If you suffer from back pain then you should start considering NOT to train your back.
Yes, you read that correctly. There are many reasons why your back could be hurting. And a "weak back" is the all too common diagnosis for many people suffering from back pain, and doing back exercises like planking or back extensions are prescribed by doctors and fitness instructors. But a good physio therapist would be able to look at it from a more holistic point of view and perform the right combination of exercises that involve all the right parts of your body. Before we go into how you can relieve back pain let's look at 6 common myths about back pain first.
Myth #1: A bad posture causes back pain. A bad posture is certainly not desirable as it can lead to shortened muscles, reduce oxygen intake and affect mood and confidence. But a bad posture does not necessarily lead to back pain.
Myth #2: Always lift heavy objects with a straight back. Whether lifting up the grocery bags or simple things like getting in and out of the car, our body can handle load in various situations even without a perfectly straight back. But when you intentionally lift heavy weights over and over again, like in the gym, you're definitely better off paying attention to your form.
Myth #3: Back pain increases as we age. Ageing does not increase the likelihood of getting back pain. In a 2020 study, more people aged 16-29 said to have back pain compared to the study participants aged 65 and above*.
Myth #4: One should rest in bed in case of back pain. Lying in bed over a longer period of time can actually be bad when you have back pain. It's recommended to be active gently.
Myth #5: Train your core to relieve back pain. The most common core exercise is the plank which I see many people with back pain do. However, just training the core, especially with planking, is a very narrow way of looking at this topic, as there are many other factors and body parts to be considered.
Myth #6: If an exercise gives me an uncomfortable feeling in the lower back then it's not good for me. It depends. If your body, especially your back, isn't that strong or you haven't been keeping in shape for a while then simple exercises like deadlifts or single-leg deadlifts might cause discomfort in your lower back even after controlled exercising with proper technique and light to medium weight. In this case try to differentiate between actual pain and muscle activation. In the first case, most commonly, a real back pain will most likely come from your spine, so the center of your back, and maybe even radiate downward. In the latter case, weak muscles being trained, you'll feel a slight discomfort left and right of your spine in your lower back which can be easily confused with back pain while it's simply a weak area of your body being used. In this case the discomfort will subside within a few hours or the next day. Work with a professional coach or therapist if you're unsure how to properly execute certain exercises.
In part 2 we'll look at exercises that can help relieve back pain.
Tommy Chang is a medical training therapist, movement coach and the co-founder of Exerbell.