2016 — More editing, more! Added some better information about pain being a poor indicator, and the role of myofascial trigger points. This article has become extremely busy in the last couple months — about 4,000 readers per day, as described here — so I am really polishing it and making sure that it’s the best possible answer to people’s fears about back pain.
Downward facing dog can help stretch and strengthen your feet, calves, hamstrings, lower back, shoulders, neck, and hands. Begin on your hands and knees with your shoulders directly above your wrists and your hips directly above your knees. Spread your fingers wide and press your palms into the floor. Now lift your hips and push back with your hands to form an upside down V with your body. Work your heels toward the floor, and let your head hang to relieve any tension you’re holding in your neck. Take 8-10 breaths, and then release.
Squats. Using a squat machine will strengthen your quadriceps muscles on the front of your thigh and the hamstring muscles on the back of your thigh, both of which attach to your hip and give it support. The squat machine may be vertical, in which case you’ll start in a standing position and bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor, or it may be on a sliding incline board.
Since someone has to do the job… (Side note: That’s one of the coolest things about our body. There is always a backup system. Always another set of muscles ready to take over. Even if they are not the most effective and it leads to pain and tightness.) So, who takes over for spinal stability when the abdominals aren’t fully working? The psoas of course.
However, runners are infamous for imbalances in their hip muscles. The most common weak ones are the hip abductors, the muscles on the side of your butt responsible for moving your leg out away from your body to the side. Lev Kalika, D.C., clinical director of New York Dynamic Neuromuscular Rehabilitation & Physical Therapy, tells SELF that since most runners run, run, and only run, they are constantly training their hip flexors and extensors through a very small range of motion. That can lead the hips to be unstable on the less-frequent occasions when you bring your knee all the way to your chest or thrust your hips forward.
Arthritis is a common cause of radiating lower back pain. Symptoms include back pain that fluctuates, coming and going throughout the day and night and numbness in the neck area, as well as stiffness and lack of mobility. Recommended treatment for arthritis of the back includes heat, ice, rest, exercising and stretches, and over the counter anti-inflammatories. In severe cases, patients seek surgery but sometimes, surgery does more harm than good.
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.
On the contrary, the following piriformis stretches offer incredible effects in the treatment of sciatica pain. Note that you need to warm up before the stretches for a few minutes, and remain within the comfort limits. It is important to consult your spine specialist first. Then you can start with these 10 piriformis stretches for sciatica relief, and you will be surprised by the positive effects!
Irritable hip: What you need to know Irritable hip is a common cause of hip pain and limping in children before they reach puberty. It may happen after an injury or a viral infection, or because of poor blood flow. It usually gets better with rest within 2 weeks. Pain killers may help relieve symptoms. Those under 16 years should not use aspirin. Read now
A thorough history and physical examination is a good start when sorting out symptoms. X-rays will attest to specific bony/cartilage changes but x-rays don't always correlate with the pain. It is possible to have little pain and much damage on the x-rays or visa versa. It is important to treat the patient, not the x-rays alone. Secondly, x-rays of the back can reveal degeneration of the discs or small joints in the spine but the person does well. Contrary, the back may look degenerative and because of the subsequent bone spurring and symptoms as arthritis progresses, it is important to obtain an MRI to confirm nerve impingements that are suspected. X-rays alone will not show nerve impingement. As you can see, it is important to undergo the history and physical examination and tests that can confirm your diagnosis before treatment begins.
Trochanteric bursitis is a condition which causes pain in the hip region. Trochanteric bursitis is inflammation of the bursa at the outside area of the hip, which is called the greater trochanter region. When this bursa becomes irritated or inflamed, it causes severe pain in the hip area. Treatment may include stretches for hip pain, NSAIDs and anti-inflammatory medications, opiate pain medications, and physical therapy.
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.
To do this stretch, sit on the floor with your legs about three or four feet apart, depending on how tall you are. Make sure your toes and knees are pointed straight up. Next, take a deep breath, and on the exhale, slowly fold your upper body forward. Rest your hands on your feet, legs, or the floor in front of you and hold this stretch for five deep breaths.
Ligaments connecting your back to your pelvis: Straining the ligaments around your buttocks and pelvis may result in this type of pain. This area can also be referred to as the sacro-iliac joint. Due to this area linking your lower back and hip you may feel your pain from your lower back through to your hip. Treatment in this presentation should be primarily to the ligament that is strained and addressing posture as well as back stretching exercises when indicated.
