Nearly every single person that will read this post will have suffered from back pain at some stage in their life. It doesn’t matter who you are, you are susceptible to back pain. The fact is that our spines are a very very strange part of the body, complex and not easy to figure out. A lot of the time you will have pain and you will not get a direct diagnosis, but you can always find a way to reduce your pain, if not cure it completely.
As a general rule spine problems are a result of repeat trauma, doing something over and over, which can happen to anyone in any walk of life. You can end up hurting your back doing the most simple of tasks, when in reality, the cause was something that you have been doing for years. It is important that you realise that even though you might not have back pain at the moment, you could be a time bomb waiting to explode. In fact, you might even have a back problem, but not be feeling any pain yet. There is also a fair chance that the back pain that you are suffering, is coming from a different region, or is caused by something else.
So, here are a few helpful tips to keep your back safe…and to get rid of any pain that you may already have. A lot of these are going to seem like common sense to you, and a lot of them mould into each other, so just take this as a timely reminder of how to make sure that you do not suffer from low back pain in the future. Keep yourself well aligned, and counter any imbalances you may have in your daily activities…and you just might be pain free. Lower back pain relief is possible, you just have to work at it!
Get Rid Of The Bulge
The first thing that you need to address, that people often like to deny is a problem, is your weight. Is is the first step in low back pain prevention. Let’s face it, the spine is there to carry the body’s weight around, and distribute the loads properly. If you are overweight or obese, then your spine has to take the burden, and it can cause a lot of damage. If you have, what we shall call a beer gut, then you will most likely be bringing your pelvis into anterior tilt. We have spoken about this before on the blog, and it is for many people, a normal position to be in, to an extent. An excessive anterior tilt, where your pelvis is tilted forward and the curve in your lumbar region is larger, can put a lot of pressure on your lower back. Your glutes are then in a weak position to fire, and when you want to produce hip extension, your lower back has to do it. There are many reasons linking lower back pain and obesity, and it can cause a whole host of problems, lose the beer gut, and feel the pain begin to dissipate.
Ease Up On Spine Mobility
The first thing that we do when we have back pain, is try to move around and get some mobility back. Normal. However, not overly helpful for your cause. The fact is that LUMBAR spine range of motion is positively correlated with risk of injury… translated, the more you can move your lower back, the more chance you have of popping a disc. Basically you want to move mostly at your hips and your upper spine. It is normal to have some mobility in the lower back, but you dont want too much. Ease up a little on the lower back stretches, you may be doing yourself more damage. Essentially in this area, you want stability.
You can work on the mobility through your hips and through your thoracic spine, to ensure that when you do movements, it is in these regions that you will do most of the moving. Stretching through the hips, and performing exercises such as overhead squat, lunges and hip flexor stretches, will ensure a wider range of motion at the hips. Your hip flexor can cause a lot of issues. As for the thoracic area, grab two tennis ball and do some tennis ball therapy. Put them together in a sock, lay it on the floor, lay back over the tennis balls, ensuring one on each side of the spine, and repeat for the whole upper back.
Check Out Your Psoas
Possibly the most popular work on this blog, but with decent reasoning. This single muscle can cause you quite a few problems and increase lower back pain immensely. If you have a tight psoas, then your glutes will be inhibited, you will go into anterior tilt, and there will be a lot more stress on your lumbar extensors. If you have a weak psoas, means that you will be using your back to acheive lumbar flexion, and we know that movement there isnt the greatest thing. A weak psoas can also cause a flat back, which can put a lot of stress on the posterior ligaments of the spine.
Bottom line, check out your hip flexors. You may not have any problems with them, however it can be a hidden cause of low back pain, and one that is definitely worth checking out.
Get Your Butt Firing
A weak butt is a sure fire way to develop lower back pain. If you arse is not working, then your lower back will take up the slack. It is pretty simple. If your glutes don’t work, and your hips are not moving well, then your lumbar spine will move. We already discussed why this is bad, so get your butt strong and relieve your lower back pain.
