Squatting Without Back Pain

Back pain with squats is a common issue that we treat at our physical therapy office.  Sometimes the pain is at the base of the spine (SI joint), along the spine, across the spine, or in the muscles on the sides of the spine (quadratus lumborum).  Common diagnoses associated with back pain with squatting include degenerative disc disease, disc herniations, spinal arthritis, stenosis, and lower back strains.

To obtain an accurate diagnosis, an examination would be needed.  Although there are differences in how we treat each of these conditions, we’ve found that common limitations exist when it comes to squatting and back pain.

In many cases, imbalances at the ankle, trunk, and buttock muscles can result faulty squat technique.

A common technique error due to these imbalances is poor bracing at the top of the squat resulting in an overextended posture.  If there are limitations with ankle mobility this will result in difficulty staying upright during the squat and could further exaggerate an overextended spine position.

This may cause compression of the facet joints of the spine and pain along the muscle of the spine. 

Another technique error is excessively rounding the lower spine at the bottom position of the squat.  In a gym setting, this is commonly referred to as “butt-wink.”

In the presence of disc-related symptoms, this may aggravate pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness down one or both legs.

Considering that back pain during squats may be for a number of different reasons, the only way to know what is contributing to back pain is to perform a full body assessment.

Once we know what the specific limitations are, our first recommendation is to take a short break from squatting.   This will create an environment for irritation to subside.  While taking a break can help with pain, we know for our patients to be able to squat without back pain, we have to address the root of the issue.

When pain and stiffness is found via our assessment, our approach includes hands-on therapy to alleviate pain and improve mobility. Pain improvements can be made very quickly with soft tissue mobilization and/or dry needling of the thoracolumbar, lower back, and quadratus lumborum muscles.  Flexion oriented exercises can provide relief to tense spinal muscles.  Extension oriented exercises can provide relief with nerve-type symptoms.

If weakness is found, we teach activation exercises to help our clients better engage muscles that are not firing well.  In some cases, creating tension with the glutes at the top and bottom of the squat must be taught to prevent technique errors.

Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, our next step is developing strength and durability with load.  When performed with good technique, back squats, front squats, and goblet squats can develop strength of the core and lower body and prevent injury down the road.

When addressed with a thorough physical therapy assessment and plan of care, squatting without back pain is possible.  Ignoring symptoms, on the other hand, may lead to a more serious issue.  If you have back pain with squatting, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to be a resource for you.

We have a free guide on relieving back pain and stiffness that can give you further insight into back problems and help kickstart your recovery.  We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your pain is affecting you and discuss your treatment options.

If your concerns warrant an in-person consultation, we offer a limited number of free Discovery Visits at our office.  This type of appointment of for those who are interested in working with us.  It is an opportunity to ask questions, obtain clarity about your back pain and develop confidence that we can help you. 

If you’re certain that we’re a good fit and ready to book an appointment, you can inquire about cost and availability and get the process started.

If you’re in pain and unsure about what your next step  should be, call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.

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