Back pain is estimated to affect 80% of the population at some point in life. Be it due to sitting long hours at a desk, as a result of stress, or simply by living too sedentary a life. Dealing with back pain is a journey, and for long term chronic sufferers often it takes years of experimentation to arrive at solutions which work for the individual. There are a few more common causes and solutions to back pain, such as stiffness in the spinal column and limited range of movement. But what if this isn’t the case or cause of your back pain? There may be other culprits and solutions. Read on:
1. Back pain caused by tight hip flexors and psoas muscles
Many believe sitting posture causes these deeper postural muscles to shorten. This is actually debatable from a medical perspective, but regardless, most people aren’t doing enough to lengthen and stretch these muscles. The psoas muscle is also a major muscle used for flexing at the hip and curling the body into a ball (which is our natural instinct when we are feeling stressed or anxious). It can also, when short or tight, pull the lumbar spine inward and cause lower back pain. There are a few different approaches we can look at to alleviate this.
This seems like the obvious answer, but we need to be careful as it can sometimes makes an underlying issue worse. Forcing or going for a deep aggressive stretch may be counterproductive. That uncomfortable feeling when you stretch a muscle? It’s actually the muscle resisting what you’re doing - fighting against you. We need to go slow and gentle to lengthen the psoas. Effective yoga postures for this are lying knee to chest position, and crescent lunge.
Rather than drinking more fluids, this is the idea of using gentle repetitive movements to gradually bring more range in the movement of the tissues and more fluid to assist with this. This can be done lying on the back and using a slightly-deflated pilates ball beneath the lower back to help release. The same ball can also be used lying face down at the groin to massage gently into the area
4. Manual manipulation
A psychotherapist or osteopath can manually massage deep down into the abdomen and reach to the psoas to help provide release in the same way you might receive a massage to tight traps and shoulders. Be warned though - it’s not for the faint hearted!
5. Back pain caused by weak or dysfunctional gluteals and hamstrings
This is often overlooked as a cause for back pain. Often back pain feels like it is in the lower back, but could actually be referred pain from the gluteals. To test this out walk your fingers down your back to your sacrum, and then outwards and massage into the top outer part of the buttock. If it feels tender, chances are it’s linked to your back pain. Some solutions to this:
a) Releasing Using a foam roller to massage out gluteus maximus and gluteus minimus (or have a regular massage in this area).
b) Strengthening Typical approaches might prescribe squats, deadlifts, hamstring curls- all of which will help. However, it’s also important to build strength through the entire range of contraction of the glute. Often they’re either completely switched off, or completely switched on and working at 100% effort. To train strength across the full range of contraction try standing upright, both feet flat. Place your hands on your glutes. Then make the smallest possible contraction of the glutes and very, very slowly and gradually start to dial it up. Chances are they will contract in short jerky movements, or go to fully engaged very fast. Keep working slowly up to your max squeeze, and then slowly release in the same way. the first few times it will be jumpy and difficult to control, after several rounds however, the movement becomes smoother and more controlled. It’s amazing how therapeutic this simple exercise can be for back pain.
So there you have it, a few lesser known techniques and tips for working with back pain. Give them a go and see if any work for you - we’d love to hear your feedback.
This article was written for Warrior Addict by the amazing James Rafael. For more about James, click here