T Nation

Got Back Pain?

Studies show that at least 80% of America’s population will experience some form of back pain at some point in their lives. Take a quick run through some of these forums and you’ll see there are quite a few lifters who are plagued with some kind of nagging back injury.

These injuries include but are not limited to herniated discs, muscle strains, muscular imbalances, etc.

That said, there has been very sound advice on this website in regards to treating back pain. Focus on hip/thoracic mobility, lumbar spine stability, glute activation, static stretches for the hip rotators and flexors, aggressive soft tissue work, addressing any muscular imbalances and etc. Needless to say lifters have found tremendous benefit from these modalities.

If you look through some of my posts I too suffered from an a nagging lower back injury that sent me into an agonizing pain whenever I tried to bend over. After 9 months of utilizing the methods above, I was about to deadlift and squat again, almost pain free(Extensive prior foam rolling and warm up/mobility drills).

One thing I’ve been thinking about however, is how breathing can affect back pain. Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, and Mike Boyle discussed a while back, how faulty breathing patterns can affect shoulder pain. I won’t go into detail about the explanation (you can probably find it running a search or visiting their blogs).

This got me thinking. The diaphragm is a thin muscle that covers the inside of the ribs and chests and functions to assist inhalation and exhalation. This muscle has a fascia that connects to the psoas and the quadratus lumborum. It would make sense that if there were soft tissue adhesions in the diaphragm, this would in turn have an effect on those muscles which could exacerbate back pain. By releasing some of the tension in the diaphragm you may be able to take some of the stress off the pelvic floor muscles and reduce your pain. I experimented with this by rolling a tennis ball around the ribs and serratus anterior and found some pretty good benefit.

This is just a thought though. These soft tissue adhesions could be caused by a chronic cough, faulty breathing patterns, being out of shape and jumping into a rigorous activity too fast (forced exhalation, out of breath type deal). In any case, try it for yourself and see if it may help.

nice post


I had a serious back injury and also got rid of a lot of my pain with the methods you listed in your post.

Some pain still remained years after the injury, though. I got rid of the remaining pain after doing a few more things. One of these was practicing a singing technique which focuses on expanding the lower part of the ribcage (around T10-T12) and keeping it expanded while singing, which is basically a long, slow, controlled, resisted exhale.

This allows the diaphragm to freely regulate the air pressure on the vocal cords without being compressed by the rib cage.

I have not mentioned this here on T-Nation because I know it sounds foreign, but I do know that these singing exercises stabilize my spine and help it function better. Singing does differ from a simple exhale in that a normal exhale has no resistance.

The vocalizing is kind of a resistance training for the diaphragm. Non-singers could use a breathing resistance device which could conceivably work just as well.

My experience does jive with some of the research I read about in one of Stuart McGill’s books: when athletes are out of breath or breathing heavily due to the demands of their sport, their spinal stability and support is impaired. So breathing and spinal stability are intimately related.