Before discussing different strength and mobility exercises, we should first look at activation exercises for your Gluteus Maximus (referred to as the glutes) muscles. The reason for needing to activate your glutes is simple—as a population, we spend way too much time sitting, and as a result, what happens is what noted spinal researcher Stuart McGill terms gluteal amnesia—your glute muscles can "go to sleep" and not function properly.
It’s a common issue, says Prevention advisor Rob Danoff, director of family and emergency medicine residency programs at Aria Health in Philadelphia. "For people who sit a long time at work, the hip flexors and rotators become tight, and the gluteal muscles become weak," he says. "This combination negatively affects our ability to walk, maintain proper posture, and the stability of our spine."
2016 — More editing, more! Added some better information about pain being a poor indicator, and the role of myofascial trigger points. This article has become extremely busy in the last couple months — about 4,000 readers per day, as described here — so I am really polishing it and making sure that it’s the best possible answer to people’s fears about back pain.

If you are experiencing true numbness14 around the groin and buttocks and/or failure of bladder or bowel control, please consider it a serious emergency — do not wait to see if it goes away. These symptoms indicate spinal cord injury or compression15 and require immediate medical attention. (Few people will have symptoms like this without having already decided it’s an emergency, but I have to cover all the bases here.)
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).
Kidneys — The kidneys are a matched pair. One painful kidney can cause back pain on one side or the other. Kidney pain can feel like back pain, and may occur on only one side. It is usually quite lateral, and just barely low enough to qualify as “low” back pain. However, when kidney stones descend through the ureters, they can cause (terrible) pain in the low back. Kidney stone pain is often so severe and develops so rapidly that it isn’t mistaken for a back pain problem.
Straight leg raise: Lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend the knee on your uninjured side and place the foot flat on the floor. Tighten the thigh muscle on your injured side and lift your leg about 8 inches off the floor. Keep your leg straight and your thigh muscle tight. Slowly lower your leg back down to the floor. Do 2 sets of 15.

A recent study from Florida Atlantic University found that doing 45 minutes of chair yoga twice per week reduced pain and improved overall quality of life in older adults with osteoarthritis. Chair yoga is practiced sitting in a chair or standing while holding the chair for support, so it’s a great option for beginners or anyone dealing with an injury or balance problems.

Even though it seems like your legs are moving forward and backward when you’re running, in reality, the femur (your thigh bone) both rotates and tilts in the hip socket, Kalika explains. It’s the hip adductors—most notably the gluteus medius—that keeps the femur sitting in the socket as designed. (The hip adductors are the muscles that move your legs inward.) Any weaknesses make the joint unstable, and can contribute to poor running mechanics, hip drop (when the pelvis drops to one side), too-narrow stances, and aggravated tissues throughout the entire body, Sauer says.


