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Lower Back Flexibility Leads to Injury?


#1

I am continually tweaking my lower back. It has happened 3-4 times over the past year. I've normally been able to lay off it for a week or two, and it's still sore but begins getting better as soon as I directly train it (hyper extensions, RDLs, etc).

It never happens when lifting, always something silly like putting the weight back on the rack, roll-overs to V-sits, and similar situations. I hurt it squatting the other day (lower back caved), but I actually felt it go during the Agile 8 the day before, but forced it (have been fine w/ correct form)... so I don't believe it's a form issue, though I admit glute activation can be a prob in some lifts (additionally, I was only squatting 190, where I was 300 last year). I continued working on machines after this, but it hurt to even walk w/ 25 lb DBs; currently, it's sore and tight both standing and sitting w/ some temporary relief when sitting w/ a pillow support. When I leg press, I do go a bit deep on the ROM, w/ my butt moving maybe 1/2 inch, to get the stretch (see below).

I warm up and stretch pretty extensively.... 15 min. bike and 15 min. stretching before and after the workout. As part of my stretching, I stretch the lower back, including: slightly bent leg hugs, slightly rotated/bent leg hugs, single leg rotated hamstrings (IT band work), and sometimes use the leg press to push the legs up a bit (rounding the lower back) and stretch it.

So w/ all that, I decided I need to be more proactive and tried to read up on it. In one of the Cressey articles, he said that athletes tend to have less lower back flexibility than non-athletes because their strength serves to stabilize the back and prevent injury. This got me thinking that I have been mistaken in intentionally trying to keep a loose lower back. Is this a correct response?

On top of this, it sounds like I'll try the normal treatments:
-take it easy a couple weeks
-roll the glutes and lats
-keep stretching
-inversion table
-nutrition: keep up the protein, extra fish oil, extra greens (I'm on a cut, if it matters)

Is this approach correct? Thanks guys!


#2

Your right, stretching is not appropriate for a certain percentage of the population who are hypermobile. Besides the hypers and RDL's are you doing anything specific to stress the multifidi and transversus as they are important in stabilizing the spine.

Instead of all the passive stretching prior to working out why don't you perform a dynamic warm-up and some core activation exercises then do static stretching after, just a thought.

If this is a disc issue you may want to avoid all that flexion your doing with your back pre-workout as well.


#3

You have not been in error in attempting to keep your lower back mobile; there is nothing wrong with being capable of moving at the lumbar spine when need be/desired. You should however be capable of stabilizing it if need be/desired as well. The two are not mutually exclusive.

That said, you also need to make sure that you have sufficient mobility/flexibility in your hips and upper back as well. The body is designed to move at multiple joints during most movements while stabilizing others. If you are incapable of moving properly at a given joint, then your body will often make up for your lack of mobility at that joint by moving more at another joint (either excessively at one that should move or moving one that should be stable).

So, your issue may actually have nothing to do with your lower back flexibility and instead be due to a lack of hip flexion ROM (Glutes, Hamstrings, or Piriformis), ankle flexibility (possibly both Soleus and Gastrocnemius), or even Pecs (Major and Minor), Internal Rotators, Anterior Delts, Lats, or Biceps. Since you seem to aggravate it during things like roll-overs to v-sits, I suspect it is more likely to be hip mobility related though.

What kind of stretching are you doing post workout to try to improve your flexibility?


#4

I am not doing anything for the multifidi. For the transversus, I used to do side planks and other oblique work, but I phased that out as I began to squat heavier.

BTW, I hurt my knee almost a year ago (sprained quad tendon). I saw a doc and went through PT and all that, and they said to just continue strengthening it and stretching. Recommended exercises include: knee ext, leg curl, leg press, and lunges.

I do all of these at least once a week in addition to squats and SLDLs; I reset my squat to 0 and have been doing SS squats to bring it back up to where it is now. Recommended stretching includes those mentioned in the original post, plus quads, but w/ a yoga strap... I've been doing both hams at the same time to save time.

I'm not opposed to dynamic work, but as I mentioned, I did hurt it during roll overs, so I need to be cautious; I was actually doing the Agile 8 on an off day, and it's those rollovers that I felt it go. I have no idea if it is disc related, but since I never hurt it doing any specific heavy work or from an accident, I'm inclined to say it's not.

