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Massive back attack

Posted: Thu Feb 04, 2010 3:50 pm
by Onlyethic
Three days ago, I sat down at my desk and felt a tightness creep up my back and onto my traps, as if someone was gripping them. A few seconds later, the tightness amplified, then became a crippling, stabbing pain near my scapula, on the right side, radiating across most of my back.

That day was done -- barely able to stand up, walk, even breathe. The next two days, much the same.

Speaking with my brother, I discovered he had the exact same thing a few months ago, and thought it was a pinched nerve. My doc -- in a 3 minute appointment, literally-- intuited that it was a strained muscle (maybe he was using The Force to figure this out, I don't know).

Previous workouts had been a fast 2.5k run the night before. A couple days prior, a lot of heavy clean and presses, then some weighted side bends and a few sets of ab work (on a decline bench, holding bar, lifting torso straight upward).

The pain has subsided, but I am now wondering what I should be doing to prevent what caused this fracas. I'm guessing there is weakness involved, but I'm no expert (clearly). I am fairly convinced that posture problems are involved -- I still have a bad anterior pelvic tilt that I've discussed here before, still have rounded shoulders and also feel as if my body is somehow compressed, or not fully elongated. Probably much more as well...

Any ideas? Thanks for the help. - OE.

Posted: Thu Feb 04, 2010 3:59 pm
by caangelxox
maybe you were rounding your back and stuff. make sure you sit tall with your shoulders down and back and relaxed

oh and I used to have rounded shoulders and such and it was fixed by my chiropractor..not all chiropractors are good though, so you got to be careful who u go to if you decide to go to one. and if you do decide, make sure you see one that knows full body from head to toe.

Posted: Thu Feb 04, 2010 5:19 pm
by robertscott
yeah man sounds like a posture thing, got to do all the boring stretches and activation drills. It sucks but it helps, I've made some fairly good progress, especially with my upper back but lower back still has the occasional hairy moment.

good news is there's lots of good articles on it! If you haven't already tried it, look at T-nation articles called "hips don't lie - fixing your force couples", "Heal that hunchback", "Deconstructing Computer Guy" and the "neanderthal no more series"

I'm too lazy to provide links but you'll find them easy enough. Hope that helps.

Posted: Thu Feb 04, 2010 7:49 pm
by hoosegow
It sounds to me more like a muscle spasm. I think soft tissue work with a foam roller or a medicine ball would be more beneficial. Elite Fitness had a good video on it last week: ... 84&tid=169

Posted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 5:19 am
by KPj
Yes I would go with muscle spasm, too. They can literally cripple you (temporarily). I've seen someone literally scream in pain from them. It's not nice at all. Most GP's/hospitals don't know what to do with it. The person I seen (gf's mum) just got told it was 'muscle related', which is like sending your broken down car to a garage and them telling you the problem is 'engine related'. It's actually like saying 'it's car related'.

Anyway, could rant about it forever. It's not anyone's fault, really. It's quite a mysterious thing - muscle spasms, your back 'giving out', etc. No one fully understands what happens.

Dr Stuart McGill reckons when your back suddenly goes that it's not a strain, sprain, tear, or whatever. It's a timing problem. I think it makes sense. Somewhere, somehow, your CNS has fired up muscles at the wrong time, and you just jam up. Like your computer crashing. Personally I think it makes sense. It's a good theory as to why most back injuries occur whilst bending over, picking up pens, newspapers etc, and not lifting heavy loads like you would expect.

A few points:

If your in APT then your lower back is in excessive lordosis. Over time, this adds up. Just keep working on fixing your posture. You don't need to drop everything just do corrective exercise. Good/smart training IS corrective....

Drop the side bends.

Drop anything else that involves flexing/rounding your lower back i.e. situps/crunches.

Don't do anything that hyperextends your lower back, such as, um, hyperextensions...

In other words, learn and train to keep your lower back stable.

The research on this is overwhelming now, especially if you actually have back problems. Even in someone pain free, I don't see any point in doing these things. I don't see what benefit they give you, even if you forget all the potential problems they may cause.

Would recommend you source a good physio and get some advice.


Posted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 7:15 am
by Jungledoc
A few other things to consider are dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, medication side effects.

Posted: Fri Feb 05, 2010 1:12 pm
by Onlyethic
Thanks for the responses...will look into all of it, including dehydration/nutrition component possibility. -OE

Some follow up

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2010 12:37 pm
by Onlyethic
I've been trying to integrate all this. I got into Neanderthal No More on TNation, read about tightness of the psoas, and, of course, the ubiquitous anterior pelvic tilt.

I've been doing the Neanderthal program, also getting back into squatting. I feel like front squats will help many of my issues (weak midsection, inhibited glutes, tight hips...).

I was doing front squats today and thought I'd ask a body builder who'd meandered (waddled) over to eyeball my form. I had toes at about 45 degrees out, with knees flaring open (outward) instead of moving in a straight plane forward.

The BB told me to close my stance a little (each foot was about 6 inches outside the corresponding shoulder), close my toes to nearly forward, and sit back with knees facing forward as I descend.

Didn't feel right. Put pressure on spinal erectors, and right side of lower back. My previous form was both something I'd read about (Crossfit journal) and what felt good. But, still, wanted to check in here about that.

