Back pain can be unbearable.
It can throw a wrench in your exercise routine.
It can cause you to say "I'm just going to take today off."
BUT NOT TODAY.
In this article, I want to talk about how we should be approaching training with back pain, and then, 3 exercises you can make use of to train around it.
Like all of my articles in which I discuss pain and injury, please go see a doc if your specific context calls for it.
None of this is meant to replace medical advice, but hopefully you find some value in the content, thoughts, and discussion!
What is PAIN?
First, it is important that we understand chronic pain probably isn't what you think it is.
It's not an indication of being broken.
It's not an issue with your posture.
And it's definitely not a sign that you should stop training.
Pain is unbelievably complex.
It's a combination of internal and external stressors that, when heightened too much or exposed to us in ways that we are ill prepared for, can cause pain.
These stressors include physical, mental, emotional, environmental, and even social, all accumulating and amounting to the totality of stress being placed on you at any point in time.
Only partly is this accumulation of stress actually caused by physical damage to the body - the majority of it relates to our feelings, perceptions, and emotions OF the pain and stress we are experiencing.
So, when you say you have chronic back pain, know that it COULD BE driven by some physical injury, but it ALSO IS driven by the way you are VIEWING and UNDERSTANDING that pain.
Many people have injuries to their back, yet feel no pain.
Some people feel pain, without an injury to their back.
This tells us that pain is much deeper than simply, I am injured, therefore pain.
THE WORST THING TO DO WHEN EXPERIENCING PAIN...
Is to stop training.
Do not simply stop training when you are experiencing chronic pain.
Doing so will likely further sensitize the area experiencing pain, and will remove strength, speed, and functional adaptations that you have created over time to make yourself more resilient and adaptable.
Instead, here's the plan...
First, I want you to find what exercises make your pain flair up.
What movements cause the pain to worsen?
This is a critical piece of information for you in your attempt to desensitize, strengthen, and restore maximum function.
Second, regress that discovered exercise to a point where NO PAIN is present while completing it.
But, how do we regress an exercise?
First, we can remove or limit the LOAD that we are placing on the body while completing the exercise. This could be as simple as grabbing a 30 lb dumbbell instead of a 45 lb.
Secondly, we can limit the range of motion we complete the exercise through.
Thirdly, we can completely change the exercise to a less stressful variation of a similar pattern.
Slowly, overtime, we can apply the principles of progressive overload as our pain tolerance increases and sensitivity decreases.
Eventually, adaptations created by this overload strategy can help restore complete function and remove pain.
Below I'll discuss three specific exercises that can often cause back pain and the process we should take in training to work around the pain!
"The RDL makes my back hurt"
The RDL is a hip hinge pattern where the spine stays relatively rigid, and we actively load the low back, glutes, and hamstrings.
If this exercise flairs up your back pain, we want to find a variation of a hinge pattern that allows loading and movement to occur through the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, and low back) WITHOUT pain. Follow the steps below!
First, let's try decreasing the LOADING.
If there is no pain with less loading, continue using that lesser loading until you get stronger and more resilient - slowly creeping the loading upwards overtime.
Second, let's try limiting the RANGE OF MOTION.
These exercises move our body through similar loading patterns, but drastically reduce the stress, thereby allowing us to load the painful segment, without having to absorb pain.
Over time, as we progress these non-painful patterns and exercises, we will desensitize and restore function, (hopefully) eliminating chronic pain.
"SQUATS makes my back hurt"
The squat is a NECESSARY exercise for all athletes.
It loads the lower body in a way that it is tough to replicate with other patterns. That being said, there are many different ways to squat.
If a back squat bothers your back, let's walk through our three step process for training around the pain!
First, let's try decreasing the LOADING.
Second, let's try shifting the loading to the frontside of our body. Doing so allows us to keep a more upright posture (taking the lower back through a lesser range of motion) and it'll distribute less stress towards our lower back.
"ROTATION makes my back hurt"
Does it hurt to rotate your upper body?
The last thing we want to do is simply REMOVE rotation from our training as it is a necessary part of the sport of golf.
But, there are ways we can minimize stress while rotating to hopefully restore function, strength, and pain-free movement!
First, remove any loading present. For example, if you experience pain when completing exercises like this...
... let's simply remove the cable machine and try rotating without load.
Rotate daily until you start to feel more comfortable and then slowly reintroduce loading.
Second, limit range of motion.
Use an exercise like the rotational wall touch to limit the range of motion you are rotating through.
Third, try this exercises instead... Pallof ISO. This exercise removes rotation altogether, but still maintains high loading on the core and torso in a rotationally directed manner.
Assuming this is pain-free, this exercise allows you to still stress and strengthen the core, but do so in a pain-free way. Over time, as you expose the core to pain-free stress, it will create adaptations that help restore function and (hopefully) remove pain while rotating!
WRAP IT UP
AGAIN, go see a doc if you think the context of your pain demands it.
These are generalized ideas and need to be considered within the specific context of your pain.
I hope they help you make the necessary training adjustments to work around your back pain.
If you have further questions...
Join the SCRATCH CREW to get full access to me as your coach to help guide your exercise selection and programming!
Founder and Head Coach - SCRATCHGolfTraining.com
Carter is a strength and conditioning coach out of the Milwaukee area working with athletes, in-person and virtually. Having helped hundreds of athletes, ranging from the middle school to the professional level and beyond, Carter brings a breadth of experience and knowledge to every athlete he works with. He launched SCRATCHGolfTraining.com in the summer of 2021 to help empower golfers to greater performance and longevity.
Carter believes ALL golfers are athletes, and they should be training accordingly.
Become a SCRATCH Athlete today, and start training like the ATHLETE you are!