MRI and x-ray for low back pain are surprisingly unreliable,1 because things like bulging discs usually aren’t a deal,2 most back pain goes away on its own,3 and trigger points (“muscle knots”) are common and can be alarmingly intense but aren’t dangerous.4 Most patients are much better off when they feel confident about these things. The power of justified, rational confidence is a huge factor in back pain.5 Sadly, many healthcare professionals continue to perpetuate the idea of fragile backs,6 which undermines that valuable confidence.
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.
The hips are the cornerstone of every runner’s body. Comprising an array of muscle groups—from the all-powerful glutes to the smaller hip flexors and adductors—your hips propel every stride, stabilize the thighs, and (quite literally) keep the knee on the right track, physical therapist John Sauer, D.P.T., O.C.S., an endurance program manager with Athletico Physical Therapy, tells SELF.
The good news is that there are plenty of good hip stretches out there that you can do to relieve discomfort, decrease tightness, and increase mobility in your hips. Since your hips are involved in so many of the movements you make (both inside and outside of the gym) stretching them is a great way to keep them feeling good and ready to work for you. Add some of the 12 hip stretches Atkins demos below to the end of your workout, or spend 10 minutes each day just doing a few of them, to improve mobility in your hips.
The problem is that these muscles aren't designed to be prime movers—they're designed to support the action of the glutes. Inability of activating the glutes can result in low back pain (low back muscles compensating), hamstring strains (overacting hamstrings), hip pain (resulting from hamstring-dominant hip extension) and knee pain (poor glute medius strength).
Without back body expansion during each breath we continue to perpetuate the tight hip flexor scenario. This is often accompanied by decreased pelvic floor recovery since the pelvic floor works in synch with the diaphragm. These women will often be dealing with sneeze pee, leaking with jumping or prolapse. Without awesome diaphragm expansion, we can’t have a great pelvic floor. They are too intertwined in their functioning.
Approximately 15 degrees of hip extension is required to walk normally. If hip flexors are tight then in order to walk, compensatory movement needs to take place through the lower back causing back pain and premature disc degeneration. Like other joints, if we fail to take them through their full range on a regular basis we eventually lose mobility.
How to: Get on your hands and knees, in a tabletop position (a). Slowly widen your knees out as far as they can go and bring your feet in line with your knees. Your shins should be parallel with one another (b). Flex your feet and ease yourself forward onto your forearms. (If the stretch is too intense, try putting your arms on a block or firm pillow.) Hold for eight to 12 breaths (c). If holding the stretch for longer, try slowly moving your hips forward and backward to bring the stretch to different parts of your hips.
• Rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the joints that occurs when the body’s immune system – which normally protects us from infection – mistakenly attacks the synovium, the thin membrane that lines the joints. Although rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects the hips, knees, hands, wrists, feet, elbows and ankles, it can also affect the facet joints in the spine, causing pain and, in severe cases, destruction of the joints. This may allow the upper vertebra to slide forward on top of the lower vertebra, a condition called spondylolisthesis. The slipped vertebra may put pressure on the spinal cord and/or the nerve roots where they exit the spine.
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.
The problem is that these muscles aren't designed to be prime movers—they're designed to support the action of the glutes. Inability of activating the glutes can result in low back pain (low back muscles compensating), hamstring strains (overacting hamstrings), hip pain (resulting from hamstring-dominant hip extension) and knee pain (poor glute medius strength).
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.
The story of actor Andy Whitfield is a disturbing and educational example of a case that met these conditions — for sure the first two, and probably the third as well if we knew the details. Whitfield was the star of the hit TV show Spartacus (which is worthwhile, but rated very, very R17). The first sign of the cancer that killed him in 2011 was steadily worsening back pain. It’s always hard to diagnose a cancer that starts this way, but Whitfield was in the middle of intense physical training to look the part of history’s most famous gladiator. Back pain didn’t seem unusual at first, and some other symptoms may have been obscured. Weight loss could have even seemed like a training victory at first! It was many long months before he was diagnosed — not until the back pain was severe and constant. A scan finally revealed a large tumour pressing against his spine.

How to do it: Begin with your hands and knees on the floor in a tabletop position. Grab a resistance band and hold it directly beneath your shoulders. Loop one foot through the band so it sits halfway down the foot. When ready, move only the banded leg backward, keeping the knee at a 90-degree angle. Your foot should be facing the ceiling, and your hip, thigh, and knee should all be in alignment and parallel to the floor. As you move your leg backward, focus on contracting the glute and not moving the knee joint. When you can’t extend back farther without changing your leg position, stop. Slowly lower to the start position. That’s one rep. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.
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.
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