These are large, full-range movements of one or more joints at once, often performed standing and sometimes while walking or jogging. They resemble old-school movements you might have done in calisthenics or gym class: arm swings, leg swings, high-knee walks. You usually count off reps, rather than time, on dynamic stretches, which work best as a warm-up activity before a workout, or any time you need a pick-me-up boost throughout the day.
You’d think so. But consider this story of a motorcycle accident: many years ago, a friend hit a car that had pulled out from a side street. He flew over the car & landed on his head. Bystanders showed their ignorance of spinal fracture by, yikes, carelessly moving him. In fact, his thoracic spine was significantly fractured … yet the hospital actually refused to do an X-ray because he had no obvious symptoms of a spinal fracture. Incredible! The next day, a horrified orthopedic surgeon ordered an X-ray immediately, confirming the fracture & quite possibly saved him from paralysis.
How to: Start feet hip-width apart, with your arms straight out in front of you. Step one foot back on a diagonal, feet flat. Once your foot reaches the floor, lower into a shallow lunge. Keep your knee bent and butt back, twist your pelvis, and rotate your arms back behind your body until they frame the knee. Return to starting position. That's one rep. Do eight reps on each side. Do three to four sets before moving on to the next move, resting for 30 seconds in between each set.
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.
Tight hamstrings are a common cause of lower back pain, and if you have a desk job, you’re at risk for both. Perform the seated forward fold paschimottanasana several times a day to stretch your shoulders, hamstrings, and spine. Sit on your mat with your legs straight, your feet together and flexed, your torso erect (but not arched), and your chin lifted like you’re proud to be performing this pose (which you should be!). Take a deep breath in, straightening up as much as you can, and then fold forward, walking your hands down the sides of your legs as you lower your torso as far as you can. Hold the pose for 8-10 breaths, and then slowly reverse the movement to raise your torso back up.
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• Sciatica. This is inflammation of the sciatic nerve. The largest nerve in the human body, the sciatic nerve runs from the lower part of the spinal cord, through the buttock and down the back of the leg to the foot. The most common causes of sciatica include compression of the nerve where it exists the spine by a herniated disc, or a rupture of one of the structures that cushions the vertebrae in the spine. Sciatica may be felt as a sharp or burning pain that radiates from the hip. It may also be accompanied by low back pain.
How to: Start with your left foot back behind your body, with feet flat on the ground and legs straight. With the back foot, take one step farther away from your body—engage the glutes as you do. Then reach overhead with the opposite arm and stretch through the side of your body. Return 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.
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!
This pose targets your spine, groin, and the backs and insides of your legs. Sit tall with your feet flexed, and your legs straight and spread as wide as possible. Place your palms on the floor in front of you, pressing them into it as you straighten and stretch your spine. Keeping your torso erect, inhale deeply, and then exhale completely, walking your hands forward as you lower your torso as far as you can towards the floor. Stop when you feel a deep stretch in the areas mentioned above. Hold for 8-10 breaths, and then slowly raise your torso back up.
Piriformis syndrome is a type of neurological injury that is caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. The piriformis muscle sits deep within the buttock, behind the gluteus maximus. It starts at the lower spine and connects to the femur muscle. This nerve can become compressed from swelling of the piriformis muscle due to injury or muscle spasms or inflammation. Piriformis syndrome causes symptoms including pain in the back of the thigh, pain in the back of knee, buttock pain, pain in the calf, pain in sciatic nerve branches (pain in the nerves of leg and the buttocks, then), shooting pain in the legs, and hip pain after sitting.
How to: Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly, and sit your hips back into a slight squat position. Keep your arms lifted at shoulder height, with your elbows bent and facing the side of the room. Bring one foot up, rotate your hips, and place that foot down on the ground, diagonally behind your body. Pause, then return to starting position. That's one rep. Do eight reps on each side. Do three to four sets before moving on to the next move, resting for 30 seconds in between each set.
Work on strengthening all of your core muscles and glutes. These muscles work together to give you balance and stability and to help you move through the activities involved in daily living, as well as exercise and sports. When one set of these muscles is weak or tight, it can cause injury or pain in another, so make sure you pay equal attention to all of them.