Preventing CrossFit Lower Back Pain

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CrossFit has quickly become one of the most popular fitness programs and workout crazes in the world. With over 10,000 gyms, or “boxes,” worldwide, CrossFit prides itself in providing a more unique, unconventional, and perhaps extreme experience than normal gyms — leading it to the center of many controversies. Some doctors have become increasingly concerned about the number of sports injuries that have been CrossFit-related.

crossfit lower back pain

CrossFit lower back pain is a serious consequence of the workout. The lower back is subject to high amounts of strain each time the spine bends, moves, and rotates, and is thus very susceptible to injury. If you’re in the CrossFit community and have a painful or strained lower back to show for it, there are measures you can take to help prevent future discomfort and injury.

Know What’s Actually Causing The Pain
An important concept to keep in mind: while it may be your lower back that’s hurting, the root of the problem may not a lower back injury. One CrossFit instructor said, “If you have low back pain, there’s a good chance it’s due to tight hip flexors, especially if you sit for long periods.” He suggests stretching your hip flexors each day to help avoid consequent lower back pain that it may cause.

Focus On Spinal Stability
While a flexible back is good, a flexible spine is not ideal. Your spine needs to be stable in order to endure the intense routines of CrossFit. In Stuart McGill’s article “Low Back Stability: From Formal Description to Issues for Performance and Rehabilitation,” McGill discusses how a lower back injury can occur from both very simple movements (such as bending over) to more strenuous exercises (such as CrossFit), but the end result is the same: a buckling of the spine, or a “slight rotation of a spinal segment.” The surrounding muscles must be trained to strengthen and stiffen the spine.

But, McGill notes that the best way to do this is through endurance training, not strength training: “The safest and mechanically most justifiable approach to enhancing lumbar stability through exercise entails a philosophical approach consistent with endurance, not strength; that ensures a neutral spine posture when under load (or more specifically avoids end range positions) and that encourages abdominal muscle cocontraction and bracing in a functional way.”

Use Correct Lifting Form
Many CrossFit lower back injuries are the result of lifting heavy weights without the proper posture and form. Even the smallest change in position mid-lift can put instant stress on your lower back — and if it’s too much demand, it will strain it. Ensure that your form is correct, and if you’re unsure, have your trainer observe and help.

Know Your Limits, And Don’t Push Them
While CrossFit is known for encouraging users to push past limits, don’t take this to the utmost extreme and bring an unnecessary injury upon yourself. In reference to shoulder and knee injuries caused by CrossFit, Dr. Tehrany himself has said, “I see too many patients who aren’t prepared for the intensity of CrossFit,” adding, “One simply has to understand that CrossFit has risks like anything else, and those that like to engage in CrossFit must be prepared to practice the right techniques.”

Thus, if your lower back muscles begin feeling strained during workouts, consider doing only singles of a weight lift – such as “grace” jerks — versus the typical touch and go movements. CrossFit aside, with all exercise comes the risk of pain or injury. Listen to your muscles, and discontinue any movement that may be leading to a strain or tear.

If you’re a frequent CrossFitter, be sure to weigh the risks of your workouts and practice these preventative techniques to spare yourself from an unnecessary lower back injury.