7 Activities You Should Avoid When Your Lower Back Hurts – Episode #7

Welcome back, gang. This is the Good Living Doc show. My name is Dr. Mark Smith. I am the Good Living Doc. You can find all my podcasts on my website at goodlivingdoc.com. I’m also on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts, as well as about a dozen other platforms. This is episode 7. 

Before we begin, I want to take 20 seconds to remind you that I’m not your medical doctor. I’ve never examined you and so you should not take anything I say here as personal medical advice. Please do not attempt to treat, cure, or diagnose any symptom or disease in yourself or anyone else based on what I say here. If you decide to change your lifestyle in any way based on the information you get here, please do so with the guidance of a trained and licensed health professional. 

Today we’re going to talk about seven activities that you should avoid when your lower back hurts. Modern life is just hard on the spine, especially the lower back and the neck. The way we live these days is very stressful to the joints of our lower back. 

Now, many times when you have lower back pain, or you have a lower back condition, part of what occurs is swelling of the L5 disc. Now, this is what we’re going to be talking about today… that lower disc in your lower back all the way down at the bottom of your spine. 

80% of people will have lower back pain at some point in their lives. That’s a lot of people. That’s four out of five, and we can attribute that to the fact that, like I said, life these days is just hard on the lower back. 

Everything that we do seems to cause stress on the joints of our lower back, particularly the L5 disc which is all the way down at the bottom of your spine. So most people, when they have lower back pain, it’ll be all the way down at the bottom of their spine…or it’ll be off to the right or the left because there are joints on the right side and the left side as well that can be inflamed and tense and can be “fixated” we say…or basically stuck, not moving properly. 

But when your lower back hurts, there are things that you should avoid doing. Basically, you should avoid doing anything that stresses that lower L5 disc, because if you have an injury to the lower back, you probably have some inflammation in that disc. And if you’ve had lower back pain for a long time, you may actually have some disc bulging or some degeneration of your lower spine. And when you have lower back pain, you really need to lay off that disc and the lower joints. 

Now our lower backs can get tight…if you go for a long walk or you do some work in your yard or your garden, and you feel those tight muscles in your lower back and then you go inside and you sit down and you rest and that tension goes away and the discomfort kind of goes away…I’m not really talking about that kind of thing. I’m talking about pain…pain that is sharp. Pain that is stabbing, pain that radiates…meaning you can feel it in your lower back and then it kind of spreads out to different areas. Those are the kind of things that are a little bit more serious. 

And that’s not the kind of pain you should push through. You know, you go to the gym and people say “Well, you know you should push through this pain because it makes your body stronger.” But pain is not something you should push through. Muscle aches…that’s another story, but when you have pain when you do something…that’s an intelligence signal by your body telling you not to do that. 

We discussed in an earlier episode how pain is basically your body telling you to change course…do something different because there’s danger. So when your body gives you pain, it’s telling you…it’s trying to guide you…it’s trying to stop you…especially when it comes to the lower back. 

So lots and lots of people have lower back pain. It’s probably the number one symptom that brings people in to see me. When you have lower back pain, you want to lay off that L5 disc.

The L5 disc takes a beating in modern life. Just the act of sitting for long periods is very stressful on the lower back. I know sitting doesn’t seem like a stressful thing, but it is. It’s very unnatural to tuck our pelvis underneath us and sit our body weight on top of it for hours at a time. And it’s almost impossible to sit in a way that is not stressful on the lower back. 

Everybody always says, you know, that people do this ergonomic thing where they try and get their chair right, get their computer right…to try and take the stress off of their posture and off their spine, but there really is no way to sit that is not stressful on the lower back. 

And most of the time, we don’t sit straight up and down anyway. We sit to the side, we sit forward, we hunch forward, and so every time we’re off center like that, it puts more stress on the lower back on that lower disc. 

So sitting even for long periods…if you sit for long periods, that lower disc is being stressed…there’s no doubt about it. Standing for long periods of time can cause inflammation of the L5 disc. 

