“DON’T LIFT THAT, OR YOU’LL HURT YOURSELF” is something we have probably all heard or even said to another person without considering whether it is actually true. There is a commonly held belief that the human spine is fragile, vulnerable and susceptible to unrecoverable injury. After all, there’s a strong association between back pain and weight lifting. It is easy to assume that the spine is this way because, for a long time, these beliefs were substantiated by what was once thought to be fact! The truth is that the spine is much more robust and capable than what we give it credit for.
90% of People Will Experience Acute Back Pain In Their Lifetime
Acute lower back injury is so common that 90% of people during their lifetime will experience at least one bout of acute back pain, be it random onset or in relation to a specific mechanism of injury. Even though most people experience this pain, most people do not talk about it and often forget it happened unless the associated pain and dysfunction are significant and cause ongoing disability. In this way, most stories we hear about acute back injuries are stories of horror. So, naturally, we perceive all acute low back injuries as serious, lifelong ones. Fortunately, this is not the case!
One of the most common ways people hurt their back is during a moment of lifting. BUT, just because lifting may lead to back pain doesn’t mean that lifting is unsafe. If anything, it is our irregular exposure to lifting that can make our spines susceptible to injury.
Like every other body part, the lower back needs to be fit and strong to meet the demands of the tasks required. If we are going to place high demands on the low back, it seems reasonable to make sure it is adequately conditioned! Ironically, if we only lift when we absolutely HAVE to, this may increase our likelihood of injury!
Is It Okay to Lift Weights When You’re Injured?
Strengthening and conditioning our spines is very important, and we should not be scared to do so. Lifting weights is an appropriate method of increasing our spines’ strength and capacity and reducing the dangers of lifting weights. This is true for most people, so long as we adhere to the principles of strength and conditioning and gradually progress over time.
SO, you might be wondering: “Well, I already have injured my back and still have pain. Is it safe for ME to lift?” The simple answer is, most of the time, YES! If you are suffering from pain and dysfunction, doing nothing and reducing physical activity and exposure to heavy loads can lead to deconditioning and reduced functional capacity.
When we are injured or experiencing pain and dysfunction, we do not want to let our physical ailments stop us from doing meaningful and important activities. This is why resting too much is not conducive to getting better. You may need assistance from a qualified health practitioner, such as a physiotherapist. They can guide you in a regimented way and ensure that resistance-based exercises are appropriate for your current level of function. Over time you will be able to progress your training to a level that allows you to return to activities, such as lifting, that you may have been avoiding!
Even The Fittest Get Injured
You may notice that even very fit, strong, capable individuals suffer from acute lower back pain from time to time and may even suffer from severe injury. You might not notice that it generally takes a greater level of stimulus, or higher lifting loads, for these individuals to be injured. They DO still get injured, though, and you may be wondering why when they seemingly do EVERYTHING right. The simple, annoying answer is this: we cannot predict injury. Sometimes, things happen.
Many variables contribute to the experience of injury, pain and dysfunction, and these variables interact in very complicated ways! We tend to blame the variables we can see rather than the ones we cannot, which is why lifting quite often gets a poor wrap! It does happen, though, that some people try to lift too much weight too soon and too often, which can increase their risk of injury.
As we touched on earlier, it is important that resistance-based exercise is appropriate for current capacity levels and is progressed in a regimented manner. Of course, injuries happen, but generally, the better conditioned our bodies are before the injury, the quicker and easier our recovery can be!
The Importance of Resistance Training in Old Age
Resistance training for lower back pain is particularly important as we age and has many therapeutic benefits. Lifting weights can be good if you’re looking for exercises to strengthen lower back. It’s especially ideal for improving muscle strength, bone density, metabolism, cognitive function, balance, functional capacity and pain management, particularly for conditions associated with ageing, such as osteoarthritis! Lifting weights isn’t just for young people. It is suitable and encouraged by the American College of Sports Medicine for most, if not nearly all, individuals!
So you may wonder: “That sounds good, but how do I go about safely introducing lifting and resistance training into my lifestyle?”. Of course, discussing with a qualified professional is always the best route! Especially if consideration needs to be made to any current physical limitations, pains or dysfunction.
Finding someone who can help you within the limits of your body’s physical constructs and within your environment (the type of equipment that may be available to you and the time constraints of your schedule) is beneficial! This individual should seek to educate you and foster independence, confidence, and self-efficacy. They must be able to recommend the appropriate physiotherapy exercises for lower back pain and ensure that you’re progressing as expected and enjoying the process.
If you are interested in commencing resistance-based training and lifting weights, please meet with one of our physiotherapists, who specialises in strength and conditioning. Remember, strength is never weakness!
Blog by Brittany Romas – Physiotherapist , PhysioChoice Hampton Victoria.
Link to her online bio: https://www.physiochoice.com.au/frankston
Brittany holds a Bachelor of Applied Science and a Master of Physiotherapy from La Trobe University. She is currently studying for her Masters of Sports and Exercise Physiotherapy at La Trobe University. She is an avid powerlifter and has a strong interest in strength conditioning, acute sports injuries, and occupational-related conditions. Brittany has spent time in South East Asia working with paediatric patients with a large range of neurological disorders; she has developed a keen interest in providing disability support in conjunction with the NDIS. Brittany believes in a holistic approach to her client’s rehabilitation and treatments, including Hydrotherapy, Dry Needling and Clinical Pilates.