When was the last time you got on your gym's abductor or adductor machine and got in a good workout? It's probably been a while. Both are machines that don't get a lot of use, and they are often the target of coaches' ridicule on those "useless gym moves we should all skip" lists. Perhaps rightly so, especially if you're hopping on those machines hoping for a slimming effect.
“For millions suffering from lower back pain (LBP), most do not realize that tight hip flexors are also a source of what’s hurting us,” said Sherwin Nicholson, a medical research scientist with SN Health Resources. “If you neglect [your hip flexors and hamstrings], not only will they tighten up, but your back can suffer and anything that you do will become a chore instead of an activity.”
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Tighten your buttocks and lift your hips off the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles and lift one foot a couple of inches off the floor. Then put it down and lift the other foot a couple of inches, all while remembering to breathe. “It’s like taking alternate steps,” Pariser says. Work up to doing 30 steps at a time.
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.
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.
Enthoven WT, Geuze J, Scheele J, et al. Prevalence and "Red Flags" Regarding Specified Causes of Back Pain in Older Adults Presenting in General Practice. Phys Ther. 2016 Mar;96(3):305–12. PubMed #26183589. How many cases of back pain in older adults have a serious underlying cause? Only about 6% … but 5% of those are fractures (which are serious, but they aren’t cancer either). The 1% is divided amongst all other serious causes. In this study of 669 patients, a vertebral fracture was found in 33 of them, and the chances of this diagnosis was higher in older patients with more intense pain in the upper back, and (duh) trauma. BACK TO TEXT
The piriformis muscle connects the top of the femur to the spine, and it’s the main one that supports the outward movement of the hip, upper leg, and foot. The sciatic nerve can sometimes pass through this muscle and thus cause sciatica symptoms, otherwise known as piriformis syndrome, characterized by pain in the lower back and hips, poor movement, and balance. Therefore, the main cause of sciatica is the swelling or constriction of the piriformis muscle, but it can also be a result of some other factors as well.
If your sciatica is due to a herniated disk, and it's still causing severe pain after four to six weeks, surgery may be an option. The surgeon will remove a portion of the herniated disk to relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve. About 90% of patients get relief from this type of surgery. Other surgical procedures can relieve sciatica caused by spinal stenosis.
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.
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.
Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms resting at sides. Press into heels and engage glutes to lift hips. Transfer weight to left leg and extend right leg straight out for five breaths. Inhale as you lower right leg to hover over floor for five breaths, then exhale as you lift it back up. Perform 8 reps, then repeat on opposite leg.
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.
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.