A very common thing I hear people say, when they tell me that they’re back went out, was because they did something very simple like just leaning forward with this little lean with straight legs…like they’re brushing their teeth or lowering their baby into the crib…just something where they have this…where they’re just off balance a little bit and they’re making their lower back hold up their torso. 

So, you’re standing up basically and you’re bending forward at the waist. That’s really hard on the L5 disc as well, and if you add weight to that, that’s a recipe for disaster. Many people who come in to see me, it’s because they were bending forward with weight in their hands, or bending forward with weight and twisting. 

And that’s another thing…twisting at the waist, very bad for the lower back…the lower L5 disc. Studies have shown that just a little twist in the lower back can cause micro tears in the disc itself…on a microscopic level…but that’s where it starts…a very, very small twisting in the lower back. 

The joints of the lower back are actually aligned such that it limits your ability to twist there and so biomechanically we’re designed to not twist at the lower back…so you want to try to avoid twisting at the lower back too, especially when you have lower back pain. 

Just those few examples…you can see how much of our lives are just beating the tar out of our lower backs…and you can get away with doing some of those things sometimes and you might get away with it for 30 years, but eventually…for most people…those things catch up to you. They start to really cause some long-term issues and wear and tear, especially if you’re not maintaining your spine correctly, which very few people do because we’re just not taught those things in life…and especially when we’re growing up as kids or in sports…no one teaches us how to maintain our spines. 

And so, throughout our entire lives, we’re beating on our lower backs and not doing anything to build them up or keep them strong. So, seven activities you should avoid if your lower back hurts…and these activities are probably the ones that are the hardest on the L5 disc.

1. Running

Number one…running. Now do you know what runners absolutely hate? Not running. I’ve known runners who refuse to stop running even though they had sciatic pain radiating into their toes. 

Runners are some of the most dedicated athletes. I don’t like running. I’ve never liked running. I don’t get it, but I take care of many runners and for some of them it’s an obsession. They just love it so much. 

But it’s one activity you should avoid if your lower back hurts because lower back pain results from inflamed discs, bulging discs, irritation of spinal joints called facets, and if you’re not running properly or your lower back and pelvis are not aligned properly, and you’re running off balance, it’s just pounding and pounding on that lower disc and as much as I know you hate it, you should rest if you have lower back pain. 

Don’t go running, even if it makes you feel better. Sometimes you’ll have lower back pain and start running and the pain goes away. That’s still not a good sign in my opinion. You just should not run if your lower back hurts. 

2. Golfing

Number two…golfing. Researchers have named lower back pain the #1 physical complaint among golfers. Accounting for up to 54% percent of all their documented ailments.

People I take care of…they start coming in in the spring…it’s the only time I ever see them. They come in the spring and I take care of them all summer and then they disappear again…because all they want is to be adjusted while they’re golfing because it helps their golf game. 

There are two certainties in life…you’ll never stop runners from running and you’ll never stop golfers from golfing. 

Just about everything involved in golfing is hard on your lower back, especially swinging the golf club. So we’ve talked about some of the things that cause strain in the lower back…and bending forward and twisting at the waist. And I mean, aside from the fact that you’re swinging sometimes as hard as you can, that is terribly stressful on that L5 disc. 

Aside from that, carrying your golf bag on one shoulder shears that L5 disc. When you bend over to pick up the ball on one side that causes stress on the L5 disc. 

So, if you’re having lower back pain, take a break and don’t golf. Take a rest for a couple of days. I know you hate it. Especially in the midwest here where we only get a few months of summertime, people want to make sure they get as much in as they can, but you’re not doing your lower back any favors.

Before you go and do these things, even when you’re not in pain…if you’re going to go running or you’re going to go golf or something like that…warm up first. That’s imperative. Don’t just go out and start swinging the golf club. You need to take 10 minutes and really warm yourself up. Do some bodyweight exercise. Do some squats. Do some lunges. Do some real gentle swings with the golf club. Stretch yourself out a little bit because if you just go out there and start swinging that club, you’re just asking for trouble. 

