Guest Blog Post from IRON Personal Trainer, Samuel Chewning
with contributions from Personal Trainer, Lizzy Ostro
Do you have lower back pain? If so, you are not alone. In fact, you’re in the majority. Studies show that 8 out of 10 Americans will typically experience back pain during their lifetime. In the APTA Move Forward Survey, 54% of Americans have pain in their lower backs while spending the majority of their day sitting at desks for work.
Ok, so this is an issue, and one that affects your quality of life. So what do we do about it?
First, if you think you have any back issues that are major or beyond regular discomfort, consult with your doctor. Slipped or herniated discs (or something even more serious) in your back are nothing to try and remedy yourself, so it’s always best to consult with a doctor before you try anything.
But for those having a lighter discomfort level, sit-up a little straighter and keep reading. Here are the most common things that cause low back pain and some suggestions for fixing or alleviating the pain.
Disclaimer: None of the information below is meant to diagnose or cure any ailments or injuries. This article may be helpful to you, but it is up to you and your doctor to decide the best remedy for your unique situation.
Your body is comprised of a variety of different types of joints and joints sets. Think about it. Your shoulder joint works and looks different than your knee joint. Each joint has a different function and therefore performs movement differently. Your shoulder is supposed to move around in many different directions, right? Yes. What if your knee did that? Weird and uncomfortable (and likely dangerous). Just like your shoulders or hips should be loose and mobile, your knees and low back are supposed to be stable and secure. They need to be able to move appropriately when the situation calls for it, but they are not intended to be extremely mobile joints. They need to be strong and stable.
This is all part of Joint-by-Joint Theory. It states that joint sets are stacked, and the joint sets alternate functionally as stable and mobile. So moving up the chain, a stable joint will sit on top of a mobile joint. It will alternate this pattern all the way from your toes to your head.
The theory also states that this relationship between joints can also cause problems. If one joint is not performing its job correctly then the the joint sets on either side of the chain will be affected as well. Oftentimes, the joint set experiencing the pain is not the problem! It can be the joint set below or above that is actually the problem. For example, if you’re having knee or hip pain, you might assume that it’s your knee or hip that needs help. In fact, many times it is actually your feet and the shoes you’re wearing that are causing issues up the chain. I’ve seen people do nothing more than get a better pair of shoes and drastically decrease or eliminate knee and hip pain. Mind-blowing.
So let’s look at the lower back and see how it applies to this theory. The joints below your low back (lumbar spine) are your hips. Clue # 1. The joint above your lumbar spine (low back) is your thoracic spine (mid back). Both your hips and your thoracic spine are supposed to be mobile joints.
Here is how it is rationalized out. If your mid-back or hips are really tight when you move or do anything, then your low back has to overcompensate to make up for that lack of movement.
Your kinetic chain is like a string of different sized rubber bands all connected. If you stretch the line of rubber bands, the looser ones are going to be the ones that stretch the most. The smaller, stronger ones will give less.
If the rubber bands are in the wrong order in your body, then different bands or joints are performing the wrong function. Your low back shouldn’t be making up the lack of mobility that your hips or mid back are lacking. This could likely be the cause of your pain.
So what can you do about this?
Well, many things. But these are the Two Best Ways to Reduce Back Pain:
1. Strengthen Your Glutes
Your glutes are the biggest muscles in your body and should therefore be the strongest. In addition, if your glutes are able to be properly activated AND are strong, your lower back is relieved of a lot of pressure (literally and figuratively) when it comes to carrying heavy loads and handling physical stress demands. Weak glutes are one of the main causes of low back pain, so strengthening them is one of the best ways to combat that issue. There are 3 main movements that the glutes perform (hip extension, hip abduction, and external rotation, so ensuring that you’re working them from all of those angles is ideal.
A short list of some of our favorite glute exercises (in no particular order):
-Glute Bridges and/or Hip Thrusts
-Standing Cable Rotation
-Hip Abduction w/ a Resistance Band or Machine
-Lateral Walks w/ Resistance Band
There are many more, but this is a great, comprehensive list to hit your glutes from all angles.
2. Buy a foam roller or use one at your gym.
Commit to rolling for 15 minutes per day. (You can have one of the IRON Personal Trainers show you how to use one or watch a couple of YouTube videos by reliable sources).
As you spend time on the roller learning how it works and how your body works, you will soon discover what is tighter and what needs to be worked on everyday. A good rule of thumb is, “if it hurts, it is probably what needs the most attention.” You will start to see and feel results in 2-3 months and permanent effects after a year. You are literally redirecting the way your body works and feels for the rest of your life.
For 15 minutes each day, work on rolling your mid back, the front/back/side of your legs, hips, glutes and sides. Roll everything around the area that hurts. After rolling out the tight muscles it is ok to stretch, but remember that the foam rolling comes first before stretching. It is important to breakup the connective tissue in your muscles before you start trying to stretch the muscle.
Core exercises after you roll out are the next best thing to do. After you have mobilized the joints around youf low back, it is important to stabilize your low back. Start with “deadbugs” and then gradually move to planks.
Remember, your low back is typically not the problem. Do not work on stretching your low back, unless it is recommended by a physical therapist. Work more on glute strength, proper posture, and keep that foam rolling up!
Stay strong and healthy friends.
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