I am a science writer and a former Registered Massage Therapist with a decade of experience treating tough pain cases. I was the Assistant Editor of ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I’ve written hundreds of articles and several books, and I’m known for readable but heavily referenced analysis, with a touch of sass. I am a runner and ultimate player. • more about me • more about PainScience.com
Apply the above concept to your hips. When you sit, your hips are in a "flexed" position. Therefore, the muscles that flex your hips are in a shortened state. You probably spend at least a third of your day sitting down. Think about how much time those hip flexor muscles stay shortened. A lot. Over time, they become tighter and tighter until you look like the old man in the picture. So unless you want to look like that, perform the stretches shown below.
• Psoriatic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis accompanied by the skin disease psoriasis. The skin disease often precedes the arthritis; in a small percentage the joint disease develops before the skin disease. For about 20 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis, the disease involves the spine. In some cases, bony overgrowth can cause two or more vertebrae to grow together, or fuse, causing stiffness.
When it comes to your workouts, low-impact aerobic exercises are generally best and least likely to cause issues, says Kelton Vasileff, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “I recommend swimming, walking, elliptical, cycling, and stationary biking for general exercise,” he says. All of these are great ways to move your body without pounding your joints.
The irritation of the sciatic nerve causes hip and lower back pain, which spreads downwards to the limbs and feet. It is estimated that 4 out of 10 people will develop sciatica or irritation of this nerve at some point in life. The sciatic nerve is located deep in the buttock, beneath the piriformis muscle, so its constriction and swelling can also cause sciatica pain and irritations.
“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.”
The space between the spine and the skin that can become infected by bacteria on rare occasions, causing a spinal epidural. This leads to the accumulation of pus in the spine that can put pressure on nerves and bones, causing great pain. A spinal epidural abscess is a rare but serious condition that can cause spinal pain, radiating lower back pain, and pain that runs down one leg. Spinal epidural abscesses can be caused by a wide range of infections such as skin infections, blood stream infections or urinary tract infections. Spinal epidural abscesses can develop after spinal surgery or epidural catheters used to treat post-operative pain. Symptoms include lower back pain when lying down, radiating back pain, hip pain, tingling in the lower extremities, nausea, fever and vomiting. Treatment includes antibiotics, analgesics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and often drainage and surgery.
Ligaments connecting your back to your pelvis: Straining the ligaments around your buttocks and pelvis may result in this type of pain. This area can also be referred to as the sacro-iliac joint. Due to this area linking your lower back and hip you may feel your pain from your lower back through to your hip. Treatment in this presentation should be primarily to the ligament that is strained and addressing posture as well as back stretching exercises when indicated.
The pain of back pain almost always makes it seem worse than it is. The most worrisome causes of back pain rarely cause severe pain, and many common problems (like slipped discs) are usually much less serious than people fear. Only about 1% of back pain is ominous, and even then it’s often still treatable. Most of the 1% are due to cancer, autoimmune disease, or spinal cord damage.
Piriformis syndrome is a type of neurological injury that is caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. The piriformis muscle sits deep within the buttock, behind the gluteus maximus. It starts at the lower spine and connects to the femur muscle. This nerve can become compressed from swelling of the piriformis muscle due to injury or muscle spasms or inflammation. Piriformis syndrome causes symptoms including pain in the back of the thigh, pain in the back of knee, buttock pain, pain in the calf, pain in sciatic nerve branches (pain in the nerves of leg and the buttocks, then), shooting pain in the legs, and hip pain after sitting.

If you suffer with hip pain, this can be especially hard, as every movement we make, it seems, utilizes the hip in some way. Often, hip pain presents as dislocated hip symptoms because the hip pops when you move. This can be especially frightening, making one think the hip is broken. When one experiences hip pain running all down the right side of the body, with lower back pain in the right side above the hip area-- combined with pain that runs down the back of the leg, or upper thigh pain when walking, you may have sciatica, a condition caused by a compression of the sciatic nerve.
How to: Lie on your back with your right knee bent and foot flat on the floor (a). With your left leg fully extended, press into your right foot to shift onto your left hip. This is your starting position (b). Then, squeeze your right glutes to press your left hip open until you feel a stretch, pause, then return to start. That’s one rep (c). Perform six to eight reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
The good news: You’re not powerless against hip problems. The right exercise routine can go a long way in helping you prevent falls, maintain mobility, and manage pain. Here are the best exercises for bad hips and the exercises you should limit or avoid. Of course, if you’re being treated for a serious injury, ask your doctor when you can resume exercise and which exercises are safest for you.
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.
• Gout. Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when excess uric acid, a bodily waste product circulating in the bloodstream, is deposited as needle-shaped monosodium urate crystals in tissues of the body, including the joints. For many people, the first symptom of gout is excruciating pain and swelling in the big toe – often following a trauma, such as an illness or injury. Subsequent attacks may occur off and on in other joints, primarily those of the foot and knee. Less commonly gout can affect the spine, causing extreme pain, numbness and tingling. It can be confused with a spinal infection.

For example, one workout you may want to do lateral lunges with mini-band ankle walks. Another workout you may choose rotational step-ups with the 4-way cable hip exercise. The activation, mobility, and flexibility exercises can be done more frequently and not necessarily as part of a stand-alone workout. There's no one-right way to incorporate these exercises, so don't be afraid to experiment.

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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.
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