I am a science writer, former massage therapist, and I was the assistant editor at ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I have had my share of injuries and pain challenges as a runner and ultimate player. My wife and I live in downtown Vancouver, Canada. See my full bio and qualifications, or my blog, Writerly. You might run into me on Facebook or Twitter.
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.
The problem is that these muscles aren't designed to be prime movers—they're designed to support the action of the glutes. Inability of activating the glutes can result in low back pain (low back muscles compensating), hamstring strains (overacting hamstrings), hip pain (resulting from hamstring-dominant hip extension) and knee pain (poor glute medius strength).
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.
People understandably assume that the worst back pain is the scariest. In fact, pain intensity is a poor indicator of back pain ominousness,10 and some of the worst causes are actually the least painful (especially in the early stages). For instance, someone could experience the symptoms of cauda equinae syndrome, and be in real danger of a serious and permanent injury to their spine, but have surprisingly little pain — even none at all in some cases!
I use this for people that really present in an anterior pelvic tilt, or with people that appear to have too loose of an anterior hip capsule. In fact, this has completely replaced the common variations of hip flexor stretches in all of our programs at Champion. This works great for people with low back pain, hip pain, and postural and biomechanical issues related to too much of an anterior pelvic tilt.
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When lifting weights, it's important to find out how much weight is appropriate for you. Pariser recommends visiting your physical therapist to discuss how to safely lift weights without injuring your hip. “The lightest weight on the machines might be five or 10 pounds,” Pariser says. “That might be too hard for some people.” A good rule of thumb: Always use a weight that's light enough for you to lift comfortably.
Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that specifically affects the spine. Ankylosing spondylitis causes a severe inflammation of the spinal vertebra that can cause debilitating pain throughout the back region. This condition can cause stiffness and pain not only in the spine but also inflammation, pain and stiffness in the ribs, shoulders, ribcage, hands, and feet as well. Symptoms include a dull pain in the lower back and buttocks, stiffness and lack of mobility in the hips, back, and legs, loss of appetite, fever, and general malaise. Treatment includes physical therapy, medication, hot and cold therapy, and exercises that reinforce good posture practices.
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.
How to: Sit on the floor with knees bent so that your right shin is positioned in front of you, your left shin behind you and your left hip dropped all of the way to the floor (a). Inhale and press your left hip forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip (b). Exhale and press left hip back to the floor. That’s one rep (c). Complete six to eight reps, working each time to increase your range of motion. Repeat on the opposite side.
Lucky for us, there are tons of different ways to stretch hip flexors. We’ve put together a broad selection of some of the most popular tight hip flexor stretches below. Some of these stretches may work better for you than others, and there’s also many more hip flexor stretches you can try beyond these. So, experiment with all different kinds of stretches and decide which ones are best for your body.
Sacroiliac (SI) joint pain is felt in the low back and buttocks. The pain is caused by damage or injury to the joint between the spine and hip. Sacroiliac pain can mimic other conditions, such as a herniated disc or hip problem. Accurate diagnosis is important to determine the source of pain. Physical therapy, stretching exercises, pain medication, and joint injections are used first to manage the symptoms. Surgery to fuse the joint and stop painful motion may be recommended.
Along with these exercises, it's also important to do some supplementary exercises to work your hip's supporting muscles. You've probably heard of your shoulder's rotator cuff. Well, your hip also has a cuff, or a group of muscles that help stabilize and support movement. For these exercises, you'll need a mini-band, a longer thera-band or tubing (both are sold at many sporting goods stores, or can be purchased online), and a cable-column unit.
Your hips are just one of the areas of your body that are prone to tightness and injury if you are a runner. Every stride that you make requires your hip joint to pull forward, and every time that you plant your foot on the pavement, your hips feel the impact. Performing hip stretches before and after a run can help you avoid injury and keep your hips loose and limber. Ease into your hip stretches and do not bounce. Try to hold each one for 30 to 40 seconds and stop if you feel any discomfort.