Warm-up/Stretching routine:
15 min. easy bike ride
maybe 2 min. on elliptical if it's a cooler day or don't feel it
Dual hamstring stretch
calf stretch
back of neck stretch
indv. rotated ham/IT stretch
shoulder stretch (hug other arm)
quad stretch
Dual hamstring stretch
hamstring hug or slightly rotated hamstring
pec stretch (shoulder stabilized against wall)
indv. rotated ham/IT stretch
lunge/mountain climber hold
breath of life/side stretch
quad stretch

Post-workout
Pretty much the same as pre, except I do the bike last or in the middle (transportation)

I hold the lower body stretches about 35 seconds and the upper body about 25 seconds. Currently, I would say my hamstrings are not getting stretched enough, because my tight lower back tends to keep me from bending over far enough. Pre-workout, I may be able to touch my toes. After a leg press day or SLDL day, I can get my knuckles to the ground.

I had some soreness in the hips about a month ago. That's when I really focused on stretching them well, and it went away.
My abs/hip flexors are probably the strongest they've ever been (leg raises). Lifestyle wise, I don't sit for hours on end, as I don't drive or work in an office... At home, I'll normally lay down, but that has nothing to do w/ my back.

Cheers


#5

Only reason suggested disc involvement is because the rollovers promote flexion which could potentially cause the disc to protrude out the back (think jelly donut), you don't need heavy lifting for this to occur it can be aggravated simply by bending over incorrectly. As far as dynamic work I was thinking more in the terms of high knees, butt kicks, lunges, etc not as far as rollovers/kstarr stuff.


#6

Ok, a couple of questions/comments about your stretching routine:

1) Do you perform that same stretching routine prior to every workout, or just lower body days?

2) I would recommend only performing static stretching for a muscle group if you feel that it will limit/hinder correct performance of the exercises you plan to do during your workout (for instance if you tend to come up on your toes during squats, I would use static stretching for your Soleus prior to squatting to help prevent this). Otherwise dynamic stretches (not to be confused with ballistic stretches), will generally be a better choice as they tend to keep the body warm (and even further warm up the specific tissues) yet still help your body to regain it's normal ROM (be advised though that dynamic stretching is not a great method of actually improving flexibility IME)

3) Your warm-up sequence looks both disorganized/haphazardly sequenced and excessive from a time perspective. My suggestion would be to focus on the muscles or movement patterns that will be involved in the workout that you will be performing that day and perform mobility drills or stretches for only those muscles/movement patterns during your warm-up. This should both decrease the duration of your warm-ups while also focusing your energy and actually making them more effective/efficient.

4) This is an equally unstructured and inefficient post workout routine to gain flexibility. Again, you want to focus of building flexibility within a specific movement pattern or chain of muscles post workout (this is also the ideal time to actually attempt to gain flexibility as your muscles should be quite warm and somewhat tired). So, if you want to improve your hip flexion flexibility, then you would want to pick a stretch (or maybe a couple if one muscle in the chain is especially tight) for:
-Soleus
-Gastrocnemius
-Piriformis
-Gluteus Maximus
-Hamstrings

Perform the stretches in a sequence starting with the lower legs, then the hips, and finally ending with your classical hamstring stretch variations. Utilize a Contract-Relax/PNF methodology for all stretches, hold the final stretches for the bigger muscle groups for 1-2 minutes and the smaller muscle groups for 30 seconds to 1 minute, really focus on trying to relax your muscles once in the final stretch position (you don't actually lengthen muscles by stretching, instead you are seeking to reset the neuromuscular system to not contract out of protection/fear until further and further into the ROM), and perform each stretch only once per side (twice if one side is significantly tighter than the other).

This same methodology could of course also be applied to stretching the shoulders, spinal flexion/extension/lateral flexion/rotation, straddle flexibility, or hip extension flexibility. You can also throw in a stretch for an unrelated muscle at the end if it is chronically tight 1-2 times per week.

Hopefully this helps.


#7

Good point, BHOLL,

I was thinking I would basically do the routine in this video:
http://tnation.T-Nation.com/free_online_forum/sports_body_training_performance_bodybuilding_injuries/low_back_pain_read_this_first
minus the rollovers for now.
The point I specifically felt it in the rollover was at the top where I had the most flexion... so perhaps it could be a disc... I don't suppose there's any way to tell w/ out a doc, is there? (no insurance yet)

Sento, I do that routine approximately 6 days/week. Though 2 of those days, my off days, I do a reduced version. My routine is a push/pull split, mostly around 10-15 reps per set.

