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3 Ways We are Hurting our Backs

Lower Back Pain? Don’t Drag Your Feet!

Okay, that sounds more like the start of the motivational speech my parents used to give me when I was younger. Many of you may be asking yourself what does shuffling my feet on the ground have to do with low back pain? Well, a lot more than you might think. 

When referencing lower back pain, this is the speech I find myself giving to more and more of my patients.

When we look down at the ground, we tend to bring our body into a position of trunk flexion. By this, I mean that your chest is coming forward over your toes. When this occurs, our center of mass starts to move forward and we create an anterior tilt through our pelvis.

When our center of mass comes forward we adjust our body position to maintain our balance by extending through our lower back and, on occasion, by going up onto our toes. The body corrects its position to maintain balance with changes being processed by the change in our visual field by looking down.

When we shuffle our feet, we typically create the habit of making our initial foot contact with the toes pointed down and then sliding the foot forward instead of actually rolling across the foot as one would walk with a normal gait.

A normal gait is to make initial contact with the heel and push off the toes. When I see people shuffle their feet, there is also a tendency toward reducing the amount of contact the heel makes with the ground. We refer to this as an ‘early heel rise gait’ and will often see this gait pattern in toe walkers. These individuals will hardly make contact with the ground through their heels. When we ambulate with this gait pattern, much like when we look down, we translate our center of mass forward. Again, to correct we typically go into back extension. 

These tendencies toward back extension are what lead to the long-term potential problems.

First, there are the anatomical stresses that long-term extension can create. These conditions are often seen in increased arthritic changes in the lower back due to the increased stress through the facet joints in the spine.

Next, there is the tendency toward using you back extensors to perform lifting activities. Since these muscles are already being engaged to help you maintain your balance they will often fire more when you are lifting something leading to the increased likelihood of a potential muscle strain.

The next time you are out for a run or a walk my advice is to look up and enjoy the scenery and think about that nice heel to toe gait pattern. Your back and the rest of your body will appreciate you for it in the long run!

Written By: Nick Wegener, Director of Physical Therapy – PT, ATC, OCS, CSCS

Do you Experience Back Pain After Working Out?

5 Things I Did to Reduce My Own Post-Exercise Back Pain

I don’t know about you but I love those workouts when you finish and you think to yourself, “Yep, I crushed it!” But for me, then the inevitable would happen. Later that night or the next morning I would feel my back start to tighten and before long that low-grade nagging pain would return in my lower back. 

When I was younger the pain would stick around for maybe a day. However, as I got older the pain would start to last for three or four days up to even a week.

The tipping point for me personally was about eight years ago when I herniated my L5/S1 disc. Once I recovered from that injury, I decided it was time to start being more proactive toward my nagging low back pain. Here are five things I began incorporating into my workouts on a regular basis.

I started incorporating these five things in my workouts on a regular basis and I am happy to say my back pain has significantly reduced and my recovery between workouts is back to where it was 15 years ago. 

My Top 5 Go-To’s:

1. Thoracic spine rotations

Why it works: Having a mobile and flexibile thoracic spine (upper back) is pivotal to low back health. If our upper back is tight, forces will transfer down into the low back which may overload the small joints of the back causing soreness and pain. 

Performing this exercise:

Lay on your side with your upper leg bent to 90 degrees at the hip and knee and propped up on a foam roller.  The hand of your down arm should rest across your top knee.

With your top arm, reach back toward the ground trying to get your shoulder blade to rest on the floor.  

Make sure your top knee does not lift off the roller.  Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times each direction.

2. Hip figure 4 stretch

Why it works: Hip tightness, especially in the back of the hip, is without a doubt the most common restriction we see in people with low back pain. Like the upper back, if your hips are tight and don’t move well, the force from the lift gets moved up into your low back. This stretch is designed to target that specific area. 

Performing this exercise:

Starting on your hands and knees, bring one leg in front and across the other like you were folding your legs.

From there, sit back letting your other leg side straight which will stretch your other hip.  

Hold for 15 seconds and repeat 5 times.

3. Elevated toe touches

Why it works: For lifts like squats and deadlifts, you need an appropriate amount of calf and hamstring flexibility so that when you’re at the bottom of your lift your pelvis and spine can be positioned correctly. This exercise is one that I also like to use to determine if someone is ready to do those activities. If you cannot touch your toes in this position, we are not starting those lifts. 

Performing this exercise:

Start with placing the balls of your feet up on a couple inch block (25lb plates or books work well).  With your legs straight, slowly reach down and touch your toes.  

If you can not touch your toes, go as far as you can then slightly bend your knees to achieve the desired distance.  

Breathing out while reaching down can also give you a little more reach as well. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times.

4. Lateral band walks

Why it works: Unlike the first three exercises that were focusing mostly on flexibility and mobility, this exercise is specifically designed to get the most important muscle in your body prepared and ready for lifting. Your glutes are the cornerstone of having a solid foundation and platform to lift from. The more awake and ready they are for exercise, the less tension force will be taken through your low back muscles to lift yourself back into an upright position. 

Performing this exercise:

With a lateral band around your ankles, get into an athletic, ready position. Slowly step out to the side then slowly bring your trail leg back into the starting position.  

Do not let your trail foot drag on the ground. Repeat for 2 sets of 15 steps each direction. 

If you need a lateral band, click here:

5. Switch to front squat over back squat

Why it works: Squatting is an exercise that has huge benefits. Increasing your heart rate, elevating your muscle building hormones and developing strength in multiple muscle groups are all key benefits of squatting. However, the back squat is not for everyone’s body.

