Lets talk about disc injuries and lower back pain…The truth is, every personal trainer trains disc injuries all the time without even knowing it.
Why and how?
A great study back in the ’94 New England Journal of Medicine had researchers send MRI’s of 98 “healthy” backs to various doctors and asked them to diagnose them. Well, 80% of the MRI interpretations came back diagnosed with disc herniations and bulges. In fact in 38% of the patients, there was involvement of more than one disc. Even worse… approximately 85% of lower back pain cases have no definitive diagnosis.
Disc bulges, herniations…
The fact is how are these people asymptomatic? That’s a scary thing…
We know that everyone will round their back in a squat pattern. The question is if they are in end range flexion. Not so much whether they are in a little bit of flexion. That’s the big thing. When squatting and deadlifting and just plain ole picking stuff up off the ground, you need to watch rounding that back! And limit the amount of it that happens! If you have to, watch yourself sideways as you perform these exercises!
Here’s an analogy for you…
Creating a disc injury in the spine is just like taking a credit card and bending it through enough cycles of flexion and extension, and pretty soon it is going to go give…
How do we prevent disc issues from becoming symptomatic?
Avoid too much lumbar flexion (think crunches), especially with rotation and compression (adding weight).
So the last thing you want to do is put someone in a squat and have them rotate at the bottom. You can probaly find something like that on youtube…in fact. I’m going to look right now…
Oh look that was easy…Here’s one…DO NOT EVER DO THIS EXERCISE! And even worse, he’s standing on a f@#king bosu ball. Do not squat on a bosu ball!
What to do next…
1. Work on ankle mobility. The more flexible you are in the ankles, the deeper you can squat with a neutral spine (straight spine) – if you want to test this out at bootcamp, put your heels on one of the plates and squat. You will see a remarkable difference in how low you can go without rounding your back.
2. Work on upper back mobility. When you have more mobility, your core stabilizers and scapular stabilizers are working more and your lower back isn’t trying to make up for the decreased range of motion by moving more. Think the elephant stretch, spiderman climb, t3’s and golfer swing on this one.
3. Increase hip mobility. If the hip has sufficient range of motion, the pelvis isn’t anteriorly tilted putting stress on the lower back. Building a stronger bum will help with this as well because the glutes are opposing muscle groups of the hips. When an antagonistic muscle such as the glutes is tight, it’s opposing muscle (the hip flexors will be relaxed).
4. Stabilize the the lumbar spine (lower back) within the range of motion it already has. The lower back has enough range of motion. It is the pieces around it which need the work. So get to know your planks and plank variations!
5. Improve tissue quality by foam rolling (there are 3 at the gym). Ask myself or one of the trainers for some tips if you are unsure!
6. Keep moving!
Yours in health,
Josh Saunders, BSc, CSCS
The Bootcamp Effect