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I have been weight training for 18 months, and in the past few months have started to get lower back pain. I particularly feel it when I wake up in the morning. Nothing too serious or painful but I can certainly feel it.

I have started to do a number of lower back stretches, particularly first thing in the morning, which definitely relieves the pain, but doesn't eliminate it. At gym I do hyper-extensions which also help a lot.

My question is:

Should I be doing any specific weighted back exercises (deadlifts,good-mornings, weighted hyper-extensions) or will that simply increase the pain and be counter-productive?

What else could / should I be doing so that I don't increase the pain and rather find a way to alleviate it?

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How frequently are you lifting weights? –  Robin Ashe Sep 25 '12 at 8:23
    
Are you actively training your back? For example with Planks and Superman? –  Baarn Sep 25 '12 at 11:41
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what sort of weight lifting are you doing? maybe you've created an imbalance in your body? –  DForck42 Sep 25 '12 at 14:35
    
I agree with @DForck42. Knowing what exercises you are doing will give a better idea of what you may be overlooking or overdoing. –  BackInShapeBuddy Sep 25 '12 at 23:03
    
I'm doing weight training 4 times a week. Roughly as follows: Monday - Chest (bench press, incline press, dumbbell fly) and Back (mostly upper back - rows, lat pulldowns), Wednesday: Shoulders (presses, raises), Friday: Arms (curls, pushdowns), Saturday: Legs (squats, extensions). –  Josh Sep 26 '12 at 6:10

4 Answers 4

Thanks for providing the information about your workout. I agree with @Informaficker that the best way to deal with a back problem is to seek professional expertise. Lots of people have back pain and lots have advice about what worked for them. However, all back pain is not alike and there are many contributing factors, so treat your condition as unique. Most likely, at this point, adding weighted exercises on your own could be counter-productive. Here are my suggestions:

1) Find a Good Trainer: Have a pro check out your form. Improper form can lead to pain and dysfunction. Incorrect form over time can cause progressively unbalanced compressive forces on your joints or can cause an acute injury. So find a professional trainer who can correct any mis-alignments and problems in your form when you are weight lifting.

  • Examples of Poor Form that can cause Back Pain: There are some generalizations that can be made about weight lifting contributing to back pain. Improper form in the squat such as leaning too far forward can load the spine and cause back pain. In the standing shoulder press, an example of poor form that can stress the back would be holding the bar too far back causing arching of the back. Taking video of your form helps you analyze any potential problem areas and can help you to correct your form. Sometimes it is much easier to see a fault rather than to feel it.

2) Find a Good Health Practitioner/Therapist: Since you currently have back pain that you are unable to eliminate, it is time to see a professional to evaluate the cause(s), treat any offending tissues (joints, muscles, fascia) and instruct you in specific exercises (stretching and strengthening) to correct imbalances.

  • Palpation, postural and movement analysis, and an assessment of your range of motion will tell if you have joint, muscle and/or fascial restrictions. You will likely be given flexibility exercises to address any restrictions of the trunk, chest, hips and lower extremities.

  • Specific muscle testing will identify any weaknesses that need to be addressed. The best part about seeing a pro is to get knowledge specific to your body and information as to what you can do towards correcting your particular dysfunction(s). While exercises that emphasize stability are generally good for the back (as those seen on our site like the plank, bridge and bird dog), they may or may not be the key to correcting your back problem.

  • Choosing a Practitioner: You will find that all physical (physio) therapists, doctors and other practitioners such as chiropractors, massage therapists etc. are not alike. For hands on treatment choose a manual therapist who specializes in back treatment. Or you may prefer a sports medicine therapist/doctor that will be more tuned in to your gym program, but who may not be as skilled at hands on treatment. Try to get personal recommendations from people in the gym who have been treated successfully.

3) Set up your Back Routine: Because you have already found that your back is responsive to stretching and strengthening exercises, you should respond well if you get the right combination of exercises. In addition to exercise there are other self treatment techniques you can ask your therapist about:

  • Self massage techniques such as using a foam roller, a tennis ball or a miracle ball as they can also help to release tightness.