Also, KpJ, you wrote that I should be dropping side bends and back this injury related (my back spasm), or general (like avoiding rectus abdominis work).



Re: Some follow up

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2010 1:18 pm
by KPj
Onlyethic wrote:The BB told me to close my stance a little (each foot was about 6 inches outside the corresponding shoulder), close my toes to nearly forward, and sit back with knees facing forward as I descend.

Didn't feel right. Put pressure on spinal erectors, and right side of lower back. My previous form was both something I'd read about (Crossfit journal) and what felt good. But, still, wanted to check in here about that.
That's a classic case of, "this is how I do it, so this is how everyone should do it". The back pain sounds like you may have been rounding when doing it, too, which is not desirable. I would just stick to what you were doing.
Onlyethic wrote: Also, KpJ, you wrote that I should be dropping side bends and back this injury related (my back spasm), or general (like avoiding rectus abdominis work).
For side bends - Both. Personally I wouldn't do them or program them at all. I feel they are a good way to help get back pain (flexion of the lumbar spine under load) and I also don't believe they offer much benefit, particularly over other options which avoid the potential risk.

My biggest concern with situps/crunches is the lower back rounding. I go on about RA because, now adays instead of saying "don't train lumbar flexion" I prefer to say, "what's the point in isolating RA???" i.e. lets talk about why we should do it and not why we shouldn't. You often get some 'a ha' moments when you do that. Figure out why oyu want to do it, THEN consider the risks. Most people do situps/crunches purely for the sake of it.

With regards to back extensions - I like back extensions, I just don't like 'hyperextensions'. It's the 'hyper' part I dislike, which is another way of saying 'more than normal'.

Remember injuries are most often a combination of 'bad' things done over a long period of time. So, i'm not saying side bends caused your injury, i'm just saying they don't help, and could hold back/prevent your recovery.


Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2010 1:43 pm
by stuward
It would be pretty hard to reach any kind of depth without rounding by using a narrow stance. Your BB friend probably only 1/4 squatted.

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2010 4:08 pm
by Jungledoc
I think that for the squat, more than any other lift, you need to find your own best form. Experiment with changes using light loads, but move things around until you find your own groove. Listen to and consider the advice of others, but adapt it to your own body. Certainly don't change your stance while lifting your working weight loading. There are general principles that apply to everyone, especially avoiding rounding, not letting the knees cave in, and going to adequate depth (parallel or slightly below). The details of stance width, foot angle, how far to allow your knees to travel forward, etc., etc., need to be custom.

I have gone through a time for the past few months of "playing with" my squat form, and during that time the load I could squat went down. I gradually came back to something very close to what I was doing before, and I'm much happier with how I'm doing.

Posted: Thu Feb 18, 2010 4:50 pm
by Onlyethic
Thanks. Right...I sort of whitewashed the "hyper" out of your comment, KPJ, about hyperextensions and took it as just extensions. But, point taken.

The sidebend point makes sense. Thinking about the mechanics of it, it now seems ill-advised. I'll stay away.

As for the squat, it's just yet another case in life where your better judgment is the best judgment. I thought I'd have someone take a look at my form (good idea), but when he started saying, "THIS is the way" (KPj), and narrow the stance, toes forward, etc., I should have stopped it. Killed my squat session as I got a flare-up in the lower back.

My squatting has focused on exactly the three things you mention, JungleDoc-- first, maintaining lower back curvature. Then, depth and keeping the knees out or straight, but not in.

That said, it needs lots more work. I stupidly allowed myself to get coaxed into a high-octane Crossfit program by a Special Forces buddy of mine, letting my lifting fall by the wayside. I knew it made no sense, and, yes, kept on doing it anyways. (I think that last sentence can explain much of the history of man.)

So, back on track (again). Thanks for the tips. Will be coming back with more questions and results.


Posted: Fri Feb 19, 2010 5:05 am
by KPj
If you seen us in during a squat session, it all looks very complicated because I can have everyone squatting differently. Up until around xmas, it went like this - One squats significantly wider than the others to a ~12-14 inch box. 1 went to the same box with one weight disc on it, and another to same box with 2 weight discs on it. The other done front squats to the 12 inch box (this one isn't a beginner, though). I done deep, free/no box, closer stance squats. So, between sets, boxes get moved around and weight discs added/taken away from the box.

The wider squatter has very long legs. The weight discs mark a safe depth that those lifters can reach without rounding. The front squatter had a hip problem and couldn't back squat. I was trying to focus more on quads as well as the 'bottom' ROM, in comparison to a couple of years of wide stance, box squats to an inch or so below parallel.

Now, no one uses a weight disc on the box, everyone is hitting depth, i'm doing the same variation as the beginners (we're doing 5-3-1), and everything looks more similar. A while ago, it wouldn't of been unusual to see similar to above only, someone would be squatting with a band around there knees, to a box with weight discs on it.... The point is - squatting can be/is very individual. Also, in my limited experience so far, i've not trained anyone who can do a good squat straight away. There's a sales guy that works in the gym (who doesn't train) who strangely has a really good squat. He's the first i've seen. You could pretty much fire him on any program and he would be fine with no modifications.