FWIW, the following was prescribed by the PT at the beginning of the year:
-hamstring stretch w/ yoga strap
-quad stretch w/ yoga strap
-IT band stretch w/ yoga strap (my bands were REALLY tight before doing this, but I've stopped doing it for the past few months)
-foam roll quads and IT bands
All stretches are supposed to be done for 2 min. total, but it didn't really matter how I split it up throughout the day. This was some time ago, though, so I'm certainly up for changing this.

So, Sento, to summarize what you're saying, do dynamic work pre-workout similar to that posted in the video above and static work post workout. The post work-out routine would, for example, only having me stretch hamstrings on pull days, hips and glutes every day, and quads on push days. The sequence should be the opposite of lifting, and I should do the isolation stretches prior to the main stretch. I wouldn't say I have any chronic tightness anywhere except the lumbar (hence, the post); and even then, I'd say it's acute at this point.

Sound right?


#8

It doesn't matter per say what it is, (although if your young/middle age and flexion bothers you it is most likely either a disc or muscle strain although I doubt you'd strain a muscle with a rollover, not saying it isn't out of the question tho). The point being high amounts of flexion essentially injured you, therefore you should avoid this for the moment and focus on extension exercises (if they are painfree).

and you might wanna throw in your hip flexors as well, noticed they weren't in there


#9

Well, first I'd like to make a clarification between "limbering/mobility work" and "stretching/flexibility work". The former is safe to do just about every day (assuming you are not really pushing the envelope/intensity) and essentially just serves to get your body loose and ready to move. This type of work will not improve your end range of motion though (flexibility). All of the soft tissue work and dynamic stretching you are doing along with what your PT prescribed for you is essentially "limbering/mobility work" and while it will make you feel less tight and ready to move it will not do much to improve your "flexibility".

"Stretching/Flexibility work" is a more intense (not to be confused with painful or forceful) activity which seeks to actually increase the end range of your ROM. This type of work should be done much less frequently (I'd suggest starting with once a week per muscle group/movement pattern). During this type of work you will be holding the positions for considerably longer than during "mobility work" and you will need to use Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitated (PNF) techniques to allow you to actually increase your flexibility.

So what I would suggest would be to do a dynamic warm-up for the specific muscles/movement patterns you are about to hit in your workout (along with any soft tissue work that you want to make a habit of), along with some static stretches for any muscles which might limit your performance (this is still technically limbering/mobility work though) prior to your workout. Then perform actual "Stretching/Flexibility work" for a specific muscle group of movement pattern (like hip flexion) after your workout (preferrably you'd want to choose muscles that were worked during your workout). You would actually "stretch" each muscle group out only 1 time per week.

If let's say you were on a Upper/Lower split or some other type of program where you were working out each muscle group multiple times per week then you could stretch your Posterior chain leg muscles/hip flexion flexibility one day and anterior chain/hip extension flexibility the other. You can of course also feel free to throw in some stretches for other muscles/movements into either stretching routine as well if desired, but again, only actually "stretch" the muscles once a week.

Hope that clarifies your questions.

And also, you likely hurt your back (and BHOLL is correct, just because you weren't lifting heavy doesn't mean that you didn't injure yourself) due to your hip flexion flexibility being poor, not due to your lower back flexibility being poor. Yes, this manifested in the lower back, but that wasn't likely the cause. I would go get it checked out just to be sure that it isn't a disk issue, but judging by the fact that you don't seem to be in excruciating pain or having other related symptoms (sciatica, numbness, etc...) I'm guessing (over the Internet, so don't take this as a diagnosis, go get checked) that the issue should heal itself with adequate rest and nutrition. In the meantime I agree with BHOLL that you should avoid spinal flexion work and instead work on hip flexion/extension/Abduction/Adduction/Rotation, and shoulder flexibility work.

Good luck


#10

Do the original poster sit a bunch at work/commute? Sitting can screw up your back/hips big time.


