Leah Sugerman is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless traditions of the practice and teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied with a strong emphasis on breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings both internationally and online.
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.
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.

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!
Stretching is your next move, but not just any stretches. "Before your workout, you want to go for dynamic stretches, or stretches that put the joint through a full range of motion," says Lefkowith. Moves like squats and lunges will get your muscles fired up (especially if you focus on squeezing your butt at the top of those squats), says Lefkowith.
How to do it: Stand up tall while holding onto a sturdy object like a chair, or rest your hands on a wall. Keeping your back straight and core tight, raise one leg up and lift it out to the side and away from your body, keeping your leg straight. Pause for one to two seconds, then return to the start position. That’s one rep. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.
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.
Start in a runner’s lunge, right leg forward with knee over ankle and left knee on ground with top of your foot flat on the mat. Slowly lift torso and rest hands lightly on right thigh. Lean hips forward slightly, keeping right knee behind toes, and feel the stretch in the left hip flexor. Hold here, or for a deeper stretch, raise arms overhead, biceps by ears. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
To start, get into a lunge position with your right knee up and your left knee on the floor. Rest your hands on the ground, directly underneath your shoulders. Next, flex your raised right knee outward, so that you’re resting on the outside of your right foot. Press your chest forward to increase the stretch. Hold this pose for 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side of your body.
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This restorative pose will stretch your shins, knees, hips, spine, and arms. Start with your hands and knees on the mat. Point your toes behind you, allowing your big toes to touch, and spread your knees slightly wider than your hips. Keeping your back flat, sit back on your heels and lower your torso between the legs as you reach as far forward as you can with your arms. Keep your elbows elevated, and rest your forehead on your mat if you can. Take 10-15 breaths, and then release.


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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.
Although cauda equine syndrome is a rare condition—it is one that can cause permanent loss of movement in the lower body (paralysis) and permanent incontinence if not caught quickly. Cauda equine affects the leg nerves in such as way as to cause feeling of loss of control of the muscles in the leg. Cauda equina syndrome (Latin for Horses' Tail syndrome) is a condition caused by compression of the nerves at the base of the spine in the lumbosacral region of the spinal cord.

How to: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Your feet should be flat, and your legs should be straight. Step your right back behind your body, keeping your hips parallel, and stretch your right hand up overhead at the same time. Step back up to starting position. That's one rep. Repeat eight times on each side. Do three to four sets before moving on to the next move, resting for 30 seconds in between each set.


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.


The hip joint is designed to withstand a fair amount of wear and tear, but it’s not indestructible. For example, when you walk, a cushion of cartilage helps prevent friction as the hip bone moves in its socket. With age and use, this cartilage can wear down or become damaged, or the hip bone itself can be fractured during a fall. In fact, more than 300,000 adults over 65 are hospitalized for hip fractures each year, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
The condition is cauda equina syndrome. It involves “acute loss of function of the neurologic elements (nerve roots) of the spinal canal below the termination (conus) of the spinal cord,” where the nerves spread out like a horse (equina) tail. Again, this condition causes symptoms in the “saddle” of the body: butt, groin, inner thighs. BACK TO TEXT

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