscle. Not fun, but I have since learnt a lot.

When you do get injured there are a few options:

  • Sit and wait
  • Push through
  • Rehab

You can go to the doctor, ignore what the doctor says, and keep doing what you are doing – exercising incorrectly and potentially making the injury worse, using medicine to cover it. 

A much better option is to become self aware, make a plan and figure out a way to train safely and effectively.

Here are my tips and what I did to train safely and stay fit during recovery for lower back pain and lumbar strain.

Lower Back Pain – what is Lumbar Strain?

lower back pain

Lumbar strain is an injury in the lower back where the ligaments, tendons or muscles have been over-stretched/pulled. This over-stretching creates tears on those areas which may occur from heavy lifting or improper warm up.

Most people will tell you to rest, which is right but might come with some risks for some. Risks such as over eating, taking longer breaks and reverting back to their old ways, ultimately having to start all over.

A coach who has confidence in what he knows will tell probably you to show up early the next day and make you work. Make you choose to eat better quality foods and go to the Box every singe day.

Make you chose to train in a way that puts those nutrients into the muscles and work to recover faster and more efficiently. They will help you figure out what works for you by ‘listening’ to your body, using the most powerful tool that you have – your brain.

Mat-Fraser happy and strongSource: CrossFit Inc

Lower Back Pain Side-Effects

When muscles or ligaments in your lower back get torn they become inflamed. The inflammation will cause muscle spasms and those spasms will cause pain and eventually difficulty moving. You will usually experience muscle spasms within the first 4 days, meaning you won’t be able to bend to pick things up (the lunge position may help you with this).

You can’t sit too much either as you’ll face posterior pelvic tilt – in others words you will need to keep moving to allow the nutrients you eat to get into your muscles and recover.

More side-effects include not being able to fully extend your legs whilst sitting or rowing, not being able to breathe correctly and not being able to perform to the same standard as before. But that’s ok. Things happen, it’s what you do about them that matters.

Read more: On Injury: Practical Tips to Heal Your Mind

Exercises to alleviate injury and strengthen your midline

Back/Front Squat

Front and back squats are perfectly fine. Use a weight you can handle – I used weights equivalent to my body weight.

This exercise helped me to better focus on my bar path. If the bar is not in the mid-foot position through the entire motion the injury will only get worse. However, the overhead squat is definitely not a good idea as its going to further stretch your posterior back muscles.

Snatch/Clean and Jerk

You may want to use dip snatch, dip clean and push jerk here (not split jerk) and use a very light weight on the snatch. Muscle snatches are also acceptable (weights of 30-45kg is what I used). Again push jerks especially help me better understand the connection my body has to the bar path.

Deadlifts/ Pull Ups

Deadlifts are great exercises to build your spinal erector muscles like no other, don’t fear them. People who tell you they’re bad for you, they don’t know anything about weightlifting.

Try them and see what happens; if you can’t keep the bar close to your shins and the movement bothers you stop and keep them out of the equation for a while.

Try to re-implement them 4 weeks after your injury – you can even try box deadlifts. Pull-ups are also perfectly fine, a very simple exercise that will build strength in your latissimus dorsi, lower back and core.

Suitcase Carry’s

Build muscle and strength in your obliques and your QL. The movement is very simple and easy to do as the spine remains neutral.

Weighted planks/Side Planks

These moves will build strength and muscle in your rectus abdominis and teach you how to engage your abs isometrically. Your abdomen works isometrically in every day life, and you really need it to be as strong as possible.

Do your side planks to strengthen your obliques, weighted planks on the floor and rings in different heights with the weight on your lower back. 

Other methods to incorporate to recovery

Ice/hot Compression

Applying ice compression can really aid your recovery. I aimed to avoid applying heat in the first 4 days as it can slow down the healing process. However, after the 4 days you can begin to apply hot compression’s to allow for better blood flow and help the nutrients penetrate the muscle. Apply both compression’s for 15 minutes and wait 5 hours before applying again.

Run / Walk / Swim

If you’re unable to run you can walk to ensure your cardiovascular system is keeping in good conditioning and delivering nutrients to your injured muscles. Swimming in the open water will also do you some good. 

Electrical Muscle Stimulation(EMS)

If you have one try to apply it but make sure you don’t do this for too long to avoid atrophy in the core muscles – don’t rely on it and get yourself in the gym.

How Long will it take to Heal?

It depends on the extent of your injury. For me it took 4 weeks and is always different in terms of what nutrients you put into your system and how you approach post-injury training.

Lower Back Pain – Summary

  • Ice/hot compression
  • Drills to teach the body and connect the bottom of the rib cage with the pelvis (mid-line)
  • Do your accessory work
  • Eat better quality food, stay active
  • Mobility and stretching are vital
  • Keep working hard and stay humble

When it comes to lower back pain…

Long term health and well being is the most important thing here. Train with what you have and don’t be afraid to be creative.

Create a plan structured around your weaknesses, don’t avoid them. Injured your shoulder? You can still do body-weight squats, lunges with a vest, and single arm kettlebell work.

I injured my back so it was time to work on technique, slow and controlled. Learning the dip snatch and clean. I know it sucks to see other athletes train to the fullest when you can’t, but its ok.

Learn to train differently and take a break if you have too – just don’t settle.

Use weights you can handle in multi join movements.

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