Squatting is an excellent exercise for increasing leg strength and making the athlete faster. Unfortunately, many athletes have never been taught how to squat or have been taught improper ways.
Poor form means a loss of force production, poor field/court/track performance, and increased risk of injury. One common problem that plagues some individuals who do not squat correctly is lower back pain from squats.
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Why even perform squats?
Why not just stick with leg extensions? Sequential, compound exercises enhance performance and body composition by recruiting more muscle fibers.
Because of this, many competitive athletes include squats as a part of their leg workout. Regardless of whether they have had problems with pain or not. Doing so will help strengthen the lower back over time and prevent injury later on.
But why do some people experience low back pain from squats? The most common reason has to do with the bar placement.
With high-bar squat variations (the conventional equipment used in most gyms), most individuals’ natural tendency will likely place the bar too high up. Placing it at the top of your traps or even higher rather than putting it across the rear delts.
The reason for this is that many individuals do not have sufficient hamstring flexibility to allow them to squat deep enough while maintaining a neutral spine (more on this below).
Squatting is one of those exercises that some people obsess over and others dread. It is a common exercise that can be done in many forms.
From full squats to half-squats, squatting can be done during dynamic workouts or as resting exercises. There are several benefits from practicing this exercise, and it does a lot for your mind and body.
Squatting builds explosive power for the fastest athletes and the world’s strongest men. Squatting will build strength so that you can jump higher, run faster, play harder, and have more endurance.
This goes beyond professional sport. Every time you need to jump up onto a chair or reach for something out of your grasp, squatting increases functional strength for everyday use. Benefits include:
- Greater flexibility – Consistently doing big activities under load will make you stronger, increase your range of movement in your joints, and elongate muscles.
- Improved core strength – Your core strength also improves over time. This is because your deep stabilizing muscles work together with your prime movers. It ensures your body stays balanced as you perform the squat.
- Prevents injury – Squats can help you develop a more solid foundation. This will enable your body to better coordinate itself when performing many different loads and tasks throughout life. More coordination, in general, means less chance for injury.
Squatting is generally safe when performed in the right way. Some risks are associated with this movement pattern, specifically to the low back.
Squatting is similar to sitting, so the joints in the body are likely to feel pressured. Although squatting is unlikely to cause injuries, it can hurt the spine if performed incorrectly.
There are many reasons why this may happen. For instance, improper technique, pelvic instability, weakness, lack of balance, lack of body awareness, or low expectations of self.
Squatting improperly can cause injury and pain to the spine, knees, hips, or other peripheral tissues. The most common squatting injury is an ankle sprain. But some injuries occur specifically from low bar squatting. These include:
- A condition called iliotibial band friction syndrome – occurs when the knee is forced excessively medially (knee forms an unnatural angle). It results in the IT band being overly stressed, causing pain on the lateral side of your knee
- A condition called patellofemoral joint stress syndrome – occurs when there is too much compression on the kneecap. Because of incorrect mechanics, it’s putting extra strain on the ligaments holding it in place
- Lower back injuries caused by both short-term and long-term abuse – some of the most notable types would be a disc bulge or a hamstring strain
- Fractures from falling from being unable to get out of the bottom position of a squat
In short, many injuries can happen from low bar squats. No one can say with absolute certainty that everyone should do low bar squats and avoid the high bar.
Some people may be able to squat heavily with a high bar. In contrast, others, who maybe don’t have the greatest hamstring flexibility or ankle mobility, can injure themselves from excessive strain resulting from high-bar squats.
How to squat properly
Proper technique is essential. To form a deep squat, the balls of the feet should just reach the ground with toes pointed slightly outward, knees completely bent, back straight, arms hanging by your sides.
Squatting properly can release tension in the hips, deep muscles in the legs, and vital organs by releasing the pressure on the spine, among other things.
The solution is simple: if you cannot go as deep as you’d like on high-bar squats, try switching to low bar. If you have intermittent pain in your knee while low-bar squatting, try widening your stance slightly.
However, if you can go deep enough without pain using a high bar placement and feel more comfortable with it, then, by all means, continue doing so. Other tips include:
- Use a lower bar position (just above the posterior deltoids) and go as low as you can without pain.
- Keep your knees out and maintain a neutral spine at all times, not leaning excessively forward or back.
- If you cannot achieve parallel, don’t do it. Try to work on ankle and hip mobility/flexibility instead.
- Pull your shoulder blades back and down while keeping your chest up.
- Stop the bar just above the posterior deltoids, not on top of them.
- Ensure a tight grip with both hands throughout the entire lift.
Symptoms of lower back pain after squatting
You might experience different symptoms of lower back pain after squatting if you are not using the proper form. It is important to make sure that your knees are pointing out over your toes, your head is looking down, and your spine stays neutral during squats.
Symptoms that indicate lower back pain include:
- Numbness or tingling in one or both feet
- Sharp pains in your buttock and thigh muscles
- Pain that radiates down one leg.