#11

I don't work and my commute is a 15 min. flat bike ride to the gym, so I don't think that's the problem. I will say that I do think I may have some hypermobility in the mid/upper back as this is the toughest part for me to keep straight on DLs (still working on form)... but I am long torsoed.

Anyway, I through this together for warm up and static stretching... do you think it should do the trick? missing anything? too much?

Push 1
Main Lower:
Back Squat
Leg Extension
Main Upper:
Flat DB Press
Inc. BB Press

Dynamic Warm-up:
Glute thrusts
scorpions
groiners
fire hydrants
front kicks
chest stretch

Static Stretches:
Quad Stretch, 1 min.
Hip Extension Stretch, 1 min.
Foot-up Hip Ext. Stretch, 1 x 2 min.
?Table Top? Bridges, 10 x 2-3 sec?
Posterior Shoulder stretch, 1 x 2 min

Pull 1
Main Lower:
Lying leg curls
Reverse Hyper or DB SLDL
Main Upper:
DB Row
Lat Pulldown

Dynamic Warm-up:
Windmills
mountain climbers
supine front kicks
groiners
supine rotating legs/spine
rotating arms

Static Stretches:
Hamstrings, 1 x 2 min
Lower Back Extension, 2 min
Calf stetch, 2 x 1 min.
SCM/Upper Trapezius Stretch?

Push 2
Main Lower:
Leg Press
Main Upper:
Inc. DB Press
Smith Decline BB Press

Dynamic Warm-up:
Glute thrusts
scorpions
groiners
fire hydrants
front kicks
chest stretch

Static Stretches:
Glutes, Ind. Knee hug or something easier on the back for now? 1 x 2 min.
Piriformis, Ind. Rotated bent knee 1 min.
Butterfly or something for Hip Flexion?
Shoulder-Stabilized Chest stretch, 1 min
Bending overhead lat stretch, 1 min.
Side Lat Stretch, 1 min.

Pull 2
Main Lower:
Seated Leg Curl
DB SLDL
DL (optional, but currently taking it easy)
Main Upper:
BB Row
Reverse Grip Pulldown

Dynamic Warm-up:
Windmills
mountain climbers
supine front kicks
groiners
bird dogs
rotating arms

Static Stretches:
IT Band Stretch w/ yoga strap, 1 min
IT Band/Tensor Fascia Latae Stretch, 1 min
Lower Back Flexion, knee hug? 1 x 2 min.
Rotating T-Spine stretch, 1 min each side
Suboccipital/Levator Scapulae Stretch, 1 min
Chin Tucks, 1 min


#12

Love the detail and time you've put in this. Dynamic warm-up looks good. The only thing I would suggest adding in would be exercises to directly stress core stabilization and strength.


#13

What do you mean by "stress core stabilization and strength"? Just make the core stronger?

Currently, I have the following in my routine that I assumed do that:
squats, reverse hypers, rows, shrugs, press, bentover lat raises, supine rolls, SLDL, and leg raises (slow)

warm-up and stretching-wise, I figured the following did that:
back extensions, supine rotating legs, table top bridges, rotating T-spine stretch, and supine front kicks

Do you think I need anything else?

Also, I'm not quite flexible enough to do mountain climbers and groiners correctly, so my knee ends up way out in front of my toes. Is this a problem in a warm up?


#14

Squats and full body exercises will help recruit the core musculature, but I prefer to also train core in isolation. Some examples would be planks, curl-up, bridge, side-plank, cable holds the possibilities are endless. I typically pick three or four and do them 3-5x per week

stretching is fine, as far as warm-up id say cut out the mountain climbers and stick with high knees, butt kicks, and squat jumps


#15

The ab wheel mentioned in this is also great for core work:
http://www.T-Nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/anterior_core_training&cr=


#16

I've been doing the routine above. I learned I definitely need to keep some static stretches in the warm up... particularly hams and hips. I feel like i should stretch hams a bit more after, though.

My back felt much better the first week, but it's still fairly tight. I tried some "mild" rollovers where I rolled back, but not all the way in either direction. MY lower back stayed kind of flat as I rolled, so it still must not have relaxed, though I feel like I should include more flexion. At this point, I either sit straddled and grab something to hold myself in flexion a bit or "ball up" on all fours.

Haven't introduced any core work aside from bent knee raises, just because I reintroduced squats and am acclimating to that.