Get onto some bottom exercises, build muscle and you will take a lot of pressure off your back in day to day tasks and in the gym. Some great ones to start with, which are also classed as lower back exercises as they recruit the stabilising muscles, are:
- single leg bridges
- single leg squats
Stand Up Straight
Your mother was right. Posture is an extremely important element that you need to get right in order to relieve your lower back pain. If you are constantly in a flexed, or bent over position, then your back muscles are likely to be stretched, weak, and fatigued. On top of that, you are doing the same thing to the ligaments and the discs in your back.
It is very important when doing any kind of task that you are able to keep your back stable, and keep a correct posture. Your back doesn’t like compressive force, which is a downward force, but it hates shear force, which is a sideways force. The spine can take a whole lot more compressive force than it can shear force, hence why sitting bent over all day is a bad idea, constant shear force on the lower back. If you are doing exercises, or daily tasks in a bad position and with bad posture, then you are going to increase the shear force. When you look at squatting, if you put a bar on your back and round your back out, the shear force on your discs is amazingly high, and you are just waiting for an injury.
Try to maintain your spinal curves at all times, for many of you it will have to be a concious effort for a while, but it is certainly going to help you in the long term. If you need help when sitting, try using lumbar pillows.
Stop With The Sit-Ups
Oh but that 8-pack for summer is just another 9865 reps away. The fact is that crunches really increase the force on the lower back, and if you have existing pain then there are definitely other exercises you should be looking at doing. It goes back to the whole lumbar mobility things, and the shear force issue. A great way to cause bulging discs. The full sit up can be dangerous if done too much, no need to take it out of your program, but try to throw a few more planks in there, and you will be taking the stress off your lower back, getting your abs stronger, and working more stability muscles that desperately need it.
Whether you are aware of it or not, your discs in your back can be hydrated, and dehydrated. When they are in a hydrated state, they are much less able to combat shear force, which we have just learnt is a bad thing for the lower back. Your discs get hydrated overnight, hence when you wake up, they are in peak hydration status. This is not a great time to work out or do too many complex movements! You don’t have to wait long though, after an hour of moving around and standing up, they will be significantly less hydrated, and you shall be free to once again move without risk! Due to work committments a lot of people like to do their workout in the morning, just ensure that you wake up an hour beforehand, do a longer warmup, and you will decrease your risk of lower back injury immensely.
Keep It Moving
Majority of people have to sit or stand in one place during the work day. This is possibly the worst thing that you can do for your back. If you have a desk job, schedule an alarm to remind you to get up each hour, do 2 or 3 stretches, walk a lap of your office, and sit back down. You won’t be wasting any time, and you will make sure that you are not stuck in one position all day. Sitting is particularly harmful on your back as it has your hip flexors in a flexed position. This means that they will adapt to this, and will often be very tight. Our sitting postures can leave a lot to be desired as well, and getting up and moving around will ensure that you are stretching and mobilising the necessary muscles to help you prevent lower back pain.
Deload A Little
One of the things that can cause lower back pain, is heavy compression. It has been shown that a healthy disc will not herniate, however an unhealthy one is very susceptible. The fact is that we do a lot of heavy compressing of the spine during the day, more so for some. A simple solution is to deload the spine frequently. This is easily done whilst sitting or standing. If you are sitting, put your hands by your side, and lift your weight up for about 10 seconds. As you can imagine, you are taking the pressure of the spine. This is great to do whilst you are sitting down at work. If you are standing, find a bench, and put all the weight on your hands. You can also hang off something, difficult in normal life, but perfect from a chin up bar in the gym. Take a break from your squats and deload. Again, don’t do it for too long, 10 seconds is a good number, repeat it 5-10 times and you will have successfully deloaded your spine.
Swallow Your Pride
If you are really struggling and you cannot get rid of the pain, then you need to see a specialist. Sometimes all you need is a little soft tissue work. You can do all the right things,but if your muscles are tight, then you need to get them released. A massage therapist or a physio can provide you with the deep tissue work that you need. It is possible that you have a deeper and more serious problem, if this is the case, you need to get it checked out and a specialist will know what to do. They will be able to give you specialised and personalised low back pain treatment, far and above what you can do for yourself. Put the pride away and look after your back!
There are many more things that you can do to help prevent lower back pain and back spasms occurring. These are just a few helpful tips. If you are suffering from pain in the lower back, and you know that you are not doing a few of these, change your habits and reap the benefits.