Should I squat when I have lower back pain?

For many fitness junkies, squats are one of the most important parts of the strength training routine. They help strengthen your thighs, calves, glutes, hips, and back. The ability to do a good squat means being able to work muscles in the entire lower half of your body at once. But it stands to reason that squats – which involve bending at the knees and pushing back up with a heavyweight across your shoulders – have the potential to strain the back. If you’re experiencing aching and discomfort in the lumbar spine, your instinct might be to skip the squats until you’re feeling better. After all, you don’t want to add additional pressure to the sore muscles. But is that really the right call? It turns out that when you ask fitness experts, physical therapists, and chiropractors alike, public opinion on the subject is fairly divided. One opinion: Squats can alleviate your lower back pain if you do them right. The other opinion: It’s not worth the stupid risk of injury if you do something wrong.

Both are technically true. To start, let’s unpack the risk of injury. You have a higher risk of getting injured doing squats if you’re doing them without a spotter. When you engage in potentially dangerous fitness exercises, it’s important to have someone watching you who can correct your form and intervene if something goes wrong. Many an injury has been prevented by the quick reflexes of a spotter. Another note is that if you’re adding any new exercise to your routine, particularly an intense strength training exercise, you want a professional to walk you through it. A fitness trainer or physical therapist can show you the form, explain the most key points about the form, and advise you on important mistakes to avoid making. When you start exercising, they can correct any mistakes they see. That immediately lowers your chances of straining your muscles or injuring your spine. Squatting has a higher risk of lumbar spine injury than many other exercises. It requires a degree of control and concentration that you cannot let lapse for a fraction of a second. If you think that you don’t have the strength or the mental presence to constantly self-correct your form, then squats should not be on the daily menu. You’ll hurt yourself.

How Can Squats Help My Back Pain if I Have a Spotter Watching My Form?

In some physical therapy regimens, squats are actually recommended as a full-body strengthening exercise for people who have sustained a lumbar spine injury. If you’ve mostly recovered from the injury but still feel a dull aching, squats may be able to help you retrain and heal your muscles. Squats can be an important part of a physical therapy and fitness regimen after you hurt your lumbar spine in these circumstances:

  • You’ve recovered from the injury and gone through stabilizing physical therapy exercises
  • You’re ready to build up strength again after a long recovery time
  • You don’t have any ongoing issues with joint slippage, hyperflexibility, or sudden weakness in the lower body
  • You have a professional coaching and watching you to make sure you don’t injure yourself again
  • You feel mentally present enough not to accidentally slip your spine out of alignment
  • Your pain levels do not interfere with walking and general motor function

For those doing general fitness training, ask your trainer for advice about whether it’s a good idea. For those in physical therapy, ask your physical therapist. If you’re doing a barbell squat by holding a barbell across your shoulders, these are the steps you should follow:

  • Hold the barbell over your shoulders, using your arm muscles to keep it up so there’s not unnecessary pressure against your spine
  • Stand with both feet facing forward and the chest up and straight to take additional stress off the lumbar spine
  • Descend by flexing your hips and knees and bringing the barbell straight down
  • Brace your abs on the way down to keep your back from rounding and becoming strained
  • Ascend by using the hip and knee joints alone rather than curling your back

Any misstep in any of those steps can cause back pain, so you have to remember what muscles and joints are working at all times. If you want to get your lower back pain evaluated and double check your squat form, you can schedule a consultation at 205-637-1363 today.

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