If you lack flexibility in certain areas or foundational strength, then loading a back squat will increase stress to the joints in your lower back. When the load is switched to the front, your body naturally becomes more upright and positions your spine in a way that does not excessively load your vertebral joints. 

Performing this exercise:

Begin standing tall with feet hip width, pointing forward and a barbell resting across the shoulders.  Hands can either hold the barbell in a cross face position or a clean grip position.  Squat down until the thighs are parallel with the floor, pause and then return to the original position.

Remember, your chest should maintain a relative tallness and your heels should remain in contact with the ground.

Nagging lower back pain after working out cannot just affect your ability to perform your next workout. If left unaddressed, that nagging pain could turn into something more severe.

If you are like I was, give these 5 things a try for a good month and see if you aren’t feeling better!

If after a month you are still having pain after your workouts, give us a call and let’s figure out what else needs to be done to get you feeling better!

Written By: Travis Manners, PT, SCS, CSCS, President and Founder 

5 Tips for Avoiding Back Pain While Shoveling Snow

As we are well into the wonderful winter season, I want to take a moment to share some tips on snow shoveling that I hope will come in useful and maybe keep you from having to visit your favorite physical therapist. 

As anyone who has ever picked up a snow shovel knows, it is WORK.  In 1996, the Surgeon General noted that shoveling snow for 15 minutes was considered moderate physical activity equivalent to speed walking at 5 mph for 15 minutes on a treadmill.  As with any other physical activity, a warm up is always important. 

When completing a warm up, I encourage an active motion that is similar to the movement that you will be doing.  In this case I suggest a lunge with arm reach toward the opposite knee (see above picture). 

Perform 10 lunges on both sides.  This will help emphasize the need to bend with your legs, increase muscle activity, and provide a nice warm up before you ask your legs to lift a load.   

After the lunges, I also encourage some light stretching of the shoulders, neck and low back.  Good stretches to complete include pulling your arm across your chest, looking over your shoulder and seated rotational stretches for your low back.  Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.  Now let us get to the most important thing.  

5 Tips – how to position yourself when shoveling: shoveling

  • Bend your knees like you are going to lunge. 
  • DO NOT reach your arms forward when shoveling, LUNGE forward.  This reduces strain on your back. 
  • Move forward into the lunge as you lift the snow and bring your arms back in to your abdomen.  This will force you to use your legs more and reduce strain on your back bringing the weight shoveling_2
    closer to your body. 
  • When throwing the snow off to the side, move your feet and DO NOT simply twist at the waist.  Avoiding twisting will reduce the possibility of straining your back.
  • Push opposed to lifting: If you can push the snow forward opposed to lifting this will reduce the strain on your back.  

Other things to consider:  

  • Stay hydrated.  Just because it is winter doesn’t mean you don’t get dehydrated. 
  • Choose an appropriate shovel size and DO NOT overload it!  
  • Take a break when needed.  If we get 10 inches, shovel in sections and not all at once. 

If all else fails, my last recommendation is a good snow blower. Happy shoveling!

Written By: Nick Wegener, PT, ATC, OCS, CSCS

Deadlift may Prevent Future Back Injuries

Suffering from Back Pain?

Have any of you tweaked your lower back while picking up a heavy object? This is a common mechanism of injury, but we actually have a strength training exercise that mimics the act of lifting an object off the ground. It is called the deadlift and it is, without question, one of my favorite things to do in the gym.

Unfortunately, the deadlift often has a bad reputation for being associated with lower back injuries. There is no debating that poorly performed deadlifts will hurt your back. However, correct deadlifts are extremely beneficial! In fact, they build tremendous amounts of strength in your legs, hips, glutes, back, arms and hands. Let’s take a look at how you can safely perform the deadlift to ensure that you are reaping all of the benefits of this full-body movement.

3 Tips to Clean Up your Deadlift


deadlife_blog21. Perform a Proper Hip-Hinge

Getting in the proper starting position for a deadlift can be tricky. To get in the right setup, act as if you are going into a vertical jump. Boom! That’s a hip hinge. From here, reach down and grab the bar and then pull your chest up. Now you are in the proper starting position.

2. Pull Slack Out of the Bar

Now that you are properly set up, there is one more thing you must do before lifting off the floor. The last step is pulling the slack out of the bar. Doing this will tighten up your upper back and prep your body for the lift to ensure a smooth transition from the floor. If using a load that is close to your max, it is also beneficial to take a quick inhale prior to lifting. This will increase intra-abdominal pressure and will further increase the rigidity of your torso. Be sure to fully exhale once you finish the lift!

deadlift_blog3. Finish with your Hips, Not your Back

Push through your heels to lift the weight off the floor. Once the bar reaches your knees, forcefully extend your hips to finish the lift. You should be squeezing your glutes and your abs to complete the exercise. You should not extend your lower back by leaning back.

If you are new to the deadlift, I recommend starting with a kettlebell or by flipping a dumbbell upside-down. Once proficient, progress to a hex bar or straight bar. I encourage you to give these tips a try the next time you deadlift. Not only will you perform the lift safely, but you may be surprised at how much weight you can do!

Written By: Mike Servais, CSCS, USAW-L1SP, Head Performance Coach – Papillion

Question: If you have any further questions about your form or technique feel free to contact me or any other trainer here at Athletes’ Training Center!

Jennie A., Collegiate Track & Field Athlete

Athletes’ Training Center has worked to specialize workouts to fit my athletic needs. The strength coaches have a one on one personal connection to fix minor details that have had a major impact on my athletic performance.