Preventing Lower Back Pain in Grappling and Martial Arts

It is no secret that many people suffer from back pain and it’s no different for students of grappling and martial arts. The sad part is that most of the time it can be prevented.

If you have lower back pain, it is your job to educate yourself about what specifically is causing the pain and what you can do to eliminate or reduce it. All too often, people with back pain walk away from physicians and chiropractors with no clue as to what is causing them pain and more importantly, what THEY can do to prevent it.

Just taking some pain killers or seeing a chiropractor three times per week for adjustments is not really addressing the issue at hand. Hopefully you will find the following 6 tips helpful in preventing and relieving lower back pain.

Low Back

This guy forgot to read this article!

1. Learn proper biomechanics not only when participating in grappling and martial arts.

Many people injure their backs while lifting. Most likely, these people developed back pain from a combination of things and the lifting was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
With that said, it is important to learn how to lift safely. Bend at the knees while keeping your eyes forward and your back in its natural alignment. Keep the object close to your body and avoid twisting.

2. Find out which sleeping position works best for you.

Sleeping on your side – Place a pillow between your knees to keep your spine in a neutral position

Sleeping on your back – Place a pillow under your knees to keep your spine in a neutral position

Sleeping on your stomach – Place a pillow under your stomach to keep your spine in a neutral position

3. Strengthen your stomach.

Weak abdominals can lead to an excessive arch or lordotic curve. This will cause a strain in the lumbar region (lower part) of your back. Great ways to safely strengthen your stomach are crunches and side crunches. Abdominal strengthening is especially important for helping to keep your core strong for grappling and martial arts training.

For crunches, lay flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With your arms crossed at your chest and your hands touching opposite shoulders, contract your abdominal muscles and bring your shoulder blades three inches off the floor.

It is important to keep your lower back pressed into the floor at all times and your eyes should be focused on a point on the ceiling. For side crunches, do the same as crunches but twist your torso to alternating sides as you come up.

4. Treat any muscular imbalances you may have.

Believe it or not, this may be the single biggest cause of back pain. I have had many clients who suffered from back pain prior to meeting me. They were happy to soon be living free from lower back pain and from upper back pain after achieving muscular balance. If you have questions about muscular balance, consult with a physical therapist or highly qualified fitness professional for an evaluation.

Poorly conditioned individuals suffer more from back pain and are at a higher risk than those who are conditioned. An example of a muscle group that is commonly too weak is the hamstrings. People who are inactive tend to have much stronger hip flexors (muscles at the top of your front thigh) and quadriceps than glutes and hamstrings. This can be due to contracting of hip flexors and quadriceps mostly from walking or just getting up and down.

This lack of balance within the muscles will cause your pelvis to shift forward. You are now left with an anterior pelvic tilt which causes an exaggerated arch in your lower back and possibly some unwanted pain. This can be easily solved with a few hamstring exercises, including backwards walking or going in reverse on the elliptical machine.

5. Lose Weight.

If you are overweight, the elimination of low back pain is just another reason to lose weight. The further your belly protrudes the more force it exerts on your lower back. Your spine will thank you for losing the excess pounds!

6. Stretch.

The more limber your muscles are, the less stress there is on your lower back. It would be in your best interest to stretch all of your muscles but particularly important are the hamstrings and the lower back.

For the hamstrings: Lay on your back with one leg straight in the air. Keeping the leg straight, wrap a towel around your foot, holding an end of the towel in each hand. Slowly pull the ends of the towel toward your head until slight discomfort is felt in your hamstrings. Hold for 20 seconds and switch sides.

For the lower back: Single or double knee-to-chest stretch.

There you have it — six easy ways to prevent low back pain in grappling and martial arts! I hope you are able to get rid of any aches and pains you may have. By using the strategies in this article, many of my clients and I have been able to prevent much unwanted low back pain.


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  2. Hi I have suffered lower back pain on and off for years. Honestly the best thing I ever did was three months of daily Yoga, followed by free weights after the 3 months. The last time was the worst though and I got rid of the problem with Pilates – if you’re in London I can recommend my Phiso Pilates is truly incredible at finding you weaknesses and exposing them for you to fix

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