Lower Back Pain After Squats: Muscle Soreness or an Injury?

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Squatting is a very popular exercise that offers a full body strength training workout according to Nerd Fitness.

While you will put the majority of muscles to work during your squatting session, this exercise mostly concentrates on the hip, thigh, quadriceps, buttocks, and hamstring muscles.

It is an intense exercise and, when done correctly, squats strengthen your muscles and improve your mobility and balance. If squats are done incorrectly, pain and/or injury can occur.

Having lower back pain after squats doesn’t always indicate that something is seriously wrong.

A small amount of muscle tightness or soreness can be expected, especially if you are new to exercising.

You’ve heard that age-old saying, “no pain equals no gain”, so you can be proud of a little muscle soreness.

However, if the pain is more than muscle soreness, or if the pain seems to be coming from your spine or joints, this could indicate a more serious problem.

How Does Squatting Affect the Back Muscles?

When performing a squat, everything from your upper back muscles down to the muscles in your feet is engaged.

As you lower into the squat, your hamstring muscles stretch at the hip joints and your upper back muscles engage to help you keep the form.

If you extend your torso forward too much, this transfers the force, putting a lot of strain on the lower back which can lead to injury.

What is the Proper Form for a Squat?

Before you can understand the wrong ways to do a squat (and there are a lot of them), you need to understand the right way to do a squat.

The majority of injuries are caused by people not following a proper squat technique and this is simply because they haven’t bothered to research or practice a proper squat technique.

You begin by standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

Your toes should be pointed slightly outward around 10 to 30 degrees. If you are not holding a barbell, you can extend your hands straight out in front of you.

Your arms should be parallel to the ground and your eyes should be focused on a spot straight ahead. Your body weight should be on the heels of your feet.

If you use a barbell, make sure the bar is centered squarely in the middle of your shoulders and that it is placed around three inches lower than your shoulders.

After positioning your feet directly under the barbell, lift the barbell with your legs, not with your heels.

Keep your spine in a comfortable, neutral position and make sure your muscles are engaged.

Make sure you don’t round your back as you go down because this puts extra stress on your spine and lower back.

Begin the squat by pushing your hips back, not by bending your knees first. As you go down, keep your spine straight and in the neutral position and keep your eyes level.

Your knees should remain in line with your feet when you go down. Keep going down until your hips are slightly lower than your knees. This is considered as a full squat.

When you come back up, keep the same form as when you went down. Push up with the heels of your feet and keep your spine in the same, straight, neutral position.

This is how you do a squat correctly. Continue to repeat the process until you have done the number of repetitions that you want.

What Causes Lower Back Pain After Squats?

Now that you know how to do a squat correctly, it is easier to understand why certain movements can cause lower back pain.

Here are a few things that cause lower back pain after doing squats: 

1- Weak core muscles

Doing squats is a full body workout, so it engages your core muscles as well as your leg muscles.

According to Chron.com, Having weak core muscles can make squats harder and can cause extra stress on your back.

Strong core muscles support and stabilize the spine and pelvis so that your lower back muscles aren’t overworked.

2- Squatting too low

Although the general rule in squatting is to squat low enough so that your hips go past your knees, not everyone can squat to the same depth.

Our bodies are made differently and the depth of squat will need to be adjusted accordingly.

Squatting too low can put extra stress on your back when you try to get up and this can lead to soreness and injury.

3- Excess arching or rounding of the back.

This is very dangerous, especially if you are squatting with heavy weights. Bending your spine in either direction can cause compression on your spinal discs.

This can lead to a herniated disc which will be extremely painful. Herniated discs, also known as a slipped disc, can cause pain and/or weakness in your arms, back, buttocks, or legs.

4- Putting the weight on the toes or balls of your feet

Having your weight distributed properly when doing squats puts a lot less pressure on your legs.

When you move the weight to the balls of your feet, your legs have to work harder to push you up, which means that your back has to work harder as well.

This can also be dangerous because it will put more pressure on your knees.

5- Improper breathing technique

Breathing properly is extremely important when squatting. You should take a deep breath and hold it as you go down.

Releasing the breath as you go down can cause your body to lose tension which will then make it harder for you to push back up. This puts extra stress on your lower back.

Holding your breath as you come down provides support for your lower back.

Oops! I May Have Squatted Incorrectly and Now My Lower Back Hurts!

