Let me paint a picture for you.
You’re in the gym. It’s squat day. You walk up to the bar and your first 1-2 sets are going well. But during your third set you feel a slight twinge in your low back. You don’t think much of it. Call it a day on the squats and start working on the rest of your movements for the day.
Well as you’re heading into your accessory work you notice the back pain is still present. So you take it easy for the rest of the day and head home. You wake up the next morning and the low back pain is still there so you decide to skip legs for the next couple days. Only train upper body and hope the pain goes away on its own.
Well…a couple of things are going to happen in this situation.
- You’re either going to take a break from lifting lower body exercises for a few days/weeks and start to feel a lot better. So you think you’re ready to squat again, but the second you do you notice the pain comes back
- OR you’re going to take a few days off, start to feel partially better but notice that the pain never really completely goes away
Why does this happen?
Well there’s a really good analogy I have to describe what’s happening in the body when you opt for one of these two options.
Imagine your car needs an oil change. If you set the car in the garage for six weeks and don’t touch it the car’s okay right? But the second you go to turn the car back on to drive it that light that says something’s wrong with the car is going to come back on and the car isn’t going to function properly. Why? Because you never addressed the underlying issue in the car, you never changed the oil
The same thing is true with your body. You can take a few days or even weeks off resting, but the second you go back to lifting weights again if you never did anything to address the underlying issues on why the back was hurting in the first place it’s likely going to continue to be a problem
So what do you do instead?
1. Activity modification: Instead of completely resting and not lifting at all or avoiding major muscle groups or body parts, use activity modification to adjust the training load and stimulus on the body. We can achieve this a couple different ways: either decreasing the weight, sets or reps, performing a modification of the exercise, performing the movement with modified range of motion or a combination of the above.
Now depending on how severe the injury or pain is, you might have to take a break from lifting all together but it doesn’t mean you should stop moving. If you’re still able to do light activities like walking you should continue to keep those in your routine.
2. Intentional movement: While you continue to do what your body will allow you to at this time, it’s also important to address any underlying impairments that may have contributed to why the pain started in the first place. Do you have muscular imbalances, weaknesses, are your supporting structures weak. This can sometimes be difficult to navigate and is where working with a professional can come in handy.
3. Graded exposure: Once you begin to address any underlying impairments that may be present it’s time to start gradually exposing your body to the stimulus that was once painful. The process of graded exposure is going to be different for everyone depending on their body and pain they are working through.
You want to really listen to your body during this time and make sure you’re using cues to help you gauge if you’re progressing too fast or not. Pain is okay when you’re in this stage of rehab but generally you want to keep it at around a 4/10 on the pain scale or less. Some other cues to watch out for is long it’s taking you to recover in between sessions, and making sure you’re paying attention to things like sleep, stress and nutrition during this time as well
Have questions about anything in this article! Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via instagram or you can send me an email to Britni@riseperformanceandpt.com and I’d be happy to support you any way that I can!