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The Ultimate Back Pain Relief Tips Blog

When I Do Squats, My Back Pain Increases. Is That Okay?

Posted by Illinois Back Institute on Wed, May 02, 2018 @ 03:30 PM

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 3.22.32 PM     This question came up twice on YouTube, one time on Facebook, and one time in my webinar, it’s a more common question recently. I don't know why but it is, but the question is "When I do squats, my back pain gets worse." Why is that? Or is that okay? One of the things that I preach is that if you have a bad back, squats are some of the best exercises you can do because if you have a bad back, you need tom activate and strengthen your gluteus. Which are your primary movers, and very important stabilizers of
your spine, so if you have weak gluteus, very often you will perpetuate a back problem. So, I tell patients to do squats. Now there is a time when squats can make you worse. Now I'm going to explain a little bit about the spine and why you can make it worse but not everybody has this problem, everybody is a little bit different and there are certain types of hips that will actually make you more prone to having back problems when you do squats but there is a way to avoid it. I'm going to show you why and I'm going to show you how you can avoid it or what you can do. The one thing you have to be aware of. This is my back. I had a severe back problem, I never have pain, but I have severe pain for years and years. And I couldn't do squats, I couldn't do anything because it hurt so bad.

     Now I do squats, and I squat maybe 250 pounds without any problem at all. I’m not encouraging everybody to start squatting heavy weights because it’s not good for everybody, but my point is, I have a severely degenerated disc and when this MRI was taken I had a pretty severely herniated disc, I had some stenosis, and I had sciatica in both of my legs. SO, I know back pain and I know problems, but I can do it, and the key is that if you do it properly then you won't have a problem but I'm going to define a little bit about the spine, so you know how you can have problems when you squat. Some of you may have seen this and I did It not too long ago, but this is a typical spine. Heads here, hips are here, and there are 24 vertebrae between the head and the hips, the vertebrae are the bones. In-between each bone there is a disc. the disc allows for motion of the vertebrae. Now when you squat, and you start to develop some back problems, you're starting to develop a problem in your disc. Or you have a problem in your disc and its aggregating the spine. Now when you're squatting very often you're holding the bar bell on your shoulders. And as you squat down it starts to very often stress the disc. SO one vertebrae on top of the other, the disc is in-between the vertebrae. The disc is a lot like a jelly donut in the sense that on the outside there is a thick material and inside there is a jelly like substance. Gravity goes right through the middle of the disc, stress is distributed evenly in all direction on the annulus. When you squat, sometimes what can happen, is you can flex when you get to the lowest part of your squat, and when you flex at the lowest part of your squat, what you do is you force pressure on the annulus, and very often you force it into one area, and if you're baring load which means you're doing squats with weights, very often what you're doing is you're compression that annulus at a very high level. So, the key to doing squats is maintaining your posture as you go up and down.

     So, you have the barbell on your shoulder, and as you go up and down you need to be sure that you maintain your posture. The posture is to keep the spine in this position, as you squat down, very often what happens is you get to the bottom, and because of your hip joints, the pelvis will roll forward, just a little bit. This is flexion. They call it a wink. But what’s really happening is your flexing and when you're flexing your loading the disc. And its forcing the annulus out, and as it forces the annulus out you're going to start to cause some pain. You're going to start the damage on a little bit of the annulus. Under the load, the hip is set of going into a position where you flex at the local part, then you're loading the disc. What happens is as you go down, you want to make sure you maintain that posture. Okay in that position, the spine is most stable and you're not loading the disc. But if you go too far, what will happen is your spine does this. So, if you're squatting and you have pain, make sure you don't go to the point where the spine does this. Because that’s when you're going to start to damage the annulus.

     It’s not uncommon for heavy lifters to say, I've been squatting for years and now I'm starting to have some back problems. ITs not uncommon that they would start to have a little bit of damage on the disc, so what I tell them is well don't go as far. Everybody says they need to do it at 45 degrees, well if you're at 45 degrees and it puts you in a position where you're over flexing your spine, you're going to damage the disc! SO, what you have to do is you need to see if you're maintaining that position or what’s happening when you're getting to the bottom of your squat. Okay, it’s not going to flex 4 inches, it'll flex maybe a half inch, or an inch. But it’s enough to cause the damage to the disc. But if you're having back pain when you're squatting, it’s not okay. You want to make sure you don't go down to the position where you're getting that flexion. Now the depth of your hip joint will also dictate how far you can squat. If you have a really deep hip joint you're not going to be able to squat too far. The narrow hip joints can actually squat deeper. The goal is not to squat deep, the goal is to activate your gluteus, and you don't need to go all the way down in order to activate your gluteus.