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.
Although some of us are familiar with a pinched nerve, which is associated with sciatic-like pain in the leg, irritation or inflammation of nerves in the low back region can also cause a sensation in the upper leg or hip region. It is important to realize there are many things that can go wrong in the spine. Remember, sciatica is not a diagnosis but, instead, a symptom of an underlying problem. It is possible to feel back-related pain in the hip region and upper leg as well. It depends on the nerves involved and ultimately the actual diagnosis. Back pain or hip pain is not a diagnosis but simply an explanation of the area of pain. Symptoms are correlated with physical examination and confirmed through x-rays and similar tests.
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.
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.
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.
When it comes to your workouts, low-impact aerobic exercises are generally best and least likely to cause issues, says Kelton Vasileff, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “I recommend swimming, walking, elliptical, cycling, and stationary biking for general exercise,” he says. All of these are great ways to move your body without pounding your joints.
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.
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.
Piriformis syndrome is not considered a serious injury—so RICE is in order for pain caused by triggers, like sitting too long. RICE is Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Also, see a primary care doctor or neurologist (nerve specialist), who can recommend physical therapy exercises and exercises for hip pain and other specific types of pain that will help you feel better. Also, a physican therapist can suggest ways exercises that provide pinched nerve relief, as nerve pain relief is what is primarily needed here.
A pinched nerve in the hip or back can cause radiating lower back and hip pain. If you wonder what does nerve pain feel like – it often involves severe pain and numbness that may be referred from other areas of the body. For example, a pinched nerve in the upper back can cause numbness in the fingers. But if you're suffering with a pinched nerve—your main questions are probably ones of how to fix a pinched nerve, how long does a pinched nerve last, and how do you get pinched nerve relief? Often, pinched nerves are due to inflammation due to muscle tears, injuries, or pulled muscles. Sometimes, scar tissue from old injuries begins to accumulate and press on nerves. The best treatment for pinched nerves is often rest. But medications such as glucocorticoid injections and oral NSAIDs may help. For patients whose radicular pain has not improved with conservative treatment over six weeks and who want nonsurgical treatment, epidural injection of glucocorticoids may be reasonable.
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.
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.
A vertebral compression fracture in the spine occurs when one or more vertebra become smashed or compressed. This injury is typical in individuals with osteoporosis and the elderly and can be caused by severe trauma to the back as well, such as in a car accident or following a fall. Symptoms include a sudden popping sound in the back and pain in the back. Treatment may include rest, wearing a back brace, or procedures such as vertebroplasty.
Symptoms may worsen with sitting, standing, sleeping, walking or climbing stairs. Often the SI joint is painful sitting or sleeping on the affected side. Some people have difficulty riding in a car or standing, sitting or walking too long. Pain can be worse with transitional movements (going from sit to stand), standing on one leg or climbing stairs.
Here is how you do the hip rotation stretch: Sit on the floor with your knee out straight. Cross one leg over the other by placing your ankle on top of your knee (as if crossing your legs while sitting). Gently pull your knee across your body, and hold for five seconds. Then gently push the knee of the top leg away from you until a stretch is felt in your hip. Hold this position for five seconds, then slowly release. Repeat 10 times.
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.
Both types of problems are frequently helped by anti-inflammatory medications particularly in mild to moderate situations. Some types of analgesics can be used intermittently as well. It's important to realize that both problems can be helped significantly by weight loss, proper forms of exercise and conditioning. In fact, back pain can become chronic without a commitment to the appropriate exercises necessary to stabilize and strengthen the spine. Epidural blocks (corticosteroids are injected into the canal of the low back to reduce inflammation and pain) can help several types of back disorders. Using a cane when walking can help both hip and back pain.
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.
Kidneys — The kidneys are a matched pair. One painful kidney can cause back pain on one side or the other. Kidney pain can feel like back pain, and may occur on only one side. It is usually quite lateral, and just barely low enough to qualify as “low” back pain. However, when kidney stones descend through the ureters, they can cause (terrible) pain in the low back. Kidney stone pain is often so severe and develops so rapidly that it isn’t mistaken for a back pain problem.
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.
With a roster of muscles ranging from the powerful glutes to the small and agile abductors, the hips control practically all your movements. Almost every endurance athlete overworks some hip muscles while underworking others, causing severe imbalances: Runners are infamous for having weak hip adductors—the muscles on the side of the hip that help you step laterally—while cyclists tend to have massive quads and tiny glutes.
Keep it a one joint stretch. Many people want to jump right to performing a hip flexor stretch while flexing the knee. This incorporates the rectus and the psoas, but I find far too many people can not appropriately perform this stretch. They will compensate, usually by stretching their anterior capsule too much or hyperextending their lumbar spine.
• Osteoarthritis. The most common form of arthritis of the back, osteoarthritis is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints. In the spine, this breakdown occurs in the cartilage of the facet joints, where the vertebrae join. As a result, movement of the bones can cause irritation, further damage and the formation of bony outgrowths called spurs. These spurs can press on nerves, causing pain. New bone formation can also lead to narrowing of the spinal canal, known as spinal stenosis.
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.
This pose is similar to seated forward fold, and provides the same benefits. It also stretches your groin. Assume the same starting position as the forward fold, but slide the sole of your left foot against your right inner thigh. Keeping your right foot flexed, lower your left knee as far as you can into a half-butterfly position. Walk your hands down the sides of your right leg as you fold forward as far as you can with your torso. Hold for 8-10 breaths, and then slowly rise back up. Switch legs and repeat.
The main work of your hip flexors is to bring your knee toward your chest and to bend at the waist. Symptoms associated with a hip flexor strain can range from mild to severe and can impact your mobility. If you don’t rest and seek treatment, your hip flexor strain symptoms could get worse. But there are many at-home activities and remedies that can help reduce hip flexor strain symptoms.