Kettlebell Swings For Low Back Pain

So, over the last several weeks we have been examining the use of kettlebells within a health and fitness program. We looked at the history of kettlebells, why they are useful for overall fitness, and we looked at kettlebells in a specific population we call “The Everyday Athlete”. These are the people we work with day in and day out. The one who may have been athletes when younger and now their sport is taking care of their home and being a healthy example for their families. This can extend into the workplace as well.


Since hosting our recent kettlebell training workshop at Breakaway, I have been asked several questions related to the safety of kettlebell training in those with low back pain. Now, of course there are several different reasons one could be experiencing low back pain but, most low back pain is derived from 3 main categories: psychosocial, biomechanical, and individual. An example of psychosocial back pain could be in an individual who is dissatisfied with their job situation. Yes, that’s right, low back pain can be psychological! An example of biomechanical back pain would be more related to muscular imbalances, arthritis, former injuries, surgeries etc (we see this most often of the three). The term individual as it refers to low back pain include age, weight, and muscular endurance. Of course, one must not forget a history of low back pain is one of the best predictors of future low back pain.


So is kettlebell training safe for individuals with low back pain? For the most part, YES! Barring any surgeries which have limited one’s mobility as well as certain spinal injuries, when executed properly, kettlebell training is safe in those with low back pain. In fact one study, which I used in a former blog post noted showed that an 8 week training program utilizing the kettlebell swing lead to a 50% reduction in low back pain (Jay et al., 2011). Does this mean that kettlebell training is the “best” exercise for low back pain? Of course not but it does mean that it a worthwhile one. If you are anything like me, you may wonder why. How can doing almost nothing but kettlebell swings for exercise improve one’s low back pain. Well, although research is limited, one group attempted to examine the “why”.

 


Several studies indicate that individuals with low back pain tend to lack the ability to stabilize their spine when they are suddenly knocked off balance. For example, say you are walking along a sidewalk and all of sudden, the sidewalk drops. You did not notice this drop as your eyes were focused straight ahead on wherever you were headed. If when you take that sudden drop step (the sudden change in force is called a perturbation), you are unable to fire the muscles within the legs, hips, and trunk correctly, you may sustain a back injury. In the past, individuals suffering from low back pain have shown a decreased ability to react properly in a situation such as this. If your ability to maintain spinal stability or good posture during a sudden change is favorable, you’ll be much less likely to sustain a spinal injury.


Performing a kettlebell swing requires one to swing a given mass which is located slightly beyond the hands from just below the pelvis to roughly shoulder or eye height. The entire movement from bottom to top is initiated by the posterior chain (the back side of the body muscles, hamstrings and back muscles), not the shoulders. The shoulders simply act as a guide to keep the kettlebell on a curvilinear path. Following this quick, explosive movement upwards, the same muscles must react to control the kettlebell as it falls to the starting position, similar to the method in which muscles must react to a sudden change as the example given above.

 

 

In a another study from Jay et al. (2013), the ability to stop or react to a sudden perturbation(change of body position or shake from an outside force) was measured following an 8 week, 3x/wk, kettlebell swing training program. The training program consisted of 20 minute sessions beginning with an un-weighted swing, then progressed to a 2 handed swing, followed by a single arm swing. The training was performed in intervals of 30sec of work to 60sec of rest and progressed to 30sec of works and 30sec of rest. Following the 8 week trial, the training group significantly improved their ability to stop and stabilize following a sudden change or perturbation. The control group (the folks that didn’t train with kettlebells) actually got a little bit worse at it. In fact, the training group improved by 20%! This is a much higher improvement than other studies in which the training group performed other training methods such as core exercises, and balance exercise.


Take Home Point:
Kettlebell swing training is an effective strategy to possibly reduce common injuries associated with sudden postural perturbations at work and at home. Not to mention, the kettlebell training utilized within this study also improved overall well-being, job satisfaction, and self-reported strength!

Thanks,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coach Joe Rouse MS, KBC Master Instructor

 

 

 

 

References
Jay, K., Frisch, D., Hansen, K., Zebis, M., K., Andersen, C., H., Mortensen, O., S., & Andersen, L., L. (2010). Kettlebell training for musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health: A randomized controlled trial. Scandinavian Journal of Work and Environmental Health, 37, 196-203.


Jay, K., Jakobsen, M., D., Sundstrup, E., Skotte, J., H., Jorgensen, M., B., Andersen, C., H., Pedersen, M., T., & Andersen, L., L. (2013). Effects of kettlebell training on postural coordination and jump performance: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(5), 1202-1209