Prevent Back & Knee Pain During Exercise

by Nicole

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Practice Makes Perfect

Ever wonder why you feel a twinge of pain in your shoulder when doing a plank? What about low back pain when you’re doing a push up?

Chances are your form was a bit off causing minor pain. If this becomes consistent over time, your muscles remember this movement pattern. By not correcting the improper movement pattern, you risk an athletic injury in the future.

I always tell my patients and clients that pain should NEVER be experienced during exercise. DISCOMFORT, absolutely, but not pain. Understanding the difference between these 2 terms can be challenging as these feelings are subjective. Overall, just remember stabbing, shooting or sharp sensations likely mean something is not right. Aching, sore or fatiguing sensations are typically normal, however.

A mindfulness practice and being in tune with your body really helps to prevent pain and injury in the future. Additionally, understanding your physiological limits is critical because you should never push past uncomfortable or painful sensations. 

Overall, keep exercising regularly and keep practicing. My biggest, most important advice: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!

7 Tips to Prevent Pain

1. Move Slow and Controlled

I know it feels great to get a crazy sweat by doing plyometrics (jumps, speed drills) but moving more intentionally is better for your body. You’re much less likely to get injured when moving slow and controlled.  Our body naturally resists moving slowly because it’s harder. It’s much easier to let gravity take over or use momentum but that does us a disservice. 

For example, next time you do a bicep curl, go SLOW on the way down. This is called eccentric when the muscle is lengthening but still contracting. 

2. Practice the Basics

The basics are not as sexy as some creative moves but it’s really important to master the basics first. Basics include squatting, planks, lunges, bicep curls, chest press etc. Comparatively, plyometrics are explosive movements and if strength is not adequate, compensation is likely to occur.

For example, practice mastering a traditional squat prior to adding weight and prior to adding plyometric jump squats to prevent pain.

3. Squeeze the BUTT

Glute weakness is far too common as most of us spend a large majority of the day sitting. Prevent pain by focusing more on the gluteal muscles. Something as simple as completing 10 butt squeezes every hour is a great start. Many of the lower extremity or back injuries I see at my clinic are due to gluteal weakness, especially the hip external rotators. Completing exercises such as clamshells, monster walks, or side steps is really helpful. 

Click here, for a visual demonstration of some of these exercises I mention above! 

4. Engage the Core

Speaking of under active muscles, squeeze that core, let’s see those abs! When you’re doing any exercise, I encourage you to “brace your core”. A simple tuck of the pelvis (posterior pelvic tilt) will help to automatically engage the abdominal muscles. Anytime the core is activated, you decrease your chances of injuring your spine. I HIGHLY encourage this when lifting weights as disc pressures are large when one holds a load in front of the body, especially when combined with flexion (bending forward). 

For example, practice the posterior pelvic tilt, as demonstrated in the YouTube video above. This backwards motion of the pelvis allows both the glutes and core to activate almost automatically, protecting the back. 

5. Use Mirrors

This is a really simple way to check your form and most gyms have plenty of mirrors for this reason. As a physical therapist, there are many cues I use to enhance my clients performance. I often use tactile cues, meaning I use my hands to help my client improve the instructed movement. Additionally, verbal cues work well for most folks; I use my voice to tell a client how to make the movement better. Mirrors, however, are a form of visual cues. Some people are visual learners and I think it helps a lot to see how the body is moving during a movement pattern. 

For example, try squatting in front of a mirror. Complete a posterior pelvic tilt and watch that small movement occur in the mirror. Keeping the heel down, sink your hips back like you’re sitting in a chair while keeping the chest lifted. I’m giving you verbal cues here but all these cues can also be visualized if utilizing a mirror. Most importantly, you want to ensure the knees are tracking forward. Refer to my YouTube video where I talk in depth about knee pain and techniques to prevent dynamic knee valgus

6. Tuck the Chin

Always be sure that the head and neck is an extension of the spine. Posture is SO IMPORTANT. If you haven’t read my article about seated posture and preventing pain at work, read that here. A chin tuck is really RETRACTION of the neck aka a backwards motion. Again refer to my blog about neck pain for a visual on this exercise. 

For example, prevent neck and back pain by keeping the neck “in neutral” when planking. This means the head is not looking up at the cieling and not looking down towards the belly button. Instead, the gaze should be directly down towards the floor. 

7. Stay Hydrated

Hydration affects performance, there’s no doubt about it. Dehydration causes a fluid loss which leads to a drop in blood volume requiring the heart to work harder to push oxygen to the muscles. The muscles require oxygenation to perform at an optimal level of function. It is very important to drink at least half your body weight in ounces daily. Refer to this blog, linked here, for more specifics about hydration needs.

For example, I always know when I’m dehydrated because my legs feel like they’re going to “give way” too soon into a workout, I get exhausted, tired or even develop a headache. I try to fill up my Yeti (my fav water bottle – purchase yours here) at least 3 times a day! 

I hope you found this content to be helpful and educational! Form is so important to prevent pain and injury. If you have any questions drop them in the comments below or reach out to me.  If you liked this article don’t forget to share on social media! 



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