If you are a strength or combat athlete you cannot afford to get any kind of injury—especially a lower back injury. If you injure an appendage, you are limited in that one way in that you cannot use an arm or leg for particular movements. If you injure your lower back badly, however, you may not even be able to walk, period. First off, don’t let it go on for too long; get checked out by your doctor. He or she can diagnose the problem, tell you how serious it is (or not) and let you know when it is safe to get back to exercising.
When someone says they have a lower back injury, they are usually referring to what is called the lumbar region just above the gluteus maximus. The injury can run the gamut from minor to moderate to severe. Typically, there is some kind of tear involving soft tissue (muscles) and or ligaments and usually the treatment, at first, is the same: Bed rest. Medication may or not be prescribed by your doctor. If there is much pain due to back spasms, however, muscle relaxants (sedatives) may enter into the medical protocol as well as perhaps NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
Back Injury and Sciatica
Many people who have lower back pain are told by their doctor that they have something called sciatica. There is no one cause of sciatica and it is not a medical condition by itself. Sciatica is a set of symptoms that may or not include pain or numbness. Sometimes there is a compression of a lumbar or sacral nerve or maybe the sciatic nerve itself is affected. It may be caused by a pelvic injury or fracture or a herniated disk from a vertebra because of sitting for long periods with bad posture, improperly lifting something too heavy or a host of other things.
An Ounce of Back Injury Prevention
It cannot be over emphasized enough that you should consult with a doctor about a lower back injury. If you wish to go to a chiropractor for some spinal manipulation, fine but go to a doctor first. The doctor will tell what to do for your back injury treatment and that is that.
After your back has healed and you have your doctor’s permission to exercise again or before you ever even get a back injury, there is one main preventative measure you can take: If there is just one thing to take away from this article it is establishing the practice of maintaining in your workouts what is called a neutral back. It is also called a straight or arched back and it is all the same thing. To practice it, stand straight up, stick out your rear end and chest at the same time and put as much of a backward curve or arch in your back as possible. Flex your back and hold it. Make your body remember this when doing any type of standing up lifting exercise which may involve bending over such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, good mornings and such. There are five lumbar vertebrae in your lower back and they are stronger than the other vertebrae but you need strong muscles and good posture to fortify them.
Note: The practice of keeping a super arched back may not hold with all standing up lifting exercises. For instance, do not arch your back too much when doing overhead presses. In this instance, the weight overhead will cause too much flexion on your lumbar region and may cause injury. Lifts such as the Squat or Deadlift require an arched back.
Training the Core and some Back Injury Prevention Exercises
If you talk to most personal trainers they will go on and on talking about core muscles. Many people think that the core muscles consist of only the abdominals but there are some others. For the rectus abdominis (abdominals, washboards, six pack) you can do crunches, incline crunches, sit ups, hanging legs raises and the like. And for the other core areas:
- Erector Spinae: These start at the sacrum and run vertically up along the spine. Do bent rows, lat pull downs, good mornings, hyper extensions. (Train with very light weights at first when doing good mornings).
- The Obliques: These are stomach muscles at the sides. Do crunches and dumbbell side bends.
- The Transverse Abdominis: Some say this muscle is not big or strong enough to be a core stabilizer but it won’t hurt to do stomach vacuums once in awhile. Get down on hands and knees, exhale out all your air and suck in your belly button back in the direction of your spine. Hold as long as you can. Do a few sets.
- Multifidus: These are the same muscles a baby uses to crawl before they are strong and coordinated enough to stand up and walk. Get on hands and knees, extend your left leg out back and your right arm out front. Repeat for the opposite appendages.
- Hip flexors and all the gluteal and hamstring muscles: Do squats, lunges, deadlifts and all variations thereof.
- Adductors: These muscles are inside of your thighs. Put something like a medicine ball between your legs. Hold it there and then squat.
Do I Need a Weight Lifting Belt?
The whole principle behind using a weight lifting belt is that using it increases intra-abdominal pressure (AIP) and functions as if it is an extra muscle group (in your core) to provide greater stabilization. Some say a belt can become a crutch in that using one all the time never challenges your real core to become strong. To use a belt correctly, make sure that thing is strapped on real tight when performing heavy squats or deadlifts. Take care of your back and your back will take care of you and never worry about a back injury.