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Squats have become so popular over the last few years and have become the go to exercise for building muscle in the lower body. Squatting is one of the most demanding and skilful exercises that exist. When mastered, squats can be the greatest weapon in the arsenal as you look to improve your strength and performance. Not only that, a good squat looks impressive too! However, if not respected, the squat can result in a serious injury. In this article we take a look at why lower back pain from squats occurs and how to alleviate it.

Why Squat?

Athletes across the world squat regularly…
This is because scientific research has shown squatting will improve power (your ability to overcome a resistance with speed). The evidence suggests a direct link between squatting strength, power and sprint speed! Even if you are not an athlete, adding squatting correctly to your workouts can have a wide range of benefits:

  • Body Building – Demanding, whole body exercises increase the release of hormones such as testosterone which are great muscle building stimulators!
  • Time in the gym – Spend less time in the gym doing a whole body workout in 1 exercise rather than several muscle isolation exercises.
  • Flexibility – Taking your body through big movements under load, will not only improve your strength, but significantly improve your joint range and muscle length.
  • Core strength – A squat asks for all the major muscles in the body to work together. A strong core keeps stability throughout the body and improves through good squatting technique.
  • Reducing Injury – Working all of your leg muscles together provides great synchronisation for the body. A well-coordinated body, means a more stable body and therefore, less likely to injure when running/jumping etc.
  • Social – Squatting with friends creates an environment where you can help each other or compete against each other.

Lower Back Pain and Squatting

Lower back pain accounts for around 9% of all GP visits and research suggests that 4 in 5 of us will experience it at some stage. This stat is a general one and does not take into the account the huge weights some people lift in the gym.

Lower back pain from squats is definitely not part and parcel with this exercise. There is always an underlying reason as to why you may be experiencing pain in your lower back such as:

  • Previous injury to the lower back
  • Poor technique
  • Weakness of the core or other surrounding muscles
  • Tight muscles and reduced range in joints
  • Incorrect footwear
  • Wrong environment
  • Progressing the weight too quickly

Office Work, Back Pain and Squatting

When sat at a desk for long hours on end we often find ourselves feeling pain or stiffness in our lower back. This is because the muscles in the body, particularly the core, becomes weak. Staying in the same position also loads the joints and discs, it is this continuous load that your back doesn’t like.

This can become more of an issue if you go straight from the office to the gym. Especially in the lunch hour where you may struggle to complete a thorough warm up. Heading to the gym without fully stretching and preparing your body is a frequent factor in lower back pain from squats.

Common Types of Lower Back Pain and Squatting

Some of the well-known types of low back pain include nerve root irritation (e.g. sciatica), muscles spasm, bone deformity, ligament or muscle strain, or intervertebral disc prolapse or degeneration. Each of these problems can affect individuals differently – in some cases causing severe pain and disability and in others producing no symptoms at all.

DOMS – Delayed onset of muscle soreness. Gym regulars know this well! It is that morning after pain in the muscles that usually lasts around 48 hours. This IS normal and can be expected. Squats involve almost every muscle, so you can expect a lot of DOMS – especially if you are new to the gym or significantly increasing the weight you lift. This will ease and is ok to train again once settled. If it doesn’t, then it could be a sign of a muscle strain or other injury and worth seeking advice.

I’m getting low back pain, what should I do?

There are several options. Some cases of lower back pain resolve on their own. However, it often require some intervention from a physiotherapist.

  • If you’re at a desk, simply changing the load of your back by standing every little while can really make the difference.
  • Are you doing an effective warm up? Engaging all the main muscles individually is really important before a squat. You may start with some glute work, core activation in a plank, some stretching and range of movement exercises etc. Seek advice if you’re unsure on how to do this!
  • Speak with a personal trainer, they can teach you effective warm ups and squatting technique.
  • If you are doing everything you think you can, visit a physiotherapist. A physiotherapist will take you through an assessment to identify the source of your back pain, addressing your squatting technique and biomechanics. Following this a wide variety of treatment techniques will be used, alongside exercise to work on any issues identified in assessment.
  • If the back pain resolves quickly, but you are worried or just want to improve your technique, you can always pop in and see the physiotherapist or book in with the personal trainers.

As you can see, there can be many factors which lead to lower back pain from squats, many of which are avoidable. If you are experiencing pain in your lower back following exercise, the Capital Physio team are highly knowledgeable and will be happy to help you alleviate any discomfort. By discovering the root of the problem, we can ensure you prevent any reoccurrence of the pain in future and get you back to training to your full potential.

 

Article by: Adem Sogular, Chartered Physiotherapist at Capital Physio

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