There are a few alarming statistics when it comes to low-back pain.
80% of the population will suffer from low-back pain at some point during their lives.
85% of these people will actually receive no diagnosis as to why they are in pain.
Things get even more confusing as there are plenty of people walking around with no current or history of low-back pain but have a variety of issues going on at their spine.
Research looking at MRI's of almost 100 individuals with no low-back pain reported found that 80% of them had disc herniations and bulges, and many had them at multiple spinal levels.
So what does this all mean?
Back pain is a very real issue but blurry when it comes to answering why it is happening.
One reason that things can be a bit unclear is that low-back pain can often times not be a "low-back problem" at all.
Back pain is typically caused by a combination of muscular stiffness, weakness, and postural changes that happen around your hips and core.
What we typically see in individuals that come to us with low-back pain is a job where they sit a lot or complete very repetitive movements during the day.
They have very tight hips and weak abdominals and abs.
They do not typically have "weak backs". Their backs are actually just overworked.
Here at DSC we take a very proactive approach to preventing low-back pain. We strengthen commonly weak areas (abs & glutes) and improve mobility in commonly stiff areas (hips & low-back).
The focus of today's article is going to be mainly on reducing stress on the low-back by attacking mobility at the hips.
Our low-backs LOVE when our hips are mobile and loose.
When individuals sit in a hips flexed position for prolonged periods of time the hips stiffen.
Our hip flexors tighten and shorten.
These muscles attach to our thigh bone and the pelvis and can actually tighten so much that they pull the front of the pelvis forward, placing excessive stress on the low-back by causing it to compress and overly arch.
At the same time we loose the ability for our hips to rotate and extend.
We want our hips to be as mobile as possible and we want to move as much as possible through our hips.
The problem is when hips stiffen, the motion has to come from somewhere.
If we go to pick something heavy off the floor and our hips won't help us get into the right position, we end up excessively bending at our spine and lifting with our back -- ouch!
Now think about the golfer whose hips are so stiff they won't allow them to rotate. They go to swing and the hips don't move so now the only way to complete his swing is to excessively twist through his lower spine -- cue back pain!
The good news is, low-back pain is very treatable and preventable.
Today we're going to take you through 4 of our favorite low-back stretches!
#1 Kneeling Elevated Quad/Hip Flexor Stretch
As we talked about earlier, your hip flexors are one of the biggest culprits of low-back pain.
As they stiffen and shorten they pull on your pelvis, altering the alignment of your hips and low-back, and compressing your spine.
To open your hip flexors and quads up, give the kneeling elevated quad stretch a try.
This is an absolute favorite of ours!
- Start one foot up on a box or step that is 6-12" high (height is dependent on leg length and mobility)
- The other knee should be resting on floor or pad
- Keep legs at 90 degree angles
- Think long spine as you stay as tall as possible
- You should feel a stretch in front of your hip and thigh
- Work on deep breathing as you hold stretch
- Hit this stretch daily for :30-2:00 per side
#2 Alternating Kneeling Spiderman (with elbow reach)
The alternating kneeling Spiderman stretch is another great hip flexor and quad stretch that allows for better movement through the hip.
Instead of stretching in a static position, we are now moving side to side, getting blood flow into the tissue, increasing our core temperature and increasing motion on each rep.
The elbow rotation also improves upper back posture and rotation .
- Start on all fours with hands under your shoulders
- Rock back into child's pose position and exhale
- Bring right foot up outside of right hand
- Find length through your spine and let right knee slightly glide forward
- Rotate right elbow and head up to the ceiling and exhale
- Return to starting position, rock back to child's pose, exhale and repeat on left
- Hit 5 reps per side
#3 Pigeon Stretch
The pigeon stretch is our favorite lateral hip and glute stretch!
Stiffness in your lateral hips blocks rotation at your hips.
Having proper rotation at your hips is crucial for keeping your low back healthy during exercises like deadlifts and squats and for everyday activities.
Decreases in range of motion at your hips are a great way to cause excessive movement and irritation at your low back.
- Start with one knee and foot out front
- Weight should be in hands and on shin and knee of front leg
- Try to get front shin parallel to shoulders
- Rotate shoulders towards lead knee
- Feel stretch in hip of front leg
- Hold for 1-2 minutes/side focusing on deep exhales
#4 Seated Hip Switches
Over and over research has shown a correlation between lack of hip internal rotation and low-back pain.
Simply put, the less internal rotation you have, the more likely you are to have low-back pain.
This is due to stiff lateral hips and a pelvis that is out of alignment.
One of our favorite active stretches to improve internal rotation is our seated hip switches.
The movement is great for bringing blood flow to your stiff muscles and lubricating your hip joints.
Start slow and be sure to breathe through each switch.
- Start sitting with hands placed behind you, palms down. Be as tall as possible
- Start right shin out front and left leg behind
- Legs should be at 90 degrees
- The middle of your right shin should be aligned with your belly button
- If you are feeling a good stretch and unable to move into hip switch, stick with this stretch position for a few weeks
- If you're ready to progress, you're going to start by lifting your left knee off the floor
- Keeping your butt down and chest tall, raise right shin and shift over to left side
- You should finish tall in same starting position as your start, on the opposite side
- Go slow and exhale through each switch
- Complete 10 switches per side, slowly