Common Squat Injuries: Low Back Pain

Welcome back to Squat University! This week we are going to open our series on common squat injuries by discussing the topic of low back pain. This injury continues to be one of the most widespread problems in today’s society. In fact, research has shown that up to 80% of people have experienced low back pain at some time in their life (4).

Prevalence of Back Pain in Athletes

The prevalence of low back pain in athletes has been shown to vary depending on the choice of sport. Reports have shown that as low as 1% and as high as 30% of athletes have dealt with low back pain at some time (4). If we strictly look at the strength sports of weightlifting and powerlifting, we actually find these athletes are at much lower risk for sustaining an injury compared to those in team sports (football, basketball, baseball) (5). With that said, injuries to the low back are still fairly common in weightlifting, powerlifting and CrossFit.

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For example, after following resident weightlifting athletes at the United States Training Centers for 6 years, researchers Gregg Calhoon and Dr. Andrew Fry reported that low back pain is the MOST common injury for weightlifters (1). Research collected on over 300 competitive athletes also found the low back to be one of the most common sites of pain (2,3).

Does The Squat Cause Back Pain?

During the squat exercise, a high amount of force is placed on the back. However, with appropriate technique and proper programming, research has shown injury potential to be very low (6). Unfortunately, as in any sport, injuries can still occur.

For the next few weeks, we are going to focus on all the low back injuries that are seen with squatting, Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. We will start next week on how to differentiate between various injuries.

The first issue we will tackle is the vagueness and obscurity of low back pain. Clinicians and athletes alike will throw general low back pain in the category. When in reality, low back pain can be caused by many different factors. This includes muscular strains, damage to the vertebral discs, and the more severe spondylolysis (just to name a few). Each of these issues will require a different course of treatment. My hope with this article series is to help simplify this multifaceted injury so that you may more efficiently treat your problem. My other goal is to help you recognize any signs of a serious injury. If you do have a serious injury, we highly recommend that you seek out an orthopedic specialist.

Low Back Pain Table of Contents

Until next time,

SquatBottom
Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT, DPT, CSCS, USAW

With

Kevin Photo
Dr. Kevin Sonthana, PT, DPT, CSCS

Resources

  1. Calhoon G, & Fry AC. Injury rates and profiles of elite competitive weightlifters. Journal of Athletic Training. 1999l34(3):232-238
  2. Brown EW & Kimball RG. Medical history associated with adolescent powerlifting. Pediatrics. 1983; 72(5):636-44
  3. Keogh J, Hume PA, & Pearson S. Retrospective injury epidemiology of one hundred one competitive Oceania power lifters: the effects of age, body mass, competitive standard, and gender. J Strength Cond Res. 2006 Aug;20(3):672-81
  4. Dreisinger TE & Nelson B. Management of back pain in athletes. Sports Med. 1996 Apr;21(4):313-20
  5. Keogh JW & Winwood PW. The epidemiology of injuries across the weight training sports: a systematic review. Sports Medicine. 2016 June.
  6. Chandler TJ & Stone MH. The squat exercise in athletic conditioning: a review of the literature. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal. 1991, 13(5):51-58

Published by

Dr. Aaron Horschig

Doctor of Physical Therapy, CSCS, USAW coach and athlete.

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