True numbness is not just a dead/heavy feeling (which is common, and caused even by minor muscular dysfunction in the area), but a significant or complete lack of sensitivity to touch. You have true numbness when you have patches of skin where you cannot feel light touch. Such areas might still be sensitive to pressure: you could feel a poke, but as if it was through a layer of rubber. Most people have experienced true numbness at the dentist. BACK TO TEXT
Lumbosacral plexopathy, more commonly called diabetic lumbosacral plexopathy is a condition caused by advanced diabetes, in which patients begin suffering with debilitating pain in the hips, thighs, and legs. With lumbosacral plexopathy there is typically a wasting of the leg muscles asymmetrically. This condition can affect individuals who have both type I or II diabetes. Treatment includes controlling blood glucose levels, and chronic neuropathic pain management achieved through anticonvulsant medications (such as gabapentin for back pain) and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (such as duloxetine).
If most inner-thigh openers feel too easy (and your ankles and knees are injury-free), try Frog Pose. Get down on all fours, with palms on the floor and your knees on blankets or a mat (roll your mat lengthwise, like a tortilla, and place it under your knees for more comfort). Slowly widen your knees until you feel a comfortable stretch in your inner thighs, keeping the inside of each calf and foot in contact with the floor. Make sure to keep your ankles in line with your knees. Lower down to your forearms. Stay here for at least 30 seconds.
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.
3. Tendinitis and bursitis Many tendons around the hip connect the muscles to the joint. These tendons can easily become inflamed if you overuse them or participate in strenuous activities. One of the most common causes of tendinitis at the hip joint, especially in runners, is iliotibial band syndrome — the iliotibial band is the thick span of tissue that runs from the outer rim of your pelvis to the outside of your knee.
Kidney pain, kidney stones, kidney failure, and advanced kidney infections can cause radiating lower back pain, especially pain that affects the lowest ribs in the back and higher buttock area. Kidney issues can also cause pain in the groin area and difficulty urinating. Groin pain in women, especially pregnant women, is a special concern and the patient should be taken to the ER immediately. If you think a kidney issue is causing your back pain, get to an ER—because once a kidney issue is advanced enough to cause back pain, it is usually quite serious.
When I do a deep knee bend like a sumo squat I get a popping in the outside of my left knee. It feels like a big tendon or ligament is slipping per something. It isn’t painful peer se but I’m afraid if I do it a lot it will be. Is that a relatively common symptom for a guy with tight flexors, it bands, etc? Should I just push through it or have it checked out?
But moving is important for hip and knee OA. It causes your joints to compress and release, bringing blood flow, nutrients, and oxygen into the cartilage. “This can help prolong the function and longevity of your joints,” says Eric Robertson, DPT, a physical therapist and associate professor of clinical physical therapy at the University of Southern California.
Kneel on your mat with your thighs perpendicular to the floor and tops of your feet facing down. Bring your inner knees together. Slide your feet apart so they are slightly wider than your hips and press the tops of your feet evenly into the mat. Slowly sit down between your feet. Use your hands to turn the top of your thighs inward. Then, lean back onto your forearms and slowly lower torso to floor. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
Sit on floor with knees bent and shins stacked with right leg on top. Use your hand to position right ankle on left knee. Ideally, the right knee will rest on the left thigh, but if your hips are tight, your right knee may point up toward the ceiling (overtime, as your hips become more open, your knee will lower). Keeping your hips squared to the front of the room, hinge at the hips and slowly walk hands slightly forward. If this is enough of a stretch, hold here, or fold your torso over your thighs to go deeper. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
At the very least, the tension and/or spasm in muscles that cross over the hip and attach onto the pelvis can contribute to imbalance, in terms of how strong and flexible each muscle group is in relation to the others. But muscle imbalance in the hips and the spine may make for pain, limitation and/or posture problems. It can also increase the healing challenge put to you by an existing injury or condition, for example, scoliosis.
Approximately 15 degrees of hip extension is required to walk normally. If hip flexors are tight then in order to walk, compensatory movement needs to take place through the lower back causing back pain and premature disc degeneration. Like other joints, if we fail to take them through their full range on a regular basis we eventually lose mobility.
Progress to add core engagement. Once they can master the posterior pelvic tilt, I usually progress to assist by curing core engagement. You can do this by pacing both hands together on top of your front knee and push straight down, or by holding a massage stick or dowel in front of you and pushing down into the ground. Key here is to have arms straight and to push down with you core, not your triceps.