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.
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.

But how can you tell? It can be tricky. This is a concise, readable guide to symptoms that need better-safe-than-sorry investigation with your doctor. (It’s basically just a plain English version of clinical guidelines for doctors.9) In other words, this article explains the difference between “dangerous” and “just painful” as clearly as possible. Tables, checklists, and examples ahead.

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:
The only activity performed on a regular basis that fully extends the hip is walking and running. Hence as activity levels decrease so does the ability to extend the hip. This results in compensatory pelvic tilting and lumbar extension, with a reduction in the ability to accommodate uneven ground, negotiate obstacles, or attempt to change walking speed quickly. The compensatory pelvic tilt that accompanies tight hip flexors also predisposes the individual to  postural problems and back pain. Hip stretches done on a regular basis can help you maintain extension range of motion and thereby improve function.
Relaxing in a full squat works for releasing the psoas if you’re comfortable. If you’re desperately trying not to fall over backwards, then you’re probably tightening your hip flexors to hold yourself up. This defeats the entire purpose of a resting squat. Grab something like a pillow or a couple books to throw under your heels and see if you can sink down and “rest” into a resting squat. Hold that for a little bit taking some really deep breaths directing the air and pressure of your breath into your back. Then stand up and move around. I bet your hip flexors will feel looser than before the resting squat.
Acute back pain is often the result of muscle sprains or strains. Sprains occur when your ligaments are overstretched and sometimes torn. Strains, on the other hand, are caused by stretching — and possible tearing — of your tendons or muscles. Though the immediate reaction is pain in your back, you may also experience dull aches or discomfort in your hip.
Relaxing in a full squat works for releasing the psoas if you’re comfortable. If you’re desperately trying not to fall over backwards, then you’re probably tightening your hip flexors to hold yourself up. This defeats the entire purpose of a resting squat. Grab something like a pillow or a couple books to throw under your heels and see if you can sink down and “rest” into a resting squat. Hold that for a little bit taking some really deep breaths directing the air and pressure of your breath into your back. Then stand up and move around. I bet your hip flexors will feel looser than before the resting squat.
Some of these red flags are much less red than others, especially depending on the circumstances. For instance, “weight loss” is common and often the sign of successful diet! (Well, at least temporarily successful, anyway. 😃) Obviously, if you know of a harmless reason why you have a red flag symptom, it isn’t really a red flag (duh!). But every single actual red flag — in combination with severe low back pain that’s been going on for several weeks — is definitely a good reason to get yourself checked out.

That is, the parts of your body that touch a saddle when riding a horse: groin, buttock, and inner thighs. I experienced rather intense, terrifying awareness of symptoms in this area in the aftermath of my wife’s car accident in early 2010. With a mangled T12 vertebrae, she was at real risk of exactly this problem. Fortunately, she escaped that quite serious problem. But, sheesh, I was vigilant about it for a while! “Honey, any numbness in your saddle area today?” BACK TO TEXT
Your hip flexors and psoas muscles help drive your legs up when you are running. To stretch these muscles, kneel on the floor and then step out forward with your left leg so that your left foot is on the floor. With your back straight, lean forward so that your weight is on the front foot and you feel a stretch in the hip of the back leg. Perform the stretch on both sides.
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.
Your doctor may order imaging tests, such as an MRI, to get more information about the location and cause of the irritated nerve. An MRI can show the alignment of vertebral disks, ligaments, and muscles. A CT scan using contrast dye can also provide a useful picture of the spinal cord and nerves. Determining the cause of sciatica can help guide the course of treatment. X-rays can help identify bony abnormalities but can't detect nerve problems.
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When a muscle contracts, it shortens. Take the biceps for example. Without getting too technical, the biceps are attached at the forearm and shoulder. When your biceps contract, they shorten and bring those two points closer together. When you rest, the muscle returns to its normal length, and the two points move farther away. Constantly contracting your biceps over a long period of time would cause them to get shorter, even at rest.


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).
Back pain can suck the joy out of your days for week, months, even years. It can definitely be “serious” even when it’s not dangerous. I have worked with many truly miserable chronic low back pain patients, and of course the huge economic costs of back pain are cited practically anywhere the subject comes up. But your typical case of chronic low back pain, as nasty as it can be, has never killed anyone.
Physical activity can also help you feel better. “Along with boosting your overall health, exercise can improve your OA symptoms” like pain, stiffness, fatigue, and even depression, says Leigh F. Callahan, PhD, associate director of the University of North Carolina Thurston Arthritis Research Center. One study found that people with knee OA who worked out regularly lowered their pain by 12% compared to those who didn’t.
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.
5. Feel free as a bird. Open up those hips with yoga’s pigeon pose! Start on all fours with hands below the shoulders and knees below the hips. Bring the right knee forward until it touches the right hand and place the leg flat on the ground across the body (the right foot is now on the left side of the body, parallel to the front of the mat). Drop left leg to the ground, and extend it back with toes turned under. Keep the hips level, inhale, and walk hands forward. Exhale, and fold the torso over, lowering elbows to the floor. Stay in this position for 5-10 breaths before coming back up to switch sides.
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Gait analysis studies in the elderly show that they typically have a shortened step length. Whether that is a result of tight hip flexors or due to reduced balance, the propensity to walk with shorter steps will itself lead to tightness in hip flexors and anterior joint structures. Hip stretches may be a relatively easy preventative strategy for the elderly with gait abnormalities and may help to prevent falls.
Or anything else. Pain is a poor indicator, period! The human nervous system is really terrible about this: it routinely produces false alarms, and alarms that are much too loud. See Pain is Weird: Pain science reveals a volatile, misleading sensation that is often more than just a symptom, and sometimes worse than whatever started it. BACK TO TEXT

How to: Get in a standing position, with one foot about a foot's distance behind the other, hips in line. Your feet should be flat, and your legs should be straight. Cross the back foot behind the front one as you reach your arm on the same side overhead. 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.


Tight hip flexors occur for a variety of reasons. Those who run frequently or engage in other activities that put strain on the hip flexors are likely to experience hip flexor tightness at one time or another. A blow to the hip or poor conditioning can also be causes of tight hip flexors. These causes can usually be attributed to tiny tears that occur to our hip flexors through rigorous activity.
AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.
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