• Spinal stenosis. Literally meaning "spinal narrowing," spinal stenosis can occur when changes in arthritis lead to bony overgrowth of the vertebrae and thickening of the ligaments. This can occur with osteoarthritis or ankylosing spondylitis. If a significant overgrowth occurs, it can cause the spinal column to narrow and press on the nerves housed within. Because the affected nerves have many functions, the condition may cause diverse problems in the lower body, including back pain, pain or numbness in the legs, constipation or urinary incontinence.
You'll need a resistance band for this one. With this exercise you're focusing on four movements—flexion, extension, abduction and adduction. Try and stand up straight while doing the exercise. If you have to lean excessively, step closer to the anchor point of your band to decrease resistance. You'll find that not only are you working the muscles of the leg that's moving, the muscles of your stance leg will work quite hard stabilizing and balancing.
Don’t medically investigate back pain until it’s met at least three criteria: (1) it’s been bothering you for more than about 6 weeks; (2) it’s severe and/or not improving, or actually getting worse; and (3) there’s at least one other “red flag” (age over 55 or under 20, painful to light tapping, fever/malaise, weight loss, slow urination, incontinence, groin numbness, a dragging toe, or symptoms in both legs like numbness and/or tingling and/or weakness).
How to do it: With your bar on the floor in front of you, place your feet slightly narrower than hip-width apart. Make sure the bar is as close to your shins as possible, and position your hands on the bar, just outside your shins. With your shins perpendicular to the floor, flex your hamstrings and lift your butt up and back, extending your legs so they’re nearly straight, with only a slight bend in the knee. Slide the bar up and toward the shins. Then, bend your knees slightly and proceed to lift the bar all the way off the floor in a straight line. Extend your hips fully at the top and stand tall with neck relaxed, arms straight. Pinch your shoulder blades together, squeezing your abs and glutes. Keeping the bar close to your body and with a straight back, reverse the movement. That’s one rep.
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.
While sciatica is healing, try to remain active. Motion can actually help reduce inflammation and pain. A physical therapist can show you how to gently stretch the hamstring and lower back. Practicing tai chi or yoga can help stabilize the affected area and strengthen your core. Depending on your medical condition, certain exercises may not be recommended. Your doctor may also recommend taking short walks.
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.
People routinely have no pain despite the presence of obvious arthritic degeneration, herniated discs, and other seemingly serious structural problems like stenosis and spondylolistheses. This surprising contradiction has been made clear by a wide variety of research over the years, but the most notable in recent history is Brinjikji 2015. There are painful spinal problems, of course — which was also shown by Brinjikji et al in a companion paper — but they are mostly more rare and unpredictable than most people suspect, and there are many fascinating examples of people who “should” be in pain but are not, and vice versa. Spinal problems are only one of many ingredients in back pain. BACK TO TEXT
How to do it: Grip the barbell so you’re standing straight with the barbell at arm’s length in front of your thighs. Kick your left leg back so it’s just off the floor. Bend over so you’re hingeing at the hip while allowing only a slight bend in the right knee, and lower the barbell to the floor while keeping it close to your body. Pause at the bottom, then reverse the movement back up to the top. That’s one rep. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.
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).
Too much sitting is the enemy of stiff or achy hips, says Lisa Woods, a personal trainer and yoga teacher in Eagle, Colorado. The big problem, though, isn’t just the discomfort in the sides of your thighs. It’s the chain of pain that dysfunctional hips can create, including often-debilitating sciatic nerve pain that can start in your lower back and go down the backs of your legs.
In order to treat this hip and leg pain, it is important to understand the causes of lower back pain. Amongst people below the age of 60, the most common cause of sciatica is a slipped or herniated disc, in the lower lumbar region of the spine. When a disc is swollen or has moved, it puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing discomfort and pain. This tends not to happen instantly, but instead generally develops over time. Other causes include:
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.
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.
Holland also suggests doing strength work in different planes of motion to keep all the muscles in and around your hip flexors, especially your glutes, firing correctly.“You can’t have good hip flexion if your glutes are tight or weak,” Nurse says, “so it’s super important that you’re always stretching and strengthening the front of your hip flexor and the back, which are the glute muscles.”
Kneel on your mat with thighs perpendicular to the floor and tops of of your feet facing down. Place a yoga block between your feet. 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 on the yoga block. Use your hands to turn the top of your thighs inward. Allow the backs of your hands to rest on your thighs. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
This standard recommendation reinforces the alarming idea that low back pain that lasts longer than a few weeks is Really Bad News. It’s not. It’s a clue. It’s a reason for concern and alertness. But many cases of low back pain that last for 6 weeks will still go away. Once again, see the 2009 research published in the British Medical Journal, which showed that more than 30% of patients with “new” chronic low back pain will still recover without treatment. BACK TO TEXT
Mononeuropathies can affect nerves in the legs, arms, or other parts of the body. Mononeuropathy means a single nerve or nerve group has been damaged, for example, by a lesion that has developed along a nerve or group of nerves. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a good example of a mononeuropathy, in this case, affecting the wrist area. With mononeuropathy symptoms may be sudden (acute) or may develop slowly (chronic). Some of the more common mononeuropathies are
Strong ligaments and muscles support the SI joints. There is a very small amount of motion in the joint for normal body flexibility. As we age our bones become arthritic and ligaments stiffen. When the cartilage wears down, the bones may rub together causing pain (Fig. 1). The SI joint is a synovial joint filled with fluid. This type of joint has free nerve endings that can cause chronic pain if the joint degenerates or does not move properly.
Tight hip flexors can result in lower back pain, hip pain and injury. A lot of strain is put on those muscles during activities that involve sprinting and kicking. For example, runners are more prone to hip flexor injuries because of the small, repetitive movement during running. But even if you’re not an athlete, hip flexor injuries can occur during everyday activities (for instance, slipping and falling or running to catch a bus). When those tight muscles are suddenly stretched beyond what they are accustomed to, you might also experience pain in the upper groin region, typically where the hip meets the pelvis.
Some back pain is caused from a "ruptured disc". This pain is often experienced in the gluteal region of the body. Many people call this the "hip" region although it is not usually indicative of a hip joint problem. This is actually behind the hip, an important anatomic thought when considering hip pain, rather than in the hip itself. A condition related to degeneration of the lower back creating narrowing of the spinal canal or adjacent areas is called spinal stenosis and frequently causes pain in the hip region. The history of stenosis has to be compared with hip joint pain. Spinal stenosis can cause leg pain while walking as well as fatigue in the legs even when rising from a chair. Stenosis pain is relieved with sitting and will re-occur when walking is resumed.
To avoid hip flexor pain, you should pay more attention to these muscles, Dr. Siegrist explains. When you are seated, your knees are bent and your hip muscles are flexed and often tighten up or become shortened. “Because we spend so much of our time in a seated position with the hip flexed, the hip flexor has the potential to shorten up. Then, when you are in a hurry because you are running to catch a bus or a plane, or you trip and fall, the muscle could become stretched. Here’s this stiff, brittle muscle that all of a sudden gets extended, and you could set yourself up for strain or some hip flexor pain.”