Correct posture and a protected spine requires strong muscles, and strong muscles require exercise. Rather than sit around waiting for lower back pain to fix itself, keeping active and exercising regularly can actually help it recover and stay in shape much more quickly. Not only that, regular exercise will help you lose weight which, in turn, will take pressure off your legs, hips, and back.
Your doctor may order imaging tests, such as an MRI, to get more information about the location and cause of the irritated nerve. An MRI can show the alignment of vertebral disks, ligaments, and muscles. A CT scan using contrast dye can also provide a useful picture of the spinal cord and nerves. Determining the cause of sciatica can help guide the course of treatment. X-rays can help identify bony abnormalities but can't detect nerve problems.
This standard recommendation reinforces the alarming idea that low back pain that lasts longer than a few weeks is Really Bad News. It’s not. It’s a clue. It’s a reason for concern and alertness. But many cases of low back pain that last for 6 weeks will still go away. Once again, see the 2009 research published in the British Medical Journal, which showed that more than 30% of patients with “new” chronic low back pain will still recover without treatment. BACK TO TEXT
People routinely have no pain despite the presence of obvious arthritic degeneration, herniated discs, and other seemingly serious structural problems like stenosis and spondylolistheses. This surprising contradiction has been made clear by a wide variety of research over the years, but the most notable in recent history is Brinjikji 2015. There are painful spinal problems, of course — which was also shown by Brinjikji et al in a companion paper — but they are mostly more rare and unpredictable than most people suspect, and there are many fascinating examples of people who “should” be in pain but are not, and vice versa. Spinal problems are only one of many ingredients in back pain. BACK TO TEXT
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.
So if you're doing abs exercises and you feel like your hip flexors are putting in more work, refocus and dial in on the muscles you're trying to target. It might sound trite to just "think" about a muscle working as you're doing an exercise (for example, thinking about your abs contracting as you do a situp), but it might actually prevent you from mindlessly grinding out reps with poor form.
Meanwhile, it’s extremely common for non-life-threatening low back pain to be alarmingly severe and persistent — to have a loud bark! Your doctor may not appreciate how true this is, and may over-react to all persistent low back pain, even without other red flags. In most cases, you shouldn’t let them scare you. Being “freaked out” about persistent back pain is the real threat: it can make low back pain much worse, and much more likely to last even longer (a tragic irony).
How to do it: Begin with a 20- to 30-inch box or bench right behind you. Straighten one leg and lift your foot in front of you, bend your standing leg, and push your hips back as far as possible as if you’re squatting on two legs, but just doing it on one. Continue until your butt hits the bench, pause, then squeeze your glutes and drive through your planted heel to stand up. Do not relax and release the tension in your muscles as you sit. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time. (Once you master lowering to touch your glutes to the bench, lower the bench or try lowering to the floor.)
The pain of back pain almost always makes it seem worse than it is. The most worrisome causes of back pain rarely cause severe pain, and many common problems (like slipped discs) are usually much less serious than people fear. Only about 1% of back pain is ominous, and even then it’s often still treatable. Most of the 1% are due to cancer, autoimmune disease, or spinal cord damage.
An ideal pose for stretching out your hips, lower back, glutes, hips, and knees, it also can help to relieve sciatica. Start on your back with your knees bent, and your feet hip-width apart and flat on the floor. Raise your right foot and rest it on top of your left thigh above your knee. Thread your right hand between your legs and grip the back of your left thigh, bringing your left hand to meet it. Pull both legs toward your chest as far as you can. Take 8-10 breaths, and then release. Switch legs, and repeat.
This pose is similar to seated forward fold, and provides the same benefits. It also stretches your groin. Assume the same starting position as the forward fold, but slide the sole of your left foot against your right inner thigh. Keeping your right foot flexed, lower your left knee as far as you can into a half-butterfly position. Walk your hands down the sides of your right leg as you fold forward as far as you can with your torso. Hold for 8-10 breaths, and then slowly rise back up. Switch legs and repeat.
Keep it a one joint stretch. Many people want to jump right to performing a hip flexor stretch while flexing the knee. This incorporates the rectus and the psoas, but I find far too many people can not appropriately perform this stretch. They will compensate, usually by stretching their anterior capsule too much or hyperextending their lumbar spine.
Or anything else. Pain is a poor indicator, period! The human nervous system is really terrible about this: it routinely produces false alarms, and alarms that are much too loud. See Pain is Weird: Pain science reveals a volatile, misleading sensation that is often more than just a symptom, and sometimes worse than whatever started it. BACK TO TEXT