Low back pain is the most common form of physical pain or ailment in America. In fact, as many as 31 million people in America suffer from low back pain at any given time and it is the leading cause of disability worldwide. More than $50 billion dollars are spent each year by American’s trying to treat their low back pain.
However, what most people don’t realize is that the majority of cases of low back pain can be fixed (or at least improved) by incorporating certain activities or exercises into your everyday routine.
There are many possible causes for low back pain, and it is possible for you to have a more serious condition such as a bulging disk, degenerative disk disease, kidney disease and arthritis. But in my experience, the majority of time the primary culprit for low back soreness is due to muscular imbalance.
The Lumbo-Pelvic Hip Complex (the area where your low back, hip, and legs connect) is a very complex structure with a large number of bones, muscles and ligaments all coming together to form several of the most important joints in the human body. Due to the intricacy of the hip complex, it is very common for specific muscle groups to become stronger than others and create a muscular imbalance.
One of the most common muscle groups to become overly strong (or tight) in today’s day and age is the hip flexor complex, (the upper front part of the thigh), more specifically the psoas major muscle. We, Americans, like to sit down- a lot. And when we sit a lot, we place our hip flexor complex into a shortened position, and if we do this often enough the muscles will become locked in this position.
When these muscles are locked into a shortened position, they pull downward on your spine and cause your hips to tilt forward into what is known as the anterior pelvic tilt position. Because your pelvis is not meant to be in this position, it can cause a lot of pain in the lower back. Stretching out the hip flexors and strengthening specific muscles should help reduce and even relieve this.
Other common causes of low back pain are due to improper sitting posture. In today’s day and age with the advent of computers, cell phones and lazy boy recliners our sitting posture has seemed to go from bad to worse. Most people today sit with an incredibly slouched forward posture that over time will become your normal posture.
This hunched forward posture is known as thoracic kyphosis, and when you add in the forward head posture we call it the upper crossed syndrome. To fix upper crossed syndrome, one must work on stretching out the pectoral muscle group, while strengthening the mid and upper back muscle groups, along with focusing on maintaining good posture when you sit.
Below are some exercises and tips that you can use EVERY DAY to help reduce low back pain.
Lying 90/90 Position (Pain Relief)
If you are in the middle of a bad flare up caused by anterior pelvic tilt, try to lie down in the 90/90 position with your legs propped up onto a stool so that your hips and knees are both bent at a 90 degree angle.
While in this position, tighten your stomach and press your low back into the ground and hold this position. This should at the very least decrease the amount of pain you have, if this doesn’t work, there may be another cause to your back pain instead of a muscular imbalance in your hips. Feel free to try this anytime you need pain relief.
Foam Roll Hip Flexors (Front of the Hip)
Foam rolling is a new technique that is a great way to inhibit overactive muscles. And in the case of low back pain caused by overactive hip flexors, foam rolling is a great way to inhibit those hip flexors and reduce the tension that they are causing in your low back.
To do this, place a foam roller (or a full two-liter bottle) on the floor and lay on your stomach so that the roller is under your upper thigh. From here, move your body forward and backward so that the foam roller moves smoothly along the front of the thigh until you find a “tender spot”.
Once you find your tender spot, you’ll want to hold this spot (as long as it is tolerable) for a minimum of 30 seconds. Repeat this process for the other leg as well. You should try to do this 1-2 times per day everyday if possible.
Stretch Hip Flexors (Front of the Hip)
After you finish your foam rolling, it is a good idea to stretch out your hip flexors to help lengthen the muscle tissue back toward its normal resting length.
To do this, kneel down on one knee next to a chair or table that you can hold onto. From here, push your hips forward until you feel a good, comfortable stretch in the front of the kneeling thigh. Hold this pose for 30-60 seconds and repeat 2-3 times each day.
Stretch Your Chest Muscles
If you’re like the many who suffer from chronically poor posture, one of the muscle groups that is likely overactive is your pectorals (your chest muscles).
One thing you can do to help is to stretch them out and lengthen them. In order to do this, stand in the doorway with your shoulder and elbows bent at 90 degrees each so that your arms create a “field goal post” style of position.
Rest both forearms along the edge of the door frame and lean forward until you feel a comfortable stretch in the chest and the front of the shoulders and hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat 1-2 times throughout the day if possible.
Hopefully these few tips help you return back to your normal pain free self. If you are interested in learning more, contact us at (616) 785-8535 and set up your free fitness consultation!
-Mike Zimmer, Personal Trainer/Wellness Director