When Should You Be Concerned About Lower Back Pain After A Workout?

Dealing with lower back pain after exercise can be unsettling. You might be wondering what went wrong, what activities to avoid, and when to resume your workouts. First things first, take a deep breath and calm down. Back pain doesn't always indicate an injury. You may have pulled a muscle, or you might be experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), a condition that can cause lower back pain and other symptoms. DOMS is characterized by a constant dull ache in the affected area, whereas injuries cause sharp pain, explains personal trainer Amanda Capritto (via CNET).

However, there are cases where lower back pain can indicate a more serious problem. For example, running and other activities may result in sacral stress fractures, notes a 2009 case report published in the journal Clinics. This type of injury can cause pain and tenderness in the sacral region, the area between your lumbar spine and tailbone, according to Shepherd Center. In severe cases, sacrum injuries or fractures can affect the hips, legs, or pelvic organs.

Lower back pain doesn't always require a visit to the doctor, but you should know when to seek help. Even mild injuries can affect your physical function or get progressively worse. 

When to see a doctor for lower back pain after exercise

It's normal to experience back pain for up to three days after a strenuous workout, says New York surgeon Dr. Kerem Bortecen to Aaptiv. Physical activity, especially strength training, causes micro-tears in the muscles, triggering an inflammatory response, explains the University of New Mexico. When that happens, your immune system produces cells to repair damaged tissues and build new muscle mass. 

In some cases, back pain is due to an underlying condition, weak or tight muscles, or overtraining (via Adaptiv).  "Lower back pain can happen when someone tries to 'max out' their lifting when their core and lower back are not strong enough for the stress," said Dr. Ankur Dave, a director of pain management, to Aaptiv. If the pain is accompanied by a tingling sensation in your legs or buttocks, then you might have sciatica (per Mayo Clinic). This condition affects the sciatic nerve, causing pain and numbness in the affected leg or buttock. Mayo Clinic recommends seeing a doctor if your symptoms last longer than a week or so.

Other symptoms, such as back pain that affects your range of motion, may warrant a trip to the doctor, too. For example, muscle contractures cause severe pain and stiffness, making it difficult to move the affected area, warns the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Call your doctor if your symptoms get worse or persist despite using self-help measures like heat and ice therapy, painkillers, or regular stretching.