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Tweaked Lower Back

Posted: Sun Dec 28, 2014 12:44 pm
by KenDowns
So I did something to my lower back and I don't know what.

Yesterday I was warming up for a max effort squat, expecting to hit maybe 305#. Warm up sequence was empty bar, 135, and 185 with no trouble, like I've done hundreds of times.

With 225, on the first rep, half-way up I felt a spasm (or something) in my lower back. I didn't fall over or anything I actually finished the rep and racked the weight, but now I can't bend over and have considerable difficulty with anything involving flexing my lower back like tying my shoes. Also I experienced a lot of ache in my legs and hips, as if I had the flu (which I don't).

My first question is, if there is enough information here, what might be going on in my lower back? Is this spasms? tightness? Some small tear somewhere? Is there any way to know?

For the leg/hip ache, I *think* this might be due to compensating for the limited ROM in the lower back, but I don't really know.

Since this has never happened in 4 years of lifting, I asked myself what I might have done to myself. This is all I could come up with:

1) Tuesday did deficit pause deadlifts at 70% for 5 sets of 3, first time in my life I did them. On the first rep of the first set I realized I was maintaining the pause with a huge lower back effort. Adjusted for that on the rest of the reps, but that one rep was a serious strain. There was no pain, discomfort or any other indication I had hurt myself for the rest of the reps or the rest of the week. (though my hammies were seriously smoked and sore). On the last set my legs were shaking a lot while resetting between reps, so that's how I figured I was done and only did two reps.

2) Thursday after the deficit/pause deadlifts I did barbell rows. I could tell my lower back had not recovered so I had to move into position slowly. I made a mental note not to arrange those two on back-to-back days anymore, but it seemed ok to finish the set. (I'm now thinking I should maybe not have done that).

3) Friday night I did something really stupid, I was showing my gym to my nephew and picked up my 160# farmer's bars cold. Yeah, tell me I know better.

That gets us to Saturday.

So my second question is, does it sound like I just need to be more careful about lower back recovery, perhaps not doing something like bb rows after such a serious move like deficit/pause deadlifts?

Re: Tweaked Lower Back

Posted: Fri Jan 02, 2015 12:19 pm
by Proper Knob
Ken, here's my 2 cents worth.

Diagnosis, who knows?! Not very helpful I know. I've 'tweaked' my lower back a few times over the years. Normally my issue is a result of me not listening to my body, resulting in an accumulation of irritable pain that I try to ignore built up over a period of time. Now I try and be a bit more smart and listen to my body. I am after all not getting any younger.

I've never had my back 'go' on me before whilst performing an exercise, plenty of times I've thought something wasn't quite right and erred on the side of caution and just shut the exercise down. I woke up in September last year and could hardly walk due to a competely seized lower back. 2 hours later I could run up the stairs, no idea how or what happened there.

It could be an underlying issue, or you may have been performing an exercise with not so great technique. It could be an overuse injury. Or it could be all of them. It's so hard to say.

Re: Tweaked Lower Back

Posted: Fri Jan 02, 2015 3:44 pm
by KenDowns
Thanks Phil for the feedback. While your stories are different, there are enough similarities to offer some encouragement.

I'm really thinking glute activation is my main priority, as even if that is not the entire problem it has to be a part of it, so burning in some improvements there can only be good.

So I did some "air rows" - no weight, not even an empty bar - and it was quite revealing. Just bending down into position, lifting up and moving my arms in a row motion created major irritation, that feeling it's going to seize up. Yet again I realize I have zero glute activation, so I clench with all my might and lo and behold the irritation vanishes and I feel much more stable. So again I think I'll concentrate on glute activation for awhile and see where that leads me. (I also wondered if I could row more now, but I'm not about to try it as I'm not out of the woods yet).

Re: Tweaked Lower Back

Posted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 3:45 pm
by Khronos8

I had some lower back issues a couple years back and Stuward had some advice that completely fixed it. It's basically exactly what you've arrived at yourself: poor glute activation. I didn't have a precipitating event, my lower back just started hurting one day and then it got worse over the course of a couple of weeks. Stu suggested I look into some of Bret Contreras' articles on glute activation and incorporate some bird-dog variants into my training. I think within three or four weeks I had resolved all of my lower back pain. It was quite the eye-opener for me about how the area that might be hurting isn't directly associated with the dysfunction causing the pain.

Hope everything resolves well for you. It sucked not being able to lift heavy.


Re: Tweaked Lower Back

Posted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 9:29 pm
by KenDowns
Thanks Kronos,

I've been doing bodyweight hip thrusts and learning to use an ab wheel (geez that's humbling).

For anybody keeping score at home today is the first day where it feels actually good to stretch it around and move this way and that. I also have a bit of the "itch" as I call it in the muscles to move weight, something that happens to me after deloads, breaks and so forth, so this is all very encouraging.

On saturday I will try warm up sequences up to maybe 50% or so - really whatever feels good - on lower body moves and report back.

Re: Tweaked Lower Back

Posted: Sun Jan 18, 2015 7:26 am
by KenDowns

I've been able to return to all upper body moves, and all the better for having taken a two week break, except I have been avoiding barbell rows for obvious reasons. Going week-to-week on those. This week I decided not to do them this week, and next week will see how I feel.

Baseline for past few days is:
- no more pain while driving
- no more pain while sitting
- mostly no more of that flu-like ache in hip muscles
- through the day sometimes periods of stiffness in sacrum area, or off on the sides, about where the glute medius is (if I've read my muscle diagrams correctly)
- still get the surprise freeze up every couple of days - pushing the basket in the supermarket and the lower back says, "Don't move that way!"

I tried doing lightweight squats and deadlifts and decided this was a really bad idea. If I'm at a 50% squat trying to figure out how much discomfort I have I should not be squatting at all. Squat and dead will be just fine when I'm all healed up, no point "testing" where I'm at and confusing the rehab efforts.

For deadlifts I will start another thread on a question that came up.

Serious glute DOMS today. Yesterday got to 3x10 at 135# of hip thrusts.

Have no idea if I'm doing the ab wheel right. Watched several videos, got the basics, but want to tape myself and ask for a form check.