I hear the comments and conversations daily.
“My back is flared up from _____.”
“My shoulder hurts when I _____.”
“I leak when I do _____.”
These are very common conversations between athletes. Because they are common issues that many other people experience, it is natural to think they are totally normal issues to experience.
Spoiler Alert! Common does NOT mean normal!!!
Our bodies are meant to be able to push, pull, lift, carry, run, jump, etc. without pain and without loss of muscle stability and control. Yes, we all have a lift occasionally that we end up moving slightly wrong and tweak something. That is just part of being an athlete and involved in a sport. But if you are having the same issues over and over again, it means your body is not doing something properly with the movement(s).
I will fully admit, I have had all the issues I talk about here at least once in my life. I still get flare ups occasionally, but for the most part my issues are resolved because I have taken the time to learn how to move properly and with good control.
Low Back Pain
Low back pain is very common after heavy squats, deadlifts, barbell cycling of Olympic lifts, and kettle bell swings. When this happens, it means you are using your back to lift (during at least part of the motion) rather than your hips and glutes. It is something that is normally very subtle to the naked eye, which makes it difficult to pick up unless you know what you are looking (or feeling) for.
The reasons I see most often for why we develop the movement faults are lack of upper back mobility, lack of hip or ankle mobility, lack of trunk control, and just not knowing how to move properly because of years of habits.
Lack of upper back mobility: With squats, if we can’t extend our upper back slightly to help keep an upright torso, we compensate by increasing the extension through the low back. As the weight gets heavier, we fire the back muscles even more to hold us upright and sometimes even to stand us up.
Lack of hip or ankle mobility: With squats and Olympic lifts, we need good hip and ankle mobility to get to proper depth as well as to maintain an upright torso. If we don’t have good mobility, we compensate by increasing our forward trunk lean. The way to get out of that position is by using our low backs to assist with the extension to stand up.
Lack of trunk control: In the bottom of the squat, we want a good, upright torso. Sometimes we don’t have it because of the above mentioned mobility deficits. Other times, we have the necessary mobility, but are lacking the trunk control to actually keep our torso upright. When this happens, we display a forward trunk lean. Just like with the forward trunk lean mentioned in the hip and mobility deficits, to stand up out of this position, we extend through the low back to initiate movement.
Improper movement patterns: Our years of postures, positions, and habits have caused our bodies to not actually know how to move correctly. Our hips give us the most power potential, but we do not utilize them to their fullest capability. Rather than using our glutes and hamstrings, which are big, strong muscles, we use the smaller back muscles. This is especially noticeable with our pulling motions (kettlebell swings, Olympic lifts, and deadlifts).
Shoulder pain is often something that comes on over time rather than one specific workout. When it is painful, though, it is painful with most overhead activities. The cause of shoulder issues is often a combination of several things: tight rotator cuff, stiff upper back, and weak shoulder stabilizers.
Tight rotator cuff: When the rotator cuff is tight, the shoulder joint cannot rotate well to get overhead (or even to a front rack position at times). When this happens, we develop pinch pain on the front of the shoulder.
Stiff upper back: Our bodies require upper back extension to be able to raise our arms fully overhead. Test this for yourself. Slouch and raise your arm up. Then sit/stand up tall and raise your arm up. Notice the difference? When your upper back is stiff, the shoulder musculature must work harder to get the arm fully overhead with all our overhead movements. As the reps add up, the muscles get irritated, resulting in pain.
Weak shoulder stabilizers: We have mover muscles and stabilizer muscles. The movers are the big guys that we know how to strengthen – biceps, triceps, deltoid, and traps for example. The stabilizers are the deeper, smaller muscles. When these are weak (or lacking muscular endurance), they can no longer support the joint well when the reps add up. When we lack stability and control, pain develops.
This is not my area of expertise when it comes to treatment, but I felt it is important to mention because it is such a big problem in women. How many women do you see going to the bathroom “one last time” before workouts with jump rope or box jumps? Or maybe having leaking issues when the weight gets heavy? If you are not one of those women, you definitely know one.
I will fully admit, I WAS one of those women. I say “was” because I addressed the issue with a therapist skilled in treating the pelvic floor and no longer have these issues.
Many women lack control of the pelvic floor for one reason or another. Once you learn how to regain control of the pelvic floor, the results are life changing!
Do you resonate with any of these situations? Maybe all of them? If so, take time to get them addressed. You don’t need to have the constant setbacks anymore! Want help resolving your issues? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for help.
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