How you deal with lower back pain after doing squats will depend on whether or not your back is simply sore, or if it is in pain, how severe the injury is.

Soreness vs. Injury

Having sore muscles after working out, including squatting, is a common condition known as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. Everyone can experience DOMS no matter how strong you are or if you are an experienced exerciser or a newbie.

According to Samantha Clayton, AFAA-certified personal trainer, Olympic sprinter, and coach at Pepperdine University, pain is the body’s way of preventing you from over-training.

DOMS is not bad for you, so if you have some soreness in your lower back, it is nothing to be concerned about.

People can have different levels of pain tolerance, and it may not always be easy to tell the difference between soreness and an injury, especially if you are new to working out.

If your pain is immediate, extreme, or something just doesn’t seem right, this is when you should be concerned.

lower back pain after squats

In general, soreness sets in 24 to 72 hours after exercising. It is usually characterized by a slow, dull, ache that gets worse if you don’t stretch or move around.

Pain, on the other hand, can happen during exercise, immediately after, or within 24 hours. It can be a sharp, intense pain and gets worse the more you stretch or move around.

How Should I Deal with Lower Back Soreness After Doing Squats? 

After doing squats, if your lower back is sore, it’s probably because you overextended your muscles or you used an incorrect form.

It is only muscle soreness, you can handle this in the same way you would handle any other muscle soreness. Muscle soreness is generally easy to deal with.

Usually, stretching can alleviate some of the discomforts. You could also do light exercises that stretch the muscle.

Using a foam roller can help with sore muscles as well. There are many foam rollers that can mimic a massage to help loosen up tight, sore muscles.

Muscle soreness is usually temporary and can disappear within 2 to 3 days.

Muscle soreness usually won’t stop you from working out, although you may want to go easy on the muscles that are aching.

How Should I Deal With Lower Back Injury After Doing Squats? 

Once you have determined that the discomfort in your back is due to actual pain instead of muscle soreness, you have to get a little more serious about your recovery.

The pain could be due to a back injury and this can get worse if you don’t take care of it immediately.

The first thing you want to do is stop exercising and rest. Unlike sore muscles, an injury could get worse with stretching and movement.

Apply an ice pack or a cold pack to the injury several times a day, and if you can stand it, use a foam roller (or a person) to give yourself a light massage.

You may also want to see a professional massage therapist to help with this task.

Give your injury around seven days to heal. If it doesn’t heal within this time frame, or if it begins to get worse at any time you will probably need to see a doctor.

Keep in mind that if you aren’t a medical professional, the seriousness of injuries could be difficult to assess on your own, so if you aren’t comfortable taking care of the injury on your own, skip all of the above steps and go see a doctor.

If, after squatting, you aren’t able to stand or move without being in excruciating pain, this may be a more serious injury. You should call 911 and go to the nearest emergency center right away.

Check out this YouTube video that offers you tips on how to deal with lower back pain after squats.

Practice Safe Squatting to Prevent Injuries.

Squatting is all about having good technique, and like anything that you try in life, it takes practice to make it perfect.

If you are new to squatting, you will want to start at an easy level until you are sure that you have good squatting technique.

According to VeryWellFit, Start off by using your own body weight instead of using free weights or barbells.

Using these weights could increase your risk of injury if you don’t have a good squatting technique.

You can also practice doing half squats or mini squats until you are good enough to do full, weighted squats.

When you make it to doing weighted squats, start with a trainer or at least a spotting partner until you are comfortable doing the weighted squats on your own.

Summarize What You’ve Read

The safest way to do squats when exercising is to have good form and technique. While you may still experience some muscle soreness, this type of pain is okay and is an indication that you are getting a good work out.

Having a good squatting form and technique requires careful practice. Don’t start off with advanced squatting techniques, especially if you are new to exercise.

By practicing a lot and gradually working your way up, you will get good at squatting and avoid serious injury.

If you do experience muscle soreness or DOMS, don’t be alarmed since DOMS is normal for everyone at some point during exercise.

Rest, relaxation, massaging, and stretching is easy ways to alleviate muscle soreness.

Injuries can be much more complicated to handle depending on how badly your body is injured.

You may even need to see a medical professional depending on the severity of your injuries.

Either way, keep in mind that your body uses lower back pain as a signal to let you know when your back has had enough, so if you feel this, get some rest and allow your body to heal. Your back will thank you for it later.

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