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.
• 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.
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:
Progress to add core engagement. Once they can master the posterior pelvic tilt, I usually progress to assist by curing core engagement. You can do this by pacing both hands together on top of your front knee and push straight down, or by holding a massage stick or dowel in front of you and pushing down into the ground. Key here is to have arms straight and to push down with you core, not your triceps.
Too much sitting is the enemy of stiff or achy hips, says Lisa Woods, a personal trainer and yoga teacher in Eagle, Colorado. The big problem, though, isn’t just the discomfort in the sides of your thighs. It’s the chain of pain that dysfunctional hips can create, including often-debilitating sciatic nerve pain that can start in your lower back and go down the backs of your legs.
A thorough history and physical examination is a good start when sorting out symptoms. X-rays will attest to specific bony/cartilage changes but x-rays don't always correlate with the pain. It is possible to have little pain and much damage on the x-rays or visa versa. It is important to treat the patient, not the x-rays alone. Secondly, x-rays of the back can reveal degeneration of the discs or small joints in the spine but the person does well. Contrary, the back may look degenerative and because of the subsequent bone spurring and symptoms as arthritis progresses, it is important to obtain an MRI to confirm nerve impingements that are suspected. X-rays alone will not show nerve impingement. As you can see, it is important to undergo the history and physical examination and tests that can confirm your diagnosis before treatment begins.
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You’ve heard the saying: it’s all in the hips, but for many of us, our hips – or more precisely, our hip flexors – are tight, stiff and inflexible. If you’re an office worker you can probably thank sitting down at your desk 8 or more hours a day for your tight hip flexors. Habitual sitting causes your hip flexors to tighten and shorten – adjustable standing desks, anyone?
Located deep in the front of the hip and connecting the leg, pelvis, and abdomen, the hip flexors— surprise, surprise— flex the hip. But despite being some of the most powerful muscles in our bodies (with a clearly important role), it’s easy to neglect our poor hip flexors— often without even knowing it. It turns out just working at a desk all day (guilty!) can really weaken hip flexors since they tend to shorten up while in a seated position. This tightness disrupts good posture and is a common cause of lower back pain. Weakened hip flexors can also increase the risk of foot, ankle, and knee injuries (especially among runners) Hip muscle weakness and overuse injuries in recreational runners. Niemuth, P.E., Johnson, R.J., Myers, M.J., et al. Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions, Provo, VT. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 2005 Jan; 15 (1): 14-21.. So be sure to get up, stand up every hour or so! And giving the hip flexors some extra attention is not just about injury prevention. Adding power to workouts, working toward greater flexibility, and getting speedier while running is also, as they say, all in the hips The effect of walking speed on muscle function and mechanical energetics. Neptune, R.R., Sasaki, K., and Kautz, S.A. Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Texas, Austin, TX. Gait & Posture, 2008 Jul; 28 (1): 135-43..
• Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones loose so much mass that they become brittle and prone to break with slight trauma. The condition, which can occur with aging, inactivity, a low-calcium diet or use of corticosteroid medications, commonly affects the spine. When this occurs in the spine, the inner spongy bone and more solid outer portion of the vertebrae become porous. The weakened vertebrae can break – an injury called a compression fracture – and lose about one-half of their height. In most cases, compression fractures, are painful. In some cases, the resulting back pain is severe. Usually, the pain resolves within a few weeks, but for some people, it is long-lasting.
We all know the nursery rhyme about the hip bone being connected to the leg bone. It’s a simple song, but it contains a surprising amount of truth. The fact is that the body’s muscular, nervous, and skeletal systems truly are complex and intricately interconnected. Even a daily task such as walking down the street uses a complete network of a body’s muscles and bones, all of them reliant on each other. And when a strain, tear, or other injury happens in one part of your body, pain can often present itself in an entirely different part of your body.
Please note that none of the above given tips or recommendations substitute medical advice. Important: consult a health professional in case of an injury or if you suspect overuse of joints or a medical condition such as a fracture. A physician should be consulted in those acute cases when the condition is accompanied by reddening, swelling or hyperthermia of joints, ongoing joint trouble or severe pain and/or are associated with neurological symptoms
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.
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.
Starting in a seated position, place your bent right knee on top of your bent left knee. Try to have your knees perfectly stacked, one on top of the other, and to have your feet flexed to protect your knees. Both of your sit bones should be pressing into the ground. If this is not possible, then prop your hips up onto a blanket or pillow to allow equal and even weight on both sit bones.
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.
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