3. Twisting at the Waist

Number three of activities you should avoid when your lower back hurts…twisting at the waist. A lot of times when you have lower back pain, it is accompanied by tight muscles in the lower back and pelvis. Now, muscle spasms and muscle tension…if we believe that the body is intelligent…and we do on this show, that’s the premise upon which this show is built…the body is intelligent…in which case that tension is helpful and is natural. 

But what people want to do when their lower back is tight is they want to twist it, they want to try and make it pop, they want to try and get that tension out of there…but that’s the last thing that you should do when your lower back hurts. Trying to twist it and stretch it out like that. Twisting…very bad on the lower back. 

Twisting at the waist places undue stress on the discs as well as the facet joints that keep the vertebrae linked together. I always tell my patients to avoid stretching tight muscles when their lower back hurts.

Better than doing that would be to just put some gentle movement into your spine…and also…I’m a big fan of yoga and in yoga you twist a lot at the lower back but a lot of times when you’re twisting in yoga…if you’re bending forward and twisting you usually have one hand on the ground for support or you’re doing it on the ground. 

If you’re laying down with your knees up and you’re kind of letting your knees fall side to side real gently, or you’re twisting really gently like that to get some movement in your spine, that’s okay. I’m talking about the crazy things people do where they just sit in a chair and they grab the back of it and they pull themselves around trying to twist themselves or standing up straight trying to twist so hard that their lower back makes noise and pops and cracks. But yoga is another story because yoga generally puts you in a safe position before you do the stretch or do the movement. 

So, doing those kinds of twists, if you’re on the floor and you’re not under load we say, you’re basically not holding up weight as well, holding up your body, holding up your torso…and you’re twisting gently to put some movement into your spine, that’s another story. That’s generally okay as long as you know what you’re doing. 

4. Bending Forward with Straight Legs

Number four of activities you should avoid when your lower back hurts…bending forward with straight legs. I see this when I’m just driving down the street and people are in their yards, pulling up weeds, picking up things, picking up their kids, anything where they have to pick something off the ground. They’re bending over and their legs are straight. And we talked about this before. Making your lower back hold up your torso places tremendous stress on the L5 disc. 

So things like bending over to put on your shoes, leaning forward while you’re washing dishes, standing and working at a table or bench, or leaning forward to brush your teeth, arching into a mirror to shave or put your makeup on…you have to be real careful about that kind of thing because many, many people hurt themselves with that little lean forward. 

I hear it almost every day that someone just leaned forward a little bit and their back went out. 

5. Crunches

Number five…activities you should avoid when your lower back hurts. This is a big one…crunches. I have no idea why crunches became the exercise of choice for strengthening the core. There are so many better, less stressful, less damaging exercises than crunches. 

Continually flexing and extending the spine under load can cause spinal discs to tear and eventually herniate. Now, again, you might be able to do 10 thousand crunches and not have a problem with your lower back, but every time you do them, you’re increasing your risks of injury…especially if you’re not doing the right things to maintain and release that stress in your lower back on a daily basis and this is true whether your lower back hurts or not. 

I hate crunches. I tell people all the time not to do crunches. Crunches are terrible. In order to do a crunch, your spine has to be flat against the floor, and that transfers the load of your weight of the movement to the surrounding spinal joints and ligaments and they’re not designed to take that stress. 

If you want to work on your core, do some planks. Planks are better. There are a hundred variations of planks. And another hundred kinds of exercises that will strengthen your core without making you bend your lower back. 

6. Strenuous Exercise

Number six…strenuous exercise in general. When your lower back hurts, you want movement without stress. Virtually every lower back injury will involve inflammation and muscle tension to some degree, and these things cause other problems like pain, altered motion, they change the way your vertebral joints move, and they also restrict your vertebrae from moving. 

So, if you have restriction, tension, and inflammation, straining that disc more is going to cause more of the same. You’re going to get more inflammation, more tension, more pain, more fixation. So subjecting these areas of the lower back to excessive physical stress or compressive loads can just irritate them more and they do irritate them more. 

Pain is a warning signal and you should never push through it. Ignoring pain can cause a lot of different injuries and cause you to keep perpetuating the same issues that you have and lengthen the healing time. 

