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
How to do it: Stand up tall while holding onto a sturdy object like a chair, or rest your hands on a wall. Keeping your back straight and core tight, raise one leg up and lift it out to the side and away from your body, keeping your leg straight. Pause for one to two seconds, then return to the start position. That’s one rep. Repeat this movement, alternating sides each time.
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.
To stretch your quadriceps at the hip, the idea is to do the opposite movement to flexion, i.e., extension. You can perform extension moves at the hip while standing, lying on your side, lying prone (on your stomach) and kneeling. Even basic stretches done at a pain-free level where you can feel a small bit of challenge, and that are held continuously for approximately 30 seconds may translate to better posture and less back pain.
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.
In the vast majority of patients with low back pain, symptoms can be attributed to nonspecific mechanical factors. However, in a much smaller percentage of patients, the cause of back pain may be something more serious, such as cancer, cauda equina syndrome, spinal infection, spinal compression fractures, spinal stress fractures, ankylosing spondylitis, or aneurysm.
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
A diagnostic SI joint injection may be performed to confirm the cause of pain. The SI joint is injected with a local anesthetic and corticosteroid medication. The injection is given using X-ray fluoroscopy to ensure accurate needle placement in the SI joint. Your pain level is evaluated before and 20-30 minutes after injection, and monitored over the next week. Sacroiliac joint involvement is confirmed if your pain level decreases by more than 75%. If your pain level does not change after the injection, it is unlikely that the SI joint is the cause of your low back pain.
Sherwin is a Medical Research Scientist and Author of the Low Back Pain Program and eBook. With over 20 years of Research experience from The Toronto General Hospital and The Hospital for Sick Children, he provides sensible, effective, advice and solutions for lower back pain. His eBook has helped thousands of sufferers overcome chronic back pain through safe, targeted exercise and stretching techniques.
The same lack of correct breathing also perpetuates a diastasis. Without proper deep breathing, you can compensate a couple ways. The first is to draw in your belly button and go into a shallow breathing pattern and the second is to have belly only expansion. Both of these can hinder diastasis healing. The cool thing is that I’ve actually had women experience spontaneous firming of their diastasis when we get down a correct breathing pattern. It’s a phenomena that always amazes me. The same thing can happen with decreasing prolapse symptoms.
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.
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.
The iliotibial band is a thickening of the fascia lata, the deep fascia of the thigh. Think of it as a thick long ligament like structure that connects the hip to the lower leg along the outside of the thigh. Tightness in the iliotibial band can cause patellofemoral pain, trochanteric bursitis, and friction syndromes at the knee. This is a hip stretch I commonly prescribe to runners and people suffering from knee pain.
Sciatica refers to back pain caused by a problem with the sciatic nerve. This is a large nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of each leg. When something injures or puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, it can cause pain in the lower back that spreads to the hip, buttocks, and leg. Up to 90% of people recover from sciatica without surgery.
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.
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.
Mobility and exercise (e.g., walking, running, stretching, etc.) help to more evenly distribute the forces of impact and weight through this ball-and-socket joint. As people age or find themselves living a more sedentary lifestyle from (e.g., sitting a lot at work), the wear and tear of the hip joint is less distributed, taking place in a smaller area within the socket.
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.
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.
While you can’t choose where the weight comes off, you can eventually slim your hips so long as you stay consistent in your training. Cardiovascular exercise can help you lose some fat, but strength training serves a twofold purpose, burning fat while developing muscle for all-over tightening. “The more you build a muscle, the more [that part of the body] is going to firm up,” Braun says.
It’s well established that about eight in 10 people in the U.S. will experience back pain at some point in their lives. And while the causes of such pain often vary, say physical therapists and other medical professionals say that increasingly, in a world that accommodates a more sedentary lifestyle, the blame for low-back pain can often be traced to an area a little lower in the kinetic chain: the hips.
But mobile hip joints don’t just relieve pain. They’re also essential for walking, hiking, running, jumping, dancing, playing sports, and pursuing virtually any fitness goal safely and effectively. Want to develop stronger, more muscular legs? Hip mobility allows you to lunge and squat more deeply so you can reach your muscles’ potential. Want to avoid injury? Hip mobility improves range of motion so you can perform exercises more safely.
How to: Sit down with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor in front of you (a). Place your right ankle on top of your left thigh and flex your right foot (b). Put your hands behind your body, fingertips facing away from your body and begin to press your hips toward your heels until you feel a stretch through your outer left hip. Keep your back tall and chest open (c). Hold for six to eight breaths, then repeat on the other side.
To complete this stretch, get into the same kneeling position from the half kneeling hip flexor stretch. Whichever leg you have raised, place that hand on your hip. (So, if you’re doing this exercise with your right leg, place your right hand on your right hip, and vice versa.) Next, tighten your glute muscles, and reach around your body with your free hand to grab that foot. Pull that foot upwards towards your upper body
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Tighten the muscles in your buttocks, then lift your hips off the ground and hold for about five seconds before slowly lowering yourself back down. Be sure to breathe throughout the exercise. As with the first exercise, you can work up to doing 30 repetitions, resting for a few seconds (or longer) between each. “If you start to get tired, stop and rest for a couple of minutes,” Pariser says.
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.
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.
Before recommending exercises, physical therapists evaluate their patients to develop a routine that’s appropriate for their specific condition. Pariser says the following exercises, done at home and at the gym, are generally safe for everyone. “If a patient has already received a total hip replacement, however, certain precautions should be taken,” he says.
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!
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.
• 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.
The hip flexors are the muscles at the front of your hip. They’re responsible for several essential functions. Since they’re so often overlooked, we often forget to stretch them before exercising or engaging in rigorous activities. Tight hip flexors can also be a product of being sedentary. So, if you don’t lead an active lifestyle, or if you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, you’ll be susceptible to hip flexor tightness.
This restorative pose will stretch your shins, knees, hips, spine, and arms. Start with your hands and knees on the mat. Point your toes behind you, allowing your big toes to touch, and spread your knees slightly wider than your hips. Keeping your back flat, sit back on your heels and lower your torso between the legs as you reach as far forward as you can with your arms. Keep your elbows elevated, and rest your forehead on your mat if you can. Take 10-15 breaths, and then release.
You’d think so. But consider this story of a motorcycle accident: many years ago, a friend hit a car that had pulled out from a side street. He flew over the car & landed on his head. Bystanders showed their ignorance of spinal fracture by, yikes, carelessly moving him. In fact, his thoracic spine was significantly fractured … yet the hospital actually refused to do an X-ray because he had no obvious symptoms of a spinal fracture. Incredible! The next day, a horrified orthopedic surgeon ordered an X-ray immediately, confirming the fracture & quite possibly saved him from paralysis.
Arthritis is a common cause of radiating lower back pain. Symptoms include back pain that fluctuates, coming and going throughout the day and night and numbness in the neck area, as well as stiffness and lack of mobility. Recommended treatment for arthritis of the back includes heat, ice, rest, exercising and stretches, and over the counter anti-inflammatories. In severe cases, patients seek surgery but sometimes, surgery does more harm than good.
So if you're doing abs exercises and you feel like your hip flexors are putting in more work, refocus and dial in on the muscles you're trying to target. It might sound trite to just "think" about a muscle working as you're doing an exercise (for example, thinking about your abs contracting as you do a situp), but it might actually prevent you from mindlessly grinding out reps with poor form.