Is Back Or Sciatic Pain Preventing You From Reaching Your Exercise Goals?

We all know the importance of exercise, fitness, and generally staying active in order to age well. Exercise is a critical component in maintaining a long life span and health span. For many, exercise and fitness is a way to have fun and stay in shape. Others use activity to manage stress or chronic illnesses (such as diabetes, osteoporosis or heart disease). The benefit of consistent exercise has a positive effect on our physical, mental, and social well-being. It can be very disappointing when low back or sciatic pain prevents you from reaching your exercise goals.

Low back pain (LBP) or sciatic pain is the most common injury/pain complaint for those in the western world. LBP is estimated to affect nearly 80% of the U.S. population at one time or another. Worse yet, once you have experienced an episode of LBP you have a 90% chance of having a reoccurrence.

How can you address your back or sciatic pain in order to get back to doing the activity that you love (whether that is walking, running or playing with your grandchildren)? First, you need to assess your risk factors.

Risk Factors for Low Back Pain (LBP) or Sciatic Pain:

  • Sitting too much.
  • Slouched sitting.
  • Prior episodes of LBP.
  • Smoking
  • Poor core and back extensor muscle strength.
  • Lack of a proper warm up and a cool down.
  • High training volumes with inadequate rest (overtraining syndrome).

Some of the specific risk factors for LBP are also risk factors for other types of injury. Lack of adequate core strength (particularly, strength in the outer core and pelvic/hip musculature) can contribute to other types of injuries, so it’s an important to address the weakness sooner rather than later.

Consider the amount of repetitive force your body must absorb even with walking (not to mention during sports or exercise). The outer core muscles are responsible for movement of the trunk and spine as well as aiding in stability. (Although critical for stability, the inner core muscles don’t actually produce any trunk or spine movement.)

The outer core muscles consists of the following muscles: lumbar paraspinal muscles; the quadratus lumborm; the internal and external obliques; and the psoas major and minor (hip flexors). Some may also include the glutes (buttocks muscles), hamstrings, and quadriceps as part of the outer core muscles.

Imbalances or a lack of strength within the core musculature often will manifest in altered lower body mechanics and an inability for the body to properly absorb and distribute forces. Over time, the body’s tissues eventually break down and can lead to a repetitive use injury in the lower extremity (such as hip bursitis, knee pain, and ankle or foot pain).

As a physical therapist, I always assess the core and hip musculature and look for imbalances in strength when determining the root cause of low back or sciatic pain. In the majority of cases, I find that a component of hip and core muscle weakness has led to the pain.

The good news is that this is a completely preventable problem. Most of us already know that we need to cross train and that proper core strength is important. However, too many of us either don’t dedicate enough time to the process or we aren’t performing the correct exercises. Performing proper core exercises and particularly, lumbar stabilization exercises are the primary treatment modality for low back pain (LBP).

Proper core and lumbar extensor strength is the key to preventing an episode of LBP and is also a critical step in avoiding other types of injuries affected by weakness in the core and pelvic/hip muscles. The most important factor in meeting your exercise goals is to be consistent. Don’t let low back or sciatic pain prevent you from staying active and enjoying your favorite activities.

For additional tips on how you can prevent low back or sciatic pain, please check out my free resource, 10 Fast & Simple Ways To Stop Annoying Back Pain & Stiffness WITHOUT Relying On Painkillers, Injections Or Having To Visit Your Doctor’s Office.

Written by: Ben Shatto

Editor’s Note:  This article was written by Ben Shatto, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS.  Ben is a physical therapist and Administrator for Signature Healthcare – home of House Calls, Home Health, Palliative and Hospice Care as well as the founder and editor of the website www.thePhysicalTherapyAdvisor.com.  His website is dedicated to help proactive adults of all ages to understand how to safely self-treat and manage common musculoskeletal, neurological, and mobility related conditions in a timely manner so they can reach their optimal health.