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Hurt Left Side of the Lower Back After Leg Pressing

by
author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.
Hurt Left Side of the Lower Back After Leg Pressing
Leg pressing too much weight can lead to lower back injury. Photo Credit Sjale/iStock/Getty Images

Working your legs is taxing and at times painful because the muscles are so big and demand so much energy. Compared to upper-body exercises, you need more weight to challenge your legs because of the larger muscle size. It's not uncommon to get injured during a leg exercise, like the leg press, because you have to use a lot of resistance. If you feel pain in your back after leg pressing it can be one of a few different, and all too common, lower back injuries.

Leg Press Machines

Many different versions of the leg press machine exist, but most of them have the same general design. You perform the exercise while sitting down with a back rest behind you. Your feet go on a platform in front of the seat, and the seat can either be flat, inclined or declined.

Leg press machines either use a cable to add resistance or they have attachments on to which you load weighted plates. On some leg press machines the platform that you put your feet on moves, while on other machines the seat that you sit in moves.

Performing the Leg Press

To perform a leg press you start with your legs extended. Then, you perform a squatting motion without moving your feet, just bending your knees, until you've reached the bottom of the squat position or have gone as far as you're comfortable. From here you press the machine back to the starting position.

Read More: Causes of Lower Left Side Abdominal and Back Pain

As you lower the weight down your lower back may start to curve in the chair, in the same way that your back tends to curve when you do a standing toe touch stretch. As your lower back curves it's placed at an increased risk for injury. The most common injuries occur either at the sacroiliac joint, in a disc between vertebrae or in a muscle or tendon in the lower back.

SI Joint Injury

At the very bottom of your spine is a bone that resembles an upside-down triangle. This is the sacrum, the end of which is known as the "tailbone." On either side of the sacrum is the ilium, the pair of large bones that make up your hips. The space where your sacrum and ilium join on either side of the sacrum is called the sacroiliac (SI) joint.

SI joint injuries can occur if one side of the hip moves differently from the other, creating an imbalance at the hip that moves one side awkwardly. During the leg press if one leg presses harder than the other, or if you have a pre-existing problem where one leg is slightly longer than the other, your SI joint can be at risk.

With an SI joint injury, you'll feel pain very low in your back and down into your glutes. It might radiate down into one or both of your legs or your groin, depending on the severity. If a doctor determines that you have an SI joint injury you'll likely need physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication and time away from strenuous activity.

Lower back injuries can be caused by rounding.
Lower back injuries can be caused by rounding. Photo Credit Creative-Family/iStock/Getty Images

Disc Herniation

One of the most common lower back injuries, a disc herniation happens when two of your spinal vertebrae squish one of the spongy discs between them, causing a rupture in the disc. This rupture can cause swelling in the area of the disc, which can press on nerves that come out of the lower spine.

As your knees bend and you bring the weight down towards you in a leg press, your lower back can round. When it rounds there is a lot of pressure on the discs between your vertebrae. Your back is also being pressed back against the seat because it's supporting the weight of the leg press. This combination of pressure from the weight and from rounding of the lower back can cause a herniation of the lumbar spine.

Pain from a disc herniation will be felt in the lower back and often radiate down into the groin and legs. While it may be painful at first, the pain typically goes away in a few weeks or months with non-surgical treatment, such as physical therapy. It's also important to take anti-inflammatories and rest the injury. In extreme cases, you may need surgery to fix the herniation.

Read More: Stretches for Lower Back and Hip Pain

Pulled Muscle or Tendon

As you strain to press the weight away from your body you might inadvertently use your back muscles in the movement, pulling a lower back muscle or tendon. A pull means that there is a small tear in the muscle or tendon, a band of tissue that connects your muscle to bone.

You will feel a pull in your lower back as soon as it happens and for a few days afterwards, as the injury swells. After a few days of rest you should be able to begin the recovery process with physical therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs.

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