You hardly ever think about your lower back until it’s in pain: Then it’s all you can think about. Chronic sedentary lifestyles coupled with small, but potentially detrimental, poor movements can wreak havoc on the muscles that help us lift our children, carry in groceries and stand up from a sitting position. Here are some causes of your pain as well as ways to prevent the injury in the first place:
Bad running form
Pay attention the next time a run is programmed in a warm-up or a WOD: where are you striking the ground with your feet? If it’s in your heels, that’s a lot of pressure pounding up into your joints and lower back. Your movement should initiate from your hips and glutes rather than your legs and feet.
The fix: Adjust your running so your foot is striking the ground fairly evenly in the middle. Your weight should be evenly distributed over most of the foot.
Lack of shoulder mobility
If doing anything overhead has you straining at the shoulder joint, you are very likely trying to compensate for your lack of mobility by arching your lower back. The weight overhead is coming straight down on your spine, and if your back and pelvis aren’t in neutral positions, the stress will concentrate in the lower back, creating pain later.
The fix: When you are shoulder pressing, overhead squatting or jerking, keep your core tight and your tailbone tucked. This will put the pelvis in a neutral position, better for supporting weight overhead. Also, work on your shoulder mobility with movements like PVC pass-throughs and downward-facing dog stretches.
As famed chiropractor and sports medicine specialist Jacob Harden, DC, says, poor posture has less to do with your position and much more the time you spend there. Your posture isn’t necessarily bad – movement is just really good. Years of sitting stagnant and slouched over a laptop in an office chair will eventually lead to chronic pain. However, put this previously stagnant person under a barbell and those weaknesses become apparent – and dangerous – very quickly.
The fix: Yes, sitting upright with shoulders back is better than slouching. But more importantly, move throughout your day. Even if you have a desk job, get up a few times every hour and walk or stretch.
Short or weak psoas muscles
Your psoas muscles, the two rope-like muscles that are responsible for your hips being able to move toward your chest and back down again, can become weak from sitting too much as well. They are flexors, and because of this, if they aren’t as strong as they should be, other muscles around them compensate for their lack of movement – including your lower back muscles.
The fix: Once again, less sitting and lots more movement. Open up your hips with stretches like pigeon pose. When you do have to stay seated, use lumbar supports to keep the hip joints opened.
Poor lift form/acute injury
Even if you have no preexisting conditions that could contribute to lower back pain, one poor lift could put you out of the gym for a while. Pay attention to your form, especially on lifts that initiate from the ground with a pull. If you are in the wrong position with an arched back, moving weight upward, you can easily blow your back out, especially in a high-rep WOD.
The fix: For lifts such as deadlifts or cleans, check your form every time, especially in the middle of a WOD when things get intense and form tends to suffer. Make sure your chest is up, your eyes are forward and think about pushing away from the ground with your feet rather than yanking something up with your arms and back.