Regular exercise is an important part of achieving good health and wellbeing. Implementing squats into your workout routine can have numerous benefits for your body, including faster weight loss, improved muscular strength, and stronger bones.
But what happens if squats cause lower back pain? Should you say "no" to these highly effective exercises? Digging deeper into the causes could help you prevent painful movements but still enjoy a healthy lifestyle.
Let's take a closer look at how to fix lower back pain from squats.
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Many traditional workout routines include squats, an exercise that targets a specific group of muscles that includes glutes, thighs, hips, calves, and legs. Depending on the variation of squats and the amount of weight lifted, you can achieve various positive results.
To do a traditional squat, you need to:
Place your feet hip-distance apart with your toes facing forward.
Keep your arms and hands forward (e.g., in a prayer position).
Bend your legs 90 degrees, shift your body weight to your heels, and sit back.
Stop when your thighs are parallel to the floor.
Make sure your knees don't go far beyond your toes.
Hold the position for roughly three seconds.
Rise back up.
These steps will most likely vary person-to-person because of several factors, including fitness levels, body shape, and goals. However, these are the general steps needed to perform a traditional squat.
If you are just starting out, you may only be able to do a couple of squats in a row. If you continue to increase the repetitions or weight gradually, you can eventually take advantage of such benefits as:
Research suggests that squats activate your spinal muscles more than the plank.¹ Developing these muscles is important for keeping a healthier posture.
A regular squatting routine has been shown to improve multiple areas of athletic performance, including your speed, strength, and endurance.²
Squats strengthen your muscles and help you burn calories. As a result, you can look and feel healthier and stronger.
Healthier knee joints
Squats can help you build muscles to support your knees and take the joints’ stress. If pain limits your movement, you can perform gentler squats (e.g., wall squats, where you lean your back against a wall for support).
Higher mineral bone density
Including squats into your regular exercise routine can increase bone mineral density.³ Having denser and stronger bones at a young age can prevent conditions such as osteoporosis later in life.
You can start by implementing three sets of 10 repetitions into your workout routine. If you want to progress, you can add weight or increase the amount of repetitions/sets. However, if you feel lower back pain when squatting down, stop and seek the advice of a health professional. For some, squats may be doing more harm than good.
The common reasons why you may feel lower back pain when squatting down are:
Just as with any exercise, proper technique is important. There shouldn’t be any accompanying lower back pain when performing squats correctly. Any previous knee or hip injuries can also increase stress through the lower back. If you’re not sure your technique is correct, you can have it checked by a health professional, such as a physical therapist or personal trainer.
Too much pressure
If you don't exercise regularly and suddenly perform too many squats at once, this could tire the lower back. Especially if other muscles like the glutes or thighs aren’t strong enough yet, your lower back could be working too hard, leading to aches and pains.
Muscle injuries can occur when squatting, especially if you lift too much weight or have poor technique. The muscle can begin to overstretch and sometimes even tear in these situations.
Lower back injury
If you've previously injured your lower back, an old injury can reappear when squatting.
Muscles can also spasm or tighten if they can’t handle the amount of weight from your squat. One way to prevent this is to warm up to get the muscles ready.
Insufficient hip mobility
Whether because of age or genetics, hip mobility can become a problem. Especially if you squat deep, the lower back can compensate for tight hip joints, causing pain or discomfort over time.
If you experience lower back pain when doing squats, you need to stop and assess the situation. A mild ache could eventually turn into a serious injury. Don't try to ignore the pain and continue working out.
Here are a few simple ways to deal with lower back pain from squats.
If your lower back is protesting, don't push it. Stop squatting and take a break. You could stop the workout altogether and focus on a different group of muscles. Always listen to your body and never push through sharp pain. Instead, you can take a temporary pause and start again when your body feels ready. Pain for more than two days could mean more than just workout soreness.
Adjust your technique
Improper technique is a common cause of injury and should be your number one priority. Pay attention to:
Avoiding an arched back (tilt your pelvis forward to eliminate the arch)
Favoring one side (distribute your weight evenly)
Pushing your knees beyond the toes (they should be just above your feet)
Ideally, you should work with a personal trainer to correct your technique. If that's not an option, you can browse YouTube videos and try to follow expert advice. Even small corrections in your squat technique can help prevent lower back pain.
