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, didn’t do my accessory work. The next 4 weeks was 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.
When you do get injured there are a few options:
Sit and Wait
You can go to the doctor, ignore what the doctor says and keep doing what you are doing – exercising incorrectly and making it worse and eventually sitting back and quitting. And on top of that using medicine to cover it.
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.
Lower Back Pain – So what is Lumbar Strain?
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 with may occur from heavy lifting or improper warm up.
Most people will tell you to rest and what do people do? Sit back, over eat, take longer breaks and revert back to their old ways and end up having to start all over. A great coach who has confidence in what he knows will tell you to show up the next day at 6am and make you work. What, you expected me to sit on the couch and crack open the junk food and be lazy for a month?! Of course not. Instead I chose to eat better quality food and go to the box every singe day. I chose to train in a way that put those nutrients into the muscles I was working to recover faster and more efficiently and to figure out what works for me by ‘speaking’ with my body using the most powerful tool that I have – my brain. So here is what i did:
How you can Train Through Injury and Strengthen your Midline?
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.
Perfectly fine. Use a weight you can handle and I used weights equivalent to my body weight. Actually 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 it 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.
Dead-lifts/ Pull Ups
Dead-lifts 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. In my injury I tore my shins as I had the bar too close to me with even 40kg on the bar – talking about 2 weeks after the injury. Try it and see what happens if you can keep the bar close and bothers you stop and keep them out of your equation. Start doing deads 4 weeks after your injury – you can even try box dead-lifts. Pull ups are also perfectly fine, a very simple exercise that will build strength in your latissimus dorsi, lower back and core.
Build muscle and strength in your obliques and your QL. The movement is very simple and easy to do as the spine remains neutral.
Applying ice compression’s is an absolute must, at least 3 times a day. I aimed to avoid applying heat in the first 4 days as it will 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
You will not be able to run but what you can do is 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.
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 really you need it to be as strong as possible – you may even need to work you abdomen unilaterally too. 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.
Lower Back Pain – Drugs
NO. Not even pain-killers or anti-inflammatory’s. Just eat well. Listen to your body and let is heal without the aid drugs – food is your medicine.
How Long will it take to Heal?
It depends, 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.
Electrical Muscle Stimulation(EMS)
If you have one try to apply it but only if you are in bed and not for too long as to avoid atrophy in the core muscles – don’t rely on it and get yourself in the gym.
And lastly 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 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 kettle-bell work. I injured my back so it was time to work on technique, slow and controlled. Learning 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, run, take a break if you have too – just don’t settle.
Lower Back Pain – Summary
Lower back pain – Use weights you can handle in multi join movements.
- 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.