Back “spasms” are a largely a myth — there’s no such thing a sustained painful contractions of muscles in otherwise healthy people (see Cramps, Spasms, Tremors & Twitches) — but the kernel of truth in the idea of “spasms” may be the idea of trigger points, which are hypothetical “micro cramps,” tiny patches of painfully contracting muscle. Although this idea is controversial, it is nevertheless one of the most likely explanations for common aches and pains that mostly stick to one area (especially the back) and have no other obvious cause. See Back Pain & Trigger Points. BACK TO TEXT
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.
You can perform this exercise seated in a chair or on your back on the floor. In a chair, cross your left ankle over your right knee and then lean forward until you feel a stretch in your hip. On the floor, cross your left ankle over your bent right knee and then reach under with both hands and pull your right leg toward your head. Perform each variation on both legs.
Why does it tighten down so much when overworking as a spinal stabilizer? Remember that length tension relationship we talked about? Well, if the psoas is tight, it can compress the spine easier, thus providing spinal stability. Plus, it has to work a lot to stabilize the spine. When you don’t have correct functioning of the diaphragm and abdominals, the psoas holds a great deal of tension to do the job. This tightness or tension makes it a very ineffective hip flexor.
• 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.
Trochanteric bursitis is a condition which causes pain in the hip region. Trochanteric bursitis is inflammation of the bursa at the outside area of the hip, which is called the greater trochanter region. When this bursa becomes irritated or inflamed, it causes severe pain in the hip area. Treatment may include stretches for hip pain, NSAIDs and anti-inflammatory medications, opiate pain medications, and physical therapy.
Quadriceps stretch: Stand at an arm's length away from the wall with your injured side farthest from the wall. Facing straight ahead, brace yourself by keeping one hand against the wall. With your other hand, grasp the ankle on your injured side and pull your heel toward your buttocks. Don't arch or twist your back. Keep your knees together. Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
If the problem originates in the hip joint itself, common symptoms include groin pain on the affected side, and sometimes down the inner aspect of the thigh in the front of the leg. This pain can move to the knee and sometimes feels like a knee problem instead of a hip problem. Walking worsens the pain and with continued activity, the pain increases. Rest relieves it; however, when hip arthritis becomes severe, you may have pain most of the time. Minimal activity such as slight movements while in bed can worsen the pain. Other conditions such as advanced congenital hip dysplasia or avascular necrosis of the hip can cause these symptoms as well.
Treatment for arthritis focuses on relieving symptoms and improving mobility. Your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory medications and/or pain relievers. They might also prescribe disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) — drugs meant to slow or stop your immune system from attacking your joints. Your doctor may also recommend physical therapy to strengthen your joints and increase your range of motion. For more severe cases, surgery may be required.
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.
In this study, one patient with sciatica was sent for ten MRIs, which produced 49 distinct “findings,” 16 of them unique, none of which occurred in all ten reports. On average, each radiologist made about a dozen errors, seeing one or two things that weren’t there and missing about ten things that were. Yikes. Read a more detailed and informal description of this study.
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!
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.
There is controversy and scientific uncertainty about trigger points. It’s undeniable that mammals suffer from sensitive spots in our soft tissues … but their nature remains unclear, and the “tiny cramp” theory could be wrong. The tiny cramp theory is formally known as the “expanded integrated hypothesis,” and it has been prominently criticized by Quintner et al (and not many others). However, it’s the mostly widely accepted explanation for now. BACK TO TEXT
Line up your hips parallel to each other, continually pressing the left hip toward the floor. If this position is too difficult, place a blanket under your bottom. To intensify the stretch, move the right foot away from the left side of your body and drop to the elbows or chest. To make this pose less intense, move the right foot closer to your right leg and stay on the hands instead of folding.
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.
You may hear a clicking noise when you move your hip, but that sound is not necessarily a hip flexor issue. Siegrist says the clicking isn't generally the hip flexor alone and often comes from a moving part, like the joint. "Maybe there is a loose body in the joint or loose cartilage at the edge of the hip joint that is mechanically getting irritated,” she says.