In cases of strains, tears, and other injuries, strapping or taping your lower back will provide the extra support it needs. Alternatively, for extra support, try the Elastoplast back brace. This will not only promote the natural shape of your lower back during exercise or daily life, but also limit any extra strain placed on your back. For tips on how to apply strapping and tape effectively, see our section on tape and strapping preparation.
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.
Lay on your back on your mat and pull your knees to your chest. Place your hands on the inside arches of your feet and open your knees wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back pressed into the mat as much as possible, press your feet into hands while pulling down on feet, creating resistance. Breathe deeply and hold for at least 30 seconds.
The story of actor Andy Whitfield is a disturbing and educational example of a case that met these conditions — for sure the first two, and probably the third as well if we knew the details. Whitfield was the star of the hit TV show Spartacus (which is worthwhile, but rated very, very R17). The first sign of the cancer that killed him in 2011 was steadily worsening back pain. It’s always hard to diagnose a cancer that starts this way, but Whitfield was in the middle of intense physical training to look the part of history’s most famous gladiator. Back pain didn’t seem unusual at first, and some other symptoms may have been obscured. Weight loss could have even seemed like a training victory at first! It was many long months before he was diagnosed — not until the back pain was severe and constant. A scan finally revealed a large tumour pressing against his spine.
Sacroiliitis is an inflammation of one or both of the sacroiliac joints, the spot where the lower spine connects to the pelvis. Sacroiliitis can cause pain in the buttocks, lower back, and may even extend down one or both legs. The pain can worsen with prolonged standing or climbing stairs. Sacroiliitis can be caused by arthritis, injury, pregnancy, or infection.
Back pain can suck the joy out of your days for week, months, even years. It can definitely be “serious” even when it’s not dangerous. I have worked with many truly miserable chronic low back pain patients, and of course the huge economic costs of back pain are cited practically anywhere the subject comes up. But your typical case of chronic low back pain, as nasty as it can be, has never killed anyone.
There are cases of low back pain that have alarming causes, but it’s rare. Once in a while back pain is a warning sign of cancer, autoimmune disease, infection, or a handful of other scary culprits.7 Over the age of 55, about one in twenty cases turns out to be a fracture, and one in a hundred is more ominous.8 The further you are from 55, the better your odds.
Loop a resistance band either above your knees (least resistance), below your knees (medium resistance), or around your ankles (greatest resistance). Bend knees slightly with your feet hip-width apart. Step to the side until the band provides resistance, then slide your other foot over to re-create your original stance. Repeat this sidestepping movement for 10 to 15 feet in one direction (or as far as you can), and then cover the same distance in the other direction.
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.
You’ve heard the saying: it’s all in the hips, but for many of us, our hips – or more precisely, our hip flexors – are tight, stiff and inflexible. If you’re an office worker you can probably thank sitting down at your desk 8 or more hours a day for your tight hip flexors. Habitual sitting causes your hip flexors to tighten and shorten – adjustable standing desks, anyone?
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There are differences in symptoms between spinal stenosis pain and herniated or ruptured disc pain. A herniated disc often is more painful when sitting and relieved by standing or walking (opposite of stenosis). A herniated disc can cause sciatica (so can stenosis) and can be a result of degenerative changes in the disc. Sciatica will commonly radiate or travel down the backside of the thigh, into the calf and sometimes the foot itself.>
Starting in a seated position, place your bent right knee on top of your bent left knee. Try to have your knees perfectly stacked, one on top of the other, and to have your feet flexed to protect your knees. Both of your sit bones should be pressing into the ground. If this is not possible, then prop your hips up onto a blanket or pillow to allow equal and even weight on both sit bones.
I call it the true hip flexor stretch as I want you to truly work on stretching the hip flexor and not just torque your body into hip and lumbar extension. It’s very easy for the body to take the path of least resistance when stretching. People with tight hip flexors and poor hip extension often just end up compensating and either hyperextend their low back or stress the anterior capsule of the hip joint.
Luckily, you don’t have to quit your day job or forgo spin class to loosen them up. Simply stretching those hips can get your body back in alignment, increase your mobility (and thus your exercise performance) and maybe even ease pesky back pain, Moore says. “Given the amount of time we sit [each] day and the stress we put our bodies under, hip-opening moves are a necessary party of our daily routine.”
If you’re lucky, you won’t notice your hips are tight until you’re trying to do the Half Pigeon pose in your yoga class. But if you’re not so fortunate, your tight hips are making themselves known every time you so much as walk to the bathroom or sit on the couch—expressing themselves in the form of lower back pain and muscle stiffness. Tight hips can even shorten your stride, slowing your 5K goal time!
Tight hip flexors can also make it harder for your glutes to activate—since they're opposing muscle groups, when one is really tight the other becomes lengthened. When a muscle is more lengthened than it should be, it takes away some of its ability to contract. When your glutes are in this compromised position, it can cause other muscles to do more work than they should, making your workouts less efficient and sometimes, increasing your risk of injury.