Low Back Pain? How to fix it
Back pain is becoming more common each year. The majority of people I come into contact with have either had lower back issues, or are struggling with some sort of ongoing discomfort or pain. This pain and discomfort starts to become ‘normal’ and people just end up living with it. Which is a shame and shouldn't be the case. I’ve had my fair share of lower back issues and used to fall into the category of daily discomfort. It’s not until I started to treat it myself, find a good osteopath and follow some daily protocols that the daily discomfort finally went away.
The truth is, back pain shouldn't be this common. Most of us don’t know how it started and are not sure how to treat it. And unless there is a structural issue such as a herniated disc or SI joint problem then lower back pain can be treated and the pain should go away. If you do have any joint issues then see an osteopath or your doctor. I advise getting an MRI so you can really diagnose the problem and get to the root cause. If it’s not that serious then the information in this blog can help get out of that nagging back pain, moving freely and enjoying training again. Pain free!
There are many ways we can aggravate our backs. It can start from incorrect form when lifting, not warming up properly, poor movement quality, or when muscles around the hips (like the glutes, hamstrings and abs) are tight or aren't firing. When these muscles are tight the muscles of the lower back are usually overactive/overworked and this is when pain occurs. Poor breathing mechanics, being stuck in fight or flight mode (our stress response) can also contribute to a bad back. As you can see the localised pain isn’t usually the actual problem, its the muscles or structure around it.
The hip flexors are the first thing to look at when experiencing back pain. The majority of our day sees us sitting, texting, which puts us in a rounded forward position. Being in this position for extended periods of the day shortens our hip flexors, turns off opposing muscle groups which leads to muscle imbalances, unwanted pressure on the spine and possible back pain.
The couch stretch releases the psoas, quads and hip flexors.
- Think about scooping tailbone to chin and draw the rib cage down to create a neutral spine.
- Squeeze your glues (this will help release the opposite muscle)
- Hold for up to 2 minutes, focusing on long slow exhales
Frequently moving positions either in or out of your chair can help too. Stand up and sit down, go on regular toilet breaks, get a cup of tea or go for a walk on your lunch break. Try to break the pattern of extended sitting as much as possible.
Foam rolling is essential to maintaining and improving tissue quality around the hips which you now know will help release the lower back. Foam rolling is easy, but I always see people doing it the wrong way, or not using the tool as it’s meant to be. There are some guidelines to follow when foam rolling.
- Roll for about 20-30 sec max per muscle group.
- No pain face. Pain in the face creates tension through the body.
- Breath into any tight areas. This calms the nervous system and releases tension.
- Roll small areas at a time. A foam roller isn’t a rolling pin, focus on small areas at a time working up the muscle.
It’s important to focus on each of these when foam rolling as you (and the muscles) will get allot more out of it.
I like to use the lacrosse ball on the glutes. The glutes is the the largest muscle group in the body, crossing the leg over opens up the musculature and the ball can get really get in there.
The constant pull of tight hamstrings forces the hips into a forward position which makes the muscles around the lower back tight.
Place the roller into the high point of the hamstring. Press down on the foam roller and roll your leg side to side which hits all three muscles of the hamstring.
The Rectus Femoris is the centre muscle of the quads. The quads are generally overactive and tight which pulls the pelvis forward. Stronger, tighter quads leads to weaker inhibited hamstrings and glutes. The muscles of the lower back picks up the slack which can lead to lower back pain people experience.
Place the foam roller at 45 degrees and lay the top of your hip over it. Roll from the top of the hip all the way down to the knee, bending the heel into the glutes when you find any tight spots.
Foam rolling the IT Band is debatable. Some coaches swear by it, while others say it’s a complete waste of time. My advice is see if it works for you. I would suggest just rolling the section at the top of the hip. See how it feels on your body and continue if you feel some relief.
Make sure to place the roller in-between the quad and hamstring.
We have allot of muscle tissue in our trunk and deeper core that never really gets stretched out. This area is sensitive due the organs around and underneath our belly, and the deeper muscles can get easily bound up and tight. Gut smashing feels strange at first, but once you learn how to breath and relax into it, then this could be a game changer.
Once the muscles of the hips have opened up it would be a good idea to strengthen our inner core, glutes and even the muscles of the lower back. If your back pain keeps flaring up it could be a stability issue rather than a mobility issue and we need to keep our centre pillar (shoulders, hips and core) nice and strong. Have a read of my blog on building a strong core and incorporate the information into your gym routine. Or try this 3 way plank progression. Hold each position for 10-15 seconds for 3 sets.
- bring the elbows under the shoulders and knees under the hips.
- straighten both legs out.
- drive your elbows to the toes, toes to the elbows.
- squeeze your glutes, firm your thighs and create as much tension as you can through the entire body.
- set the shoulder above the elbow and your elbow in line with your heels
- lift the hips off the floor
- maintain a straight spine, and brace creating tension down the side of the core
There are other alternatives that can help manage and treat lower back pain. Some of which you might not have thought, or heard of.
Walking is essentail. The human body is designed for locomotion, walking increases blood flow around the body, helps clear lactate and helps flush our lymphatic system. We are usually told to rest when we have back pain, but this could be one of the worst things to do. If you can walk without pain then I higher suggest. Go for a 20-30 min walk, or spread 5-10 mini walks through the day.
ELDOA is a form of deep fascial stretching that elongates the discs of the spine and can heklp decompresses the spine in a few simple moves. Have a look at the link as this can aid in instant relief.
Staying clear of inflammatory foods like sugar, trans fat and artificial chemicals/ingredients will help the body heal. Things like bone broth, turmeric, beets, blueberries and green leafy vegetables are all high anti-inflammatory foods that will provide the body with the building blocks to accelerate healing.
Surprisingly exercise helps. The body thrives on movement and this is where an intelligently designed programme written by a coach can help. As long as you stay out of pain when exercising the body will respond well to it and agin accelerate the healing process.
Lower back pain shouldn't rule your life and limit you performing everyday activities. Give these things a try and I’m sure you’ll see improvements. Like always reach out to me if you have any questions or need my help.