How to prevent back pain when you squat
If you do not take proper precautions before and during squats, you could be risking injury, long-term chronic pain, or even disfigurement. The best way to avoid this is to follow these simple tips for perfecting this popular exercise.
Use proper form
The squat involves bending at the waist with your feet apart, toes pointing out slightly, and standing up straight again. This will work your quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, and glutes muscles, as well as your core muscles which support the spine.
But if you don’t use the proper form, it can cause serious injury. Your neck should be in line with your spine, and your knees should not go past the toes or over them. Always keep them behind the toes for stability.
Keep your spine in a neutral possition
Your spine should be straight as an arrow when you perform a squat. Your upper body should lean forward at the hips, not the waist. Keep your chest up and maintain good posture as you go down into the movement.
Don’t be afraid of using weights
Squatting is one of the best exercises for strengthening your pelvic floor and core muscles. It won’t hurt your back if you’re not lifting heavy weights.
Make sure that you don’t round your back by looking at the floor while performing a chest-to-bar pull-up or other barbell exercises.
Squat as deep as you comfortably can. To determine your ideal squat depth, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and measure the vertical distance from the floor to the crease where the top of your hamstring meets your buttocks.
Don’t round your back
Keep a natural arch in your back throughout the squatting motion. Avoid rounding or hunching over at any point during the movement or when coming up from a deep position or sitting back up on a bench.
Use a box
Place a box behind you and squat down so that you can sit on it without rounding your back. Then, rise onto toes and push up onto hands once you reach parallel to the floor (or as close to parallel as possible).
How to treat lower back pain after squats
Some common causes of lower back pain after squats are weak core muscles, tight hamstrings, and poor postural alignment.
You should not use pain reliefs to treat the condition. Instead, you should focus on strengthening the core muscles by doing exercises such as planks and bridges.
Easy stretches such as lying with the back flat on the ground and reaching both arms and legs forward also keeping them still for at least 20 seconds can provide relief. The lower back pain will gradually reduce by doing this for five minutes three times a day.
Other ways to treat lower back pain after squatting includes:
- Ice it often
- Dress in clothing that fits
- Take an over-the-counter medication
- Get a lot of rest
What to do if you are getting pain in the back when squatting deep?
- Make sure your weight is on the balls of your feet and not your heels, going as low as you can without pain.
- Do a ‘wall drill’ to improve hip mobility – place both hands against a wall at shoulder height with one leg forward and one back. Then, push into the wall by driving your knee outwards while maintaining balance. After 10 reps, switch sides.
- Work on your ankle flexibility to improve the range of motion you can achieve with hip flexion (e.g., toe touches).
- Do front squats using a higher bar position, which reduces stress on the lumbar spine.
Frequently asked questions about lower back pain after squatting
Are squats bad for your back?
If you perform the exercise correctly, it is very unlikely to cause injury. However, the spine is the most vulnerable during squatting, so you may experience pain if you don’t have the proper form.
What is the best way to squat?
The best way to squat is with a low bar position and an upright torso.
Is it normal to feel lower back pain after squats?
A common misconception with squats is that they don’t work your lower back muscles at all. This is false because when you do a squat, the weight of your body will push against your lower back muscles and even go below them to engage the hip flexors.
It might be normal for the lower back to feel sore after squats. Our lower back muscles are responsible for keeping us upright, and they can experience fatigue when you do heavy squats.
Should i squat with lower back pain?
In some physical therapy treatments, squats are recommended as an exercise for people who had a lumbar spine injury. However, if the pain was induced by your non-proper exercises, we do not suggest continuing to do squats without professional supervision.
What are some tips for lowering my risk of lower back pain?
- Shift your weight on your heels.
- Keep your feet close to each other with toes pointing outward.
- Keep your knees out over your toes.
- Maintain an upright spine with chin tucked towards chest and shoulders over hips.
Why do I have pain in my lower back after squatting?
- You might have pulled a muscle, or your spine could be out of alignment.
- You may be slightly out of balance during the squat.
- Your shoes are not providing enough support for your feet.
What should I do to stop the pain?
- Stop doing squats for now, and just focus on stretching and strengthening your core muscles that might be contributing to the pain.
- Keep an eye on how high you push your body up off the ground with each rep. If you’re pushing too high, try lowering yourself down more with each exercise repetition.
Who should I see for lower back pain after squats?
If you have been working out and experience lower back pain after squats, you should not continue to do these exercises until you talk to a doctor.
When doing squats, the back is often extended and then flexed as the person returns to their starting position. This can put a lot of pressure on the spine, which causes soreness and pain in this area.
Back pain during squats is mainly caused by a lack of overall flexibility and/or mobility, not necessarily because of the chosen bar position. In addition, if you have problems with your lumbar spine, it doesn’t matter which type of squat variation you use, as all forms will probably be painful.
Remember: if you have a pre-existing back condition, seek medical advice before doing any physical activity.
Also read: Knee pain when squatting – Causes and prevention