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.
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.
This pose is one of the most comfy ones for the lower back and hips. It will also stretch your neck, shoulders, and chest. Lie on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Breathe in deeply, and then exhale completely, lowering both legs to the floor on your left (keep your knees higher than your hips). Position your arms out to your sides, or place your left forearm on your right thigh (as pictured) to encourage a deep stretch, relaxing both shoulders to the floor. Shift your gaze over your right shoulder. Close your eyes, take 10 deep breaths, and then release. Repeat to your other side.
Here is how you do the hip rotation stretch: Sit on the floor with your knee out straight. Cross one leg over the other by placing your ankle on top of your knee (as if crossing your legs while sitting). Gently pull your knee across your body, and hold for five seconds. Then gently push the knee of the top leg away from you until a stretch is felt in your hip. Hold this position for five seconds, then slowly release. Repeat 10 times.
• Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones loose so much mass that they become brittle and prone to break with slight trauma. The condition, which can occur with aging, inactivity, a low-calcium diet or use of corticosteroid medications, commonly affects the spine. When this occurs in the spine, the inner spongy bone and more solid outer portion of the vertebrae become porous. The weakened vertebrae can break – an injury called a compression fracture – and lose about one-half of their height. In most cases, compression fractures, are painful. In some cases, the resulting back pain is severe. Usually, the pain resolves within a few weeks, but for some people, it is long-lasting.
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).
The hip flexors are the muscles at the front of your hip. They’re responsible for several essential functions. Since they’re so often overlooked, we often forget to stretch them before exercising or engaging in rigorous activities. Tight hip flexors can also be a product of being sedentary. So, if you don’t lead an active lifestyle, or if you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, you’ll be susceptible to hip flexor tightness.
• Psoriatic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis accompanied by the skin disease psoriasis. The skin disease often precedes the arthritis; in a small percentage the joint disease develops before the skin disease. For about 20 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis, the disease involves the spine. In some cases, bony overgrowth can cause two or more vertebrae to grow together, or fuse, causing stiffness.
To achieve this stretch, start out on your hands and knees. Slowly widen your knees out as far as they can go, and make sure to keep your lower legs in line with your knees. Your lower legs and feet should be parallel with one another. Next, ease your upper body forward on your forearms and reach forward until you feel the stretch. Hold this pose for about 10 seconds.
With a roster of muscles ranging from the powerful glutes to the small and agile abductors, the hips control practically all your movements. Almost every endurance athlete overworks some hip muscles while underworking others, causing severe imbalances: Runners are infamous for having weak hip adductors—the muscles on the side of the hip that help you step laterally—while cyclists tend to have massive quads and tiny glutes.
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.