By Ali Johnson
Dealing with back pain seems to be a common struggle for many people, but especially for athletes who do CrossFit. Whether it’s chronic back pain, pain from a former injury, or pain/soreness following a particular grueling WOD, back pain is no joke. It can impact your ability to exercise as well as your ability to perform routine tasks such as taking out the garbage, tying your shoes, or lifting a young child. Thankfully, there are ways to both treat and prevent back pain, although if the pain is severe or long-lasting you should always consult a doctor first. The following are some tips that are proven to help many (but not all) improve their back pain and get back to a regular exercise routine.
Determine where the pain is originating.
“Back pain” actually encompasses a huge area of the body; chances are the pain is stemming from one specific area. Does the pain run from your lumbar spine to your thigh bone, or from your pelvis to your thigh? If so, then it’s probably tightness in your hip flexors. If the muscles in your lower back are consistently sore after working out, but seem to recover after a period of rest, it could be a lack of core stability that’s causing your pain. If you have sudden pain or spasms during a workout, it could be caused by lumbar strain that’s resulted in tiny tears in your muscle tissue. And finally, if you feel pain from your lower back down through your leg, it’s probably a result of irritation to your sciatica nerve. The best way to diagnose back pain is to see a doctor, chiropractor, or both, but this should give you a general idea of where to start.
My back hurts. Now what?
So now you know why your back is hurting…but what are you supposed to do about it? The treatment for back pain will differ depending on the cause and the extent of the pain, but some common treatment options are:
Take a break from exercise and wait it out.
This is probably some of the most difficult advice for an athlete to take, but it’s also some of the most important. If you continue to train the way you were before, chances are you’ll exacerbate your problem or injury and what could have been a simple fix will turn into a much more complex treatment plan. Consider taking a break from CrossFit and instead focus solely on rehabbing your back. Put down the weights and stick to body weight exercises. Replace CrossFit with RomWod or Yoga. Use the resistance bands and foam rollers that are most likely present at your box to really stretch and roll out your back. You should be able to work with a trainer at your gym to come up with a plan that’s safe and effective, and you’ll be back to RXing WODs in no time. What you don’t want to do is mask the pain with medication and ignore the root of the problem.
Work on strengthening your core.
So many back problems stem from a weak core, and CrossFit WODs typically don’t have a lot of core work programmed in them. You can do yourself (and your back) a favor by focusing more on core exercises that will strengthen your midsection and that will eventually translate into your other CrossFit movements. People who lack core strength tend to overcompensate by using their back, and that’s a recipe for back pain. And many CrossFit gymnastics movements (pullups, chest to bar, toes to bar, etc.) require a strong core in order to properly hold the body in the hollow position to execute the movement. If you take the time to strengthen your core now, it will improve your ability to lift heavy and string together gymnastics movements with good form, while also decreasing your chances of injuring your back. It’s a win-win!
Don’t skip the warm up (or the cool down).
If you’re consistently late to class and find yourself missing the warm up, or you have to run out right afterwards and don’t have a chance to cool down, try to make it a priority to devote time to both, whether it be at the box or in your home. CrossFit puts an incredible amount of strain on your muscles, and muscles that aren’t given a chance to warm up or cool down properly are much more susceptible to injury. 10 minutes with a foam roller or resistance band before and after a workout could be the key to exercise without pain. We only get one body- treat it well.
If you’re willing to spend over $100 a month to belong to a CrossFit gym, you’re making an investment in your body and your health. That should include a focus on preventing and rehabbing injuries. If you have time to exercise, you have time to warm up and cool down properly, and you have a responsibility to decrease your susceptibility to injury. Again, if you’re experiencing back pain we highly encourage you to see a doctor and to discuss your pain with a coach at your gym. Between the 2, you should be able to devise a plan that will get you back to your regular training schedule in no time!
feature image credit: emedicinehealth.com
image 1: verywellhealth.com