Lower back pain is common for workout enthusiasts. After all, your back plays a big role in a number of facets of fitness. Dr. Kerem Bortecen, a doctor at New York City Surgical Associates, explains that this type of ailment is commonly seen in his practice and can be linked to several other causes or issues. While typically not super serious or life-threatening, if you consistently experience lower back pain post-cardio or strength training, take some notes from these fitness pros who explain what that lower back pain might mean.
You might feel it up to 72 hours.
Part of building muscle involves creating slight tears as you burpee, plank, lift, etc. However, the microtrauma associated with this gradual process can sometimes result in pain. These could last for up to 72 hours after you work out. As Dr. Bortecen explains—especially if you perform moves that target your lower back—the surrounding tissue could be uncomfortable for a handful of days, but shouldn’t cause you any worry. If you need a little extra TLC, he says that over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs—like ibuprofen—will do the trick.
You might be tight.
Compared to how many hours you spend sitting at your desk, in your car, or camped out on the couch with a side of mindless television, that hour-long workout doesn’t cure all of your spinal needs. As Chiropractor Dr. Kevin Kinney explains, oftentimes specific muscles in your back—like the psoas or quadratus lumborum—become overstimulated and under-stretched. “Because these muscles have their origin in the low back—your lumbar spine—they can be a frequent culprit in the hunt for the source of your low back pain,” he says. “Regular stretching before and after exercise may help ease your low back pain.”
You might have weak muscles.
So, after weeks—or okay, a month—of resisting exercise, you’re finally back on a regular schedule. Everything is off to a great start, minus your back pain. Director of Pain Management at AMITA Health Neurosciences Dr. Ankur Dave, M.D. explains that many folks who complain about this targeted pain usually lack strength. Though you’ll eventually get there, he explains that most simply strain their muscles as they progress in level. As you get more confident and stronger, you’ll likely see that soreness subside.
You might have venous insufficiency.
Not familiar with “venous insufficiency”? No problem. “During exercise, the oxygen demand of the muscles increases and the heart pumps more blood to the muscles. Those suffering from venous insufficiency will have increased pooling of oxygen-deprived blood in their muscle tissue,” Dr. Bortecen explains.
Try elevating your legs to increase blood flow if you’re starting to get cramps in your lower back regularly. This can also get rid of any lactic acid build-up that might be occurring under the surface.
You might have a pinched nerve.
While that old high school injury from playing lacrosse or tennis might seem forever ago, your back muscles never forget. As Dr. Dave warns, “If someone has an underlying condition, such as arthritis in the spine, an injured disc, or impinged nerve, a workout can cause those conditions to become worse with greater discomfort.” Before you try a new workout style or push your limits, speak with a physical therapist or medical professional to give you the green light.
You might be overdoing that area.
Talk to any personal trainer and they’ll stress the importance of varying the specific muscles you train throughout the week. Doubling-down on an area over and over again could be the cause of that pesky, lingering ache, Dr. Dave notes. This is especially true if you’re unsure of your actual capabilities and trying to match those who are a bit more prepared than you are.
“People overdo a workout by lifting too much weight, doing weight-bearing exercise while overweight, running too much without training, or overusing or overextending low back muscles,” he says. “Lower back pain can happen when someone tries to ‘max out’ their lifting when their core and lower back are not strong enough for the stress.” To avoid this, start at a comfortable lifting weight. Build your way up by focusing on your abdominals, your biceps, your quads, and every other muscle group. After all, if your middle-body is tough, your back will reap the benefits.
Pay close attention to the sensations you experience in your back. More often than not, it won’t be anything serious, but don’t push it. If you’re concerned about your lower back pain, talk to your doctor who will be able to directly diagnose your discomfort.