  • For some back conditions, traction helps relieves pressure. There are ways to provide self traction, but check with your healthcare pro first to see if it is appropriate for your back.

  • KinesioTape is another self treatment technique that may help and your therapist can instruct you how to apply it.

Tissue imbalances in the feet, legs, hips, upper back, neck and even the arms can all contribute to back pain, so trying to find the right combination without professional input may be difficult.

Hope that helps to get you started. Back pain will often ease off on its own. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem has been resolved. It may just mean that your body has accommodated to the dysfunction, only to flare up again (or in a different place). So heed everyone’s advice and find the right professionals to educate you on correcting your form and balance your body. Good luck.

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Great and thorough answer, thank you! –  Josh Sep 26 '12 at 13:22
    
nice answer, except the taping part. +1 anyway –  Baarn Sep 26 '12 at 14:02
    
Josh, you are welcome. @Info, I’ve used and benefitted from kinesiotape, so I included it in my answer. The skeptic's link sites advertising claims that were not substantiated, primarily because the studies were not “sufficiently robust”, had limitations including small sample sizes, some lacked sham taping and some studied KT in conjunction with other therapies. But despite their limitations, they do show statistically significant increased joint range of motion and decreased pain. For many of us, if it works, it works, placebo or not. Scientific "proof" may also have its own limitations. –  BackInShapeBuddy Sep 26 '12 at 19:07
    
I mostly disagree with you here, but I think we shouldn't argue about it either. You have given a thorough answer and in the end Josh has to decide what he tries and thinks is useful for himself :) –  Baarn Sep 26 '12 at 19:49
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You weren't, but I think we both could and I don't think the comments are a good place to do. –  Baarn Sep 26 '12 at 20:20

As this is a health question you should not rely on diagnoses given through the Internet.

Go see a professional, that means someone who studied this stuff, a Sports Medicine Doctor or at least a general physician.

Chiropractors, Manual Therapists, Gym Trainers, you never know how experienced they are, what they base their knowledge on, and if they got their certificate on a weekend course or if they worked a year for that. (This of course differs from country to country, too)

From the hearsay I overheard when at my physiotherapist, I would guess that your base core muscles are too weak to support you. You can check this with planks and side planks.
My next guess would be, that you have overstressed your joints. Your muscles and tendons adapt to new motions and exercises a lot faster than your bones and joints do, you could have permanently wrecked your cartilage.

But again, what do I know, I can scare the heck out of you or give you advice that wont help your problem, so please:

Go see a professional

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In Germany for example you have chiropractors and chirotherapists. The latter are MD's who attended additional chirotherapy lessons, but everybody can call themselves chiropractor (It is not a protected job description). –  Baarn Sep 26 '12 at 9:53

The fact your back is stiff and painful in the morning suggests inflammation as this builds as we sleep for a number of reasons. Combined with the fact you find extension of the back releaving and have most probably been compressing your lower back when weight training, I would suggest it is most likely an annular strain or tear of your intervertebral disc.

I would suggest seeing a manual therapist for advice. In the mean time, use ice to calm the inflammation. Knee hugs and traction by hanging from a chin up bar and reduce the weights for a period of 2weeks for it to settle. You then should concentrate on building the strength of your core muscles before lifting heavy weights to prevent it from worsening.

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Most likely your back doesn't hurt because it's weak, it hurts because it is overused.

Why is it overused?

In a lot of chronic cases (which seems to be your case as well), our back - which main function is stability - has to cover for joints that are not doing their job.

The joints I speak of are the one below (our hips) and the one above (thoracic spine).

The hips and t-spine have the primary role of mobility but when we sit all day and have poor computer posture (did you just straighten up?), they become stiff and tight.

Essentially, they become too tight to perform their role.

When this happens, our back jumps in and says "I can do it!", but really, it can't.

Hence, the pain.

So conclusion? Stop stretching your back and start doing mobility exercises for the joints that need to be mobile. I wrote a program for that exact problem HERE (warning: it's my website) or you can just find some mobility exercises online.

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Enjoyed your website and your YouTube playlist, thank you. –  Josh Sep 26 '12 at 13:59

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