Talk to a professional
If you constantly experience lower back pain when squatting, you may want to talk to a healthcare professional, such as a personal trainer or physiotherapist. Besides adjusting your technique, a trainer can help you add squats to your workout routine more efficiently.
If you are limited by your core strength, you may need to start with an workout easier routine. Having an expert in your corner can help you progress much quicker than on your own
Always talk to your trainer or therapist about previous injuries, as this may affect the recommendations and advice they give you. Sometimes, they may need to adjust the technique to accommodate your body's individual needs.
Lower the weight
Like an improper technique, lifting too-heavy weights can place too much pressure on the lower back. Make sure you develop a strong base before pushing yourself too hard with weights.
Talk to your trainer about how much weight you can lift while squatting. If you don't have access to a trainer, you can always experiment with the weight. Slow and sensible increases are essential for preventing lower back pain.
Try to manage the pain
Muscle aches and stiffness can be a normal process during your body’s recovery from squatting. Consider performing some stretches and exercises to help relax your achy muscles. Unless the pain is sharp and debilitating, continue with gentle movement.
Try using heat or ice to numb the pain if you are sore. Some people prefer heat while others swear by ice. Try both if you don't know which one helps you with pain. Make sure not to keep heat or ice on your back for more than 20 minutes at a time.
You can also consider taking over-the-counter pain medications to relieve the pain. However, if the above remedies don't help, you need to contact a doctor.
See your doctor
Lower back pain that doesn't go away could be a sign of serious conditions. If it doesn't ease up within 72 hours, you may want to contact your doctor and get treatment.
You need to see a healthcare professional as soon as possible if:
You experience sharp lower back pain instead of a dull ache
The pain radiates from the lower back to your legs (this could be a sign of nerve compression)
You feel numbness or pins and needles in the glutes or the groin area
Your pain is accompanied by fever
Even if your pain is manageable, you may still want to speak to a doctor. They can offer important advice on how to prevent it in the future.
If you are performing squats correctly, you shouldn't experience any lingering or sharp pain in the lower back. If the pain occurs, you may need to rethink your approach to this exercise. Here are a few ways to avoid lower back pain from squats.
Warm-up before the workout
Warming up before a workout helps you stay healthy and avoid injuries. If your muscles are cold, they might not work as effectively, which can cause stress on the lower back.
The warmup helps the heart pump more blood to the muscles you are working on. As your muscles get more blood and oxygen, they can contract and relax more easily. Research shows that an adequate warm-up improves workout performance by 79%.⁴
Choose the right squat variation
Not all squats are created equal. Some are great for beginners, while others should be left to experienced lifters. Try starting with classic bodyweight squats instead of going straight to heavy barbell front or back squats. Once you decide to progress, monitor how your lower back is coping. Never push your body to extreme discomfort. Even strong athletes need recovery and light workout sessions to prevent injuries.
Strengthen your lower back muscles
If your lower back muscles are strong, you can avoid back pain even if your squatting technique isn't perfect. Examples of exercises that help you strengthen these muscles include:
Knee to chest stretches
Lower back rotational stretches
Adding these exercises into your workout routine can help address obvious weaknesses and reduce the risk of injuring your back.
Besides helping you avoid back pain from squats, strong lower back muscles can prevent postural imbalances and everyday aches and pains.
Rethink your workout
Many people will often incorporate multiple exercises into their workouts. It can be hard to determine which exercise(s) are to blame for your lower back pain. Can you really be sure that squats are causing your lower back pain? Sometimes, other exercises could be responsible. Common back pain culprits include:
High-impact aerobic exercises
When done correctly, none of them should cause lower back pain. However, performing these incorrectly can lead to lower back pain when squatting, even with the correct technique. Sometimes, all it takes is the last straw to break the camel’s back.
Stretch after exercising
To avoid lower back pain after doing squats, make sure to stretch properly. Stretching allows your lower back muscles to stay flexible and loose. Even if you put too much pressure on them during exercising, repeating an appropriate stretch can help relieve pain.
More often than not, fixing lower back pain from squats is as easy as adjusting your technique or exercise routine. However, any persisting or severe pain could signal serious problems that need professional attention.
If you do experience pain, make sure to return to your workout routine slowly. Consider performing some stretches, using heat/ice, or even over-the-counter medicines if needed.
If the problem persists, talk to a professional, like a doctor, personal trainer, or physical therapist, about how to fix lower back pain from squats.
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