Back Injury

Back Inury: One Bad Rep

For several years now I’ve done deadlifts on Mondays and stiff-legged deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts on Thursday. I’ve rarely had back pain and I’ve always taken great care to listen to my body and practice good form. I do barbell rows, dumbbell rows standing with bow stance, lat pulldowns and various other back centric exercises.

The Sacroiliac Joint

I continue to enjoy fitness topics, anatomy, biomechanics and anything that compliments my passion for lifting, running and martial arts. Before injuring myself, I knew next to nothing about the sacroiliac joint. According to wikipedia the SI joint is a joint between the sacrum and the ilium bones of the pelvis, which are connected by strong ligaments. The SI joint supports the spine and supports the entire weight of the upper body. Functionally the SI joint serves to absorb shock, converts torque allowing transverse rotations in the lower extremity to be transmitted up the spine, and stabalization during the push-off phase of walking.

If you damage your SI joint or the soft tissue connected to or it, you’re going to experience pain. You’re also going to find out if you have any muscle imbalances particularly with your glutes, obliques, erectors, abdominals, diaphragm, transverse abdominus, etc.

The Injury

After reviewing one of my favorite fitness channels on proper deadlift form, I thought maybe I should really focus on my form and make corrections if needed. My SOP for lifting involves a lot of stretching, wushu stances, balance, and core work every day before I start my actual lifts. Doing this doesn’t really prevent injury, it simply tells me if I already have a problem and sets the tone for my workout that day - in theory. In actual fact I’ve frequently found my ego pushing me a bit to do what I did last week, which is part of the reason I got a back injury.

The other and primary reason I got a back injury was that I loaded up the weights like I wasn’t doing a corrective test of my form and just went into a heavier weight. While doing this, I was in my own head, thinking about the various points from the video I reviewed, instead of being connected with my body and how things felt. I firmly believe you should always do this and listen to your body, you should see yourself in the mirror and connect with every aspect of a heavy compound lift. If you are in your own head and you’re thinking about keeping your chest out or pushing off the ground with your legs, you might neglect the feeling of your back - which I can only guess is what happened to me at one point.

As I pushed off the ground I felt a loud pop in the dead center of my lower back and immediately dropped the bar. I took a moment to process what happened. I couldn’t bend down and lift the bar without pain, or even remove a plate without pain. I knew something bad happened, and over the next hour it got progressively worse. Thankfully I made it home, showered and started icing my back and taking NSAIDs before I became a cripple for the next 48 hours. Walking was painful, getting out of bed was painful, using the restroom was horrifying. Every aspect of my core was engaged during the first 48 hours to stabalize my spine to prevent any movement. Surprisingly I could get some sleep, but it hurt to roll over or sleep on my side. From my symptoms and google, I assumed my issue was likely related to the SI joint.

What to do

See a professional; this was my experience and opinion.

If you find yourself in a similar position, you might think you can wait it out and see how things go. Maybe even do some stretching. Don’t do this, make sure you see a good doctor (ideally one who has a speciality in sports medicine and who knows a good physical therapist to refer you to) and get an X-ray. You may have a herniated disc or fracture, which is serious. If you’ve ruled out all but soft tissue damage or SI joint dysfunction of some kind, then work with a physical therapist to identify, correct and strengthen the supporting tissues.

What I did

In my case I took a risk and did some minor stretches in bed that helped, and once I could stand getting on the ground, I repeated them. This allowed me to progress a bit faster before I saw a physical therapist who advised me to continue the same routine. The PT identified one imbalance or weakness, because I rarely use the adductor or abductor machines. This was surprising to me as I do a lot of one leg exercises - one leg balance, one leg balance on the bosu ball, one leg presses, side lunges, bow stance and reverse bow stance, horse stance, and other variations that should make for strong adductor and abductor muscles. I’m not sure what I did, but I can feel it in my hips, and I’ve obviously strained something.

It will be two weeks since I’ve lifted. Although I’m walking, I’m not running, and I’m going to take it easy. I’m hopeful I can get back to my normal routine over the next few weeks, but I’m not going to push it with weight lifting until I’ve regained 100% of my range of motion and I’m not experiencing any pain.

Lessons learned

Don’t get in your own head when you’re doing a form correction, have someone else observe your form and listen to your body, while you’re using a super low weight. Once you’ve got the motion down or have made a correction, you can add some weight.

All it takes is one bad rep!