When back pain presents for a prolonged period, the back muscles reduce in mass but increase fat content, resulting in more stiffness. This leads to chronic muscle fatigue and results in chronic pain symptoms. Adding resistance to a workout routine in weight machines, free weights, and/or resistance bands helps reduce back pain. Studies have shown that specific therapeutic back muscle weight training is safe and can help relieve pain. A sports chiropractic specialist can recommend appropriate exercises for individuals and their specific condition/s to safely participate in strength training.
Back muscles development
With time, back pain and increased fatigue can lead to a fear of moving the body and engaging in physical activity. This results in spinal deconditioning and instability. Weight training works on incrementally/progressively increasing the load that the back muscles can tolerate. This technique gradually improves the body’s ability and strength to perform regular daily activities without strain and in optimal fashion. Weight training improves whole-body health because:
- Back muscles and core muscles increase in function and performance.
- Muscles are strengthened.
- Lean muscle mass increases.
- The range of motion of the spine increases.
- Body fat decreases.
Guidelines while using weights
When weight training, it is important to understand safety guidelines to help relieve back pain and not worsen or cause further injury. Weighted treatment exercises are for individuals that have been cleared by their physician or chiropractor and are specific to their injury and /or condition. Depending on the underlying pain source, weight training may not be suitable for individuals that have:
- Severe pain.
- Back pain that originates from:
- Previous spinal surgery
- Nerve root compression
- Neurological symptoms
- Spinal fracture/s
- Spinal infection/s
Medical professionals and chiropractors can accurately diagnose and determine if weight training is safe and which specific exercises to perform. Guidance from a trained therapist or therapeutic trainer is recommended for optimal results.
- Weight training techniques to alleviate back pain are different from regular weight or resistance exercises.
- Trained physical/occupational therapists and sports chiropractors can educate an individual on:
- Correct techniques
- Type of training that will help an individual’s condition.
- Therapeutic training can significantly reduce the risk of further injury and damage to the spine.
- After initial training, individuals are encouraged to exercise to maintain back muscles and total body health.
Smaller weights build strength progressively
Effective ways to strengthen the spine.
- Begin with small/light weights and exercise slowly.
- Fast rapid movements or incorrect lifting and pulling techniques can cause additional damage to the tissues.
- It is recommended to start with:
- Low-load motor control exercises without weights activate and stretch the muscles and improve balance.
- Simple stretches
Exercise machines can be recommended instead of free weights.
- Exercise machines can provide safe, effective, and progressive resistance to the exercises.
- The machines can help reduce/prevent injury compared to free weights.
- The machines can maintain proper support on the back and spine.
It is recommended to combine regular walking activity with a weight training program.
- Low impact aerobic exercises increase blood circulation along with essential nutrients to the muscles and soft tissues.
- This promotes healing and reduces stiffness.
Training program and benefits
Gaining the most benefits from strength training, tips to keep in mind:
- Warm up for a few minutes using heat therapy and simple stretches.
- Try for 2 or 3 times a week for 30 minutes.
- Focus on building strength in the core muscles – back, abdominals, obliques, buttocks, and pelvic leg muscles.
- There is no need to join a gym or buy expensive equipment.
- Work out at home with small hand weights, resistance bands, and body weight.
- The therapist or chiropractor will inform the individual on which exercises to avoid, which require extreme or quick moves.
- Slow, steady resistance training takes advantage of muscle lengthening exercises and muscle shortening exercises for strengthening.
- If back pain presents with a sustained increase, take time off or modify the strength training exercises.
- Some soreness is to be expected, but sharp pain is not. If any sharp, sudden pain presents while exercising, stop immediately.
- Ice therapy can be beneficial after exercising to decrease inflammation and alleviate pain.
Record the amount of weight when beginning the training and note when progressing to a heavier weight. Consistent improvements in pain, flexibility, strength, and function will help maintain motivation. Consult with a professional sports injury chiropractor today to see if weight training is a suitable and safe treatment.
Carbohydrates and Muscle Growth
Simple carbs are a quick, periodic source of energy. Complex carbs are a recommended source of steady energy. Complex carbs are not as readily available for immediate energy as simple carbs are but are more efficient and healthier. Complex carbs offer sustainable energy, meaning the energy is constant with no crash like simple carbs. Because complex carbs have slow-release properties, they should be the largest component of daily energy consumption.
Carbs prevent muscle weakness.
Some glycogen is stored in the muscles. When those muscles are used during exercise, the body taps into the glycogen stores in that specific muscle. Lifting weights with the arms, for example, access the glycogen in the biceps. Athletes take advantage of glycogen by loading up on carbs by consuming a day or more before a workout. This maximizes the muscle glycogen stores. This delays muscle fatigue, making for a better workout and stronger muscles, and can improve athletic performance.
Carbs help muscles recover after exercise.
Recovery goes back to the glycogen stores. Right after exercising, the body needs to replenish its glycogen stores to prevent glycogen depletion. Glycogen depletion, when the stores run out, causes gluconeogenesis. What happens is the body forms glucose from new sources. This is to compensate for the lack of glucose from carbohydrates. This is when the body turns to sources like fat and protein to fill the need. Protein is the last line of defense when energy is required, meaning that energy is running low. When the body breaks down protein for glucose production, it takes what it needs from the muscle/s, causing them to shrink and break down.
Dreisinger TE. Exercise in the management of chronic back pain. Ochsner J. 2014;14(1):101–107.
Lee JS, Kang SJ. Strength exercise and walking effects on lumbar function, pain level, and body composition in chronic back pain patients. J Exerc Rehabil. 2016;12(5):463–470. Published 2016 Oct 31. doi:10.12965/jer.1632650.325
Michaelson P, Holmberg D, Aasa B, Aasa U. High load lifting exercise and low load motor control exercises as interventions for patients with mechanical low back pain: A randomized controlled trial with 24-month follow-up. J Rehabil Med. 2016;48(5):456-63.
Welch N, Moran K, Antony J, et al. The effects of a free-weight-based resistance training intervention on pain, squat biomechanics, and MRI-defined lumbar fat infiltration and functional cross-sectional area in those with chronic low back. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2015;1(1):e000050. Published 2015 Nov 9. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2015-000050
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