I am a science writer and a former Registered Massage Therapist with a decade of experience treating tough pain cases. I was the Assistant Editor of ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I’ve written hundreds of articles and several books, and I’m known for readable but heavily referenced analysis, with a touch of sass. I am a runner and ultimate player. • more about me • more about PainScience.com
In the vast majority of patients with low back pain, symptoms can be attributed to nonspecific mechanical factors. However, in a much smaller percentage of patients, the cause of back pain may be something more serious, such as cancer, cauda equina syndrome, spinal infection, spinal compression fractures, spinal stress fractures, ankylosing spondylitis, or aneurysm.
It’s well established that about eight in 10 people in the U.S. will experience back pain at some point in their lives. And while the causes of such pain often vary, say physical therapists and other medical professionals say that increasingly, in a world that accommodates a more sedentary lifestyle, the blame for low-back pain can often be traced to an area a little lower in the kinetic chain: the hips.
How to do it: Rest the barbell across the upper traps on the back of your shoulders, as if it’s sitting on the collar of your shirt. Begin with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes pointing about 15 degrees out, then widen your stance as needed so you’re comfortable. Make sure your knees are pushed out and your glutes stabilize your position. When you’re ready, push your glutes back as if you’re sitting in a chair. Aim for dipping your butt below your knees, but go down as far as you can without bending forward or losing balance. When you get the bottom of your squat, squeeze your glutes and drive up and through your heels back to start position.
Meanwhile, many non-dangerous problems can cause amazingly severe back pain. A muscle cramp is a good analogy — just think about how painful a Charley horse is! Regardless of what’s actually going on in there, muscle pain is probably the main thing that back pain patients are feeling. The phenomenon of trigger points — tiny muscle cramps, basically11 — could be the entire problem, or a complication that’s more painful and persistent than the original problem. It’s hard to overstate how painful trigger points can be, but they are not dangerous to anything but your comfort.
"As compared to a conventional deadlift, the sumo allows for greater recruitment of the adductors and a more stabilizing emphasis for the abductors," says Lindsey Cormack, a competitive powerlifter and CrossFit trainer. "Training sumo may feel less stable at first, but the balance requirement is what allows you to effectively train both the abductors and adductors."
Even though it seems like your legs are moving forward and backward when you’re running, in reality, the femur (your thigh bone) both rotates and tilts in the hip socket, Kalika explains. It’s the hip adductors—most notably the gluteus medius—that keeps the femur sitting in the socket as designed. (The hip adductors are the muscles that move your legs inward.) Any weaknesses make the joint unstable, and can contribute to poor running mechanics, hip drop (when the pelvis drops to one side), too-narrow stances, and aggravated tissues throughout the entire body, Sauer says.
Nerve impingements arising from your lumbar spine: Your lower back can refer pain anywhere into your buttocks and legs. The area it refers to depends on which joint in your spine is at fault. If it is a joint high in your lower back you may feel pain in your hip also. This relationship is due the referral pattern of the nerve impinged. Treatment in this case should be by a suitably qualified physiotherapist or medical professional to the joint in your spine that is impinging the nerve.
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• Gout. Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when excess uric acid, a bodily waste product circulating in the bloodstream, is deposited as needle-shaped monosodium urate crystals in tissues of the body, including the joints. For many people, the first symptom of gout is excruciating pain and swelling in the big toe – often following a trauma, such as an illness or injury. Subsequent attacks may occur off and on in other joints, primarily those of the foot and knee. Less commonly gout can affect the spine, causing extreme pain, numbness and tingling. It can be confused with a spinal infection.
Of course, you know what it feels like to have a tight muscle. But tight hips aren't just uncomfortable—they can lead to all sorts of other aches and pains, especially in the lower back. "People focus on the hips and say their hips are tight, but we don't always think about the fact that the lower back connects to our legs at the hip," Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., instructor at Soul Annex in New York City and creator of Le Stretch class, tells SELF. Tight hip flexors make it harder for your pelvis to rotate properly, which can cause your lower back to overcompensate, "and this can be a setup for lower-back injury," Teo Mendez, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at NY Orthopedics who focuses on operative and non-operative management of sports-related injuries, musculoskeletal injuries, and arthritis, tells SELF.
Acute back pain is often the result of muscle sprains or strains. Sprains occur when your ligaments are overstretched and sometimes torn. Strains, on the other hand, are caused by stretching — and possible tearing — of your tendons or muscles. Though the immediate reaction is pain in your back, you may also experience dull aches or discomfort in your hip.
Unilateral exercises like step-ups and single-leg toe touches are particularly effective at strengthening the glutes, while walking lunges, lateral lunges, air squats, and jump squats will zero in on all the muscles surrounding the hips. Whether you’re at the gym or heading out for (or back from!) a run, these five moves will strengthen and open your hips, keep them loose long-term, and not only make you a better runner, but make running feel better to you.
Physical activity can also help you feel better. “Along with boosting your overall health, exercise can improve your OA symptoms” like pain, stiffness, fatigue, and even depression, says Leigh F. Callahan, PhD, associate director of the University of North Carolina Thurston Arthritis Research Center. One study found that people with knee OA who worked out regularly lowered their pain by 12% compared to those who didn’t.