If you wake up in the morning, stretch and instantly go ‘ouch’—it’s not that you’re ‘getting old.’ Rather, you may be experiencing lower back pain, a very common ailment for many people, especially those who exercise consistently. As Physical Therapist Lauren Lobert, DPT, OMPT, CSCS explains, up to 80 percent of people experience this condition and an estimated 31 percent report that it limits their activity. Because it can be caused by a landslide of various lifestyle and physical factors, it’s important to ensure that you’re giving this important part of your body some TLC.
Not only will it make your Aaptiv workouts more effective, it could save you some trouble later down the road.
“Low back pain is very complex and is not typically only the result of tissue damage or injury. It is very common for an acute back injury to turn into chronic low back pain, even after the injury has healed. This can be [due] to [a] myriad of factors, including fear, stress, illness, socioeconomic status, age, and more,” Lobert explains.
Keep reading to learn more about how you can decrease your lower back pain, and the steps you can take to prevent it.
You know the feeling when you haven’t worked out in a while and everything, well, hurts? There’s a reason for that—and it’s not only tied to physical limitations or rusty muscles. Lobert explains that we lose strength when we stop moving, and our body actually learned to fear movement. Combine these two factors and your pain will increase steadily. No matter what’s happening in your life, how busy you are or how anxious you are about getting back into the swing of things, Lobert stresses the importance of doing something: “This may mean just walking or doing simple stretches at first, but it is imperative to stay as active as possible.”
Aaptiv has stretching workouts that can help loosen you up. View them in the app today.
Prioritize your posture.
As you’re reading along right now, how are you sitting? Or lying? Or standing? Regardless if you’re working up a sweat or not, Personal Trainer Dan DeFigio says that posture plays a vital part in lower back pain. “If you’re sitting, standing, texting, or driving with rounded shoulders and head forward, you’re adding a tremendous strain to your back and neck muscles,” he explains. “With poor posture, these spinal extensor muscles are under constant strain pulling against the body’s forward slump. All too soon they become exhausted, overworked, and painful.”
So, how can you nip this? Prioritize proper spinal alignment. This looks like your ears over your shoulder and your shoulder blades relatively vertical. If you keep your head up and your shoulders back, you help to prevent muscular strain.
Allow your muscles to rest.
If you just had back day, it’s best not to even think about applying pressure to this muscle group for at least 72 hours, according to Fitness and Yoga Instructor Miriam Amselem. This is because you are likely to feel pain for at least that period of time, and if you push through it, you cause additional damage. Pain is not gain—and rather, could cause harmful damage. “Not giving enough rest and recovery time between workouts may cause low back pain for most people. It is important to [pay] attention to the sensations you experience in your back, because, if ignored, it can become a chronic condition which can keep you out of the gym for months,” she shares.
Strengthen your core.
To relieve back pain, you need to strengthen the area, right? Not exactly, according to Lobert. She explains that it’s important to maintain a neutral pelvis with exercises, which causes you to engage your core muscles. When your midsection is durable, you won’t put as much strain on your lower back muscles that may not be built up quite yet.
Especially during core exercises, Lobert says that you want to avoid curving your back. “You cannot let it arch. If anything, think about keeping it flat against the ground. Maintain this flat back/posterior pelvic tilt posture while you do things like leg lifts, mountain climbers, and other moves,” she recommends. No matter what workout you’re doing—deadlifting, running, you name it—engaging your core will help to stabilize your spine and prevent back injuries.
Go for lunch.
Nope, a super-green salad isn’t going to make your lower back stop hurting. And a smoothie won’t either. But detaching yourself from the confines of your cubicle and walking to pick up a salad? Amselem says that will do wonders for your spine. “Since most of us are sedentary for long hours throughout the day, we have to take breaks to stand and stretch,” she explains. In addition to actually moving around lunchtime, she suggests setting an hourly alarm that will go off to remind you to stand up and do a lap around the office. This alleviates any type of tension from an office chair.
Have good lifting mechanics.
Repeat after Lobert: Hip hinge, hip hinge, hip hinge! When you’re lifting, she urges keeping your back flat and your core tight. “If you are bending forward to do anything—deadlift, put down your weights for any exercise, load and unload the dishwasher, tend to the garden—you want to have a flat back and tight core,” she explains. One way to practice and test your lifting mechanics is to use a stick (broom or hockey, doesn’t matter) and hold it against your back with three main points of contact: your head, between your shoulder blades, and your tailbone. “When you bend forward to lift something, the stick should maintain these points. If you bend your back at all, it will lift off of your tailbone and you will know [that] you’re doing it wrong,” she explains.
Stretch, stretch, stretch.
….and stretch some more! “Back pain can be caused by, or exacerbated by, tight muscles. Common culprits are hip flexors, hip rotators, hamstrings, and your primary side-benders the quadratus lumborum,” DeFigio explains. You might also have tight pectoral muscles around your shoulders, causing you to round forward and putting stress on your posture. No matter where you’re sore though, it could impact your lower back sensitivity. No matter how rushed you are to get from point A to point B, don’t skip the pre and post-workout stretch. Not only will it improve your level of uncomfortable pain, but it’ll improve your recovery time, too.