7. Sitting Straight Up From a Lying Position

Last but not least, number seven of activities you should avoid when your lower back hurts…and that is sitting straight up from lying on your back. 

You probably noticed a theme here. All the movements I’ve listed place unnatural burdens on the lower back, the discs, and the joints. So if you’re laying in your bed or on the couch…on your back flat…and you just sit up at the waist…that is a big no-no. That can easily cause more inflammation. 

A lot of times people will tell me, “I don’t know what I did! My lower back started to hurt and then the next day, it hurt more, and then the next day it hurt more.” And if you start to have little twinges and pain in your lower back and you’re doing all these things, you’re probably just irritating it more and more.

So instead of sitting up like that…don’t ever sit up like that. Every time you get up from a lying position, you should roll over on your side, push yourself up with your arms, and lower your feet to the floor. 

Do that a couple times and you’ll see that there’s practically no stress on your lower back, you know, really do a lot to reduce the strain, the lower back and save you a lot of grief. 

I know you don’t want to hear this. My patients don’t want to hear it either. But the best course of action when you have lower back pain is to rest. I mean, you should see a chiropractor and get a good adjustment, too…or two, or three.  

Rest is one of the things that few people do, especially if you’ve got a job where you’re just pummeling your lower back every day, you really have to step up your game as far as taking care of the lower back joints. 

I see a lot of people who have jobs where they’re lifting heavy things or they’re sitting all day or they’re bending forward all day in these weird positions…and man they’re just in so much pain all the time and there are ways to get around that. There are ways to better your spinal function, but if you have pain and you’ve had it for a long time, your body’s yelling at you for help. It’s trying to tell you…this is bad…and if you can’t stop doing it then you have to go above and beyond what regular people do to maintain the health of your lower back…to get it healthy again and to maintain the health once it’s there.

We’re going to talk about that over time. We’ve talked about it before already, but this show is going to be based on some of that at least so that you can learn the things that you need to do in order to save yourself as you get into your older years. 

If you can’t take time to heal, or you won’t take time to heal, then you have to limit your activities to those that are low impact and that don’t place added stress on your spine. 

One of the worst things I see in high school athletes that are injured is they’re never allowed to rest. And I see a lot of young people with tremendous amounts of pain and they just can’t get out of pain because they can’t rest. And that’s probably the most important thing…not forever… I’m not talking about for months. I’m talking about for a couple days or a couple of weeks. It’s not like it’s this big chunk of time out of your life. 

Episode 7 Good Living Tip of the Day

But sometimes you have to let your body heal and the episode 7 good living tip of the day is part of this same subject, which is…when you have pain, rest. If at all possible, stop the activity that’s causing it whether it be golfing, running, squatting at the gym, doing deadlifts, doing crunches at the gym. 

Sometimes we have to modify things. If you have a job where you have to lift heavy things…I know it’s not cool to do…sometimes you need to ask for help. Ask for somebody to help you lift this thing. 

You know what’s cool? Living into your 50s and 60s without lower back pain. That’s cool. So whatever you have to do to get yourself to that position…to where you can live…and in your later years without pain, we have to do that especially if you’re reaching your 40s and 50s. Now is the time to get serious about this stuff because if you don’t do it now you’re not going to do it when you’re 65. 

So do it now. Get serious. We’ve got to start really making an effort to ensure that we have mobility and health as we get older. It’s never too late. Start wherever you are. Start slowly, work yourself up to being stronger and being better. Okay? 

Thanks for hanging out with me today, gang. This is the Good Living Doc show. I am Dr. Mark Smith. I appreciate you being here. I can’t do this without you. You can find all my podcasts on my website at goodlivingdoc.com and there’s also transcripts of each episode in case you’re somewhere where you can’t listen to this show or you’d rather read it. 

If you like what I’m saying, do me a favor. Pass these links on to your social media, your friends and family. I’d appreciate it. Trying to expand my reach and help more people other than just the little corner of the planet that I practice in, and if I can help some other people…well, that’s just extra for me and for them too. I appreciate all of you telling other people about me. Until next time, there’s a lot more coming. Take care.

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