Transitioning between these two poses will stretch your entire back, as well as your hips, core, chest, and neck. Start on your hands and knees with your shoulders directly above your hands and your hips directly above your knees. Spread your fingers and press your palms into the floor. As you breathe in, arch your back, lift your tailbone and head, and look toward the ceiling or sky. As you exhale, round your back and tuck your tailbone, tucking your chin against your chest as you shift your gaze to between your knees. Oscillate between these two poses for 10-15 breaths.
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.
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.
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.
Although some of us are familiar with a pinched nerve, which is associated with sciatic-like pain in the leg, irritation or inflammation of nerves in the low back region can also cause a sensation in the upper leg or hip region. It is important to realize there are many things that can go wrong in the spine. Remember, sciatica is not a diagnosis but, instead, a symptom of an underlying problem. It is possible to feel back-related pain in the hip region and upper leg as well. It depends on the nerves involved and ultimately the actual diagnosis. Back pain or hip pain is not a diagnosis but simply an explanation of the area of pain. Symptoms are correlated with physical examination and confirmed through x-rays and similar tests.
At the very least, the tension and/or spasm in muscles that cross over the hip and attach onto the pelvis can contribute to imbalance, in terms of how strong and flexible each muscle group is in relation to the others. But muscle imbalance in the hips and the spine may make for pain, limitation and/or posture problems. It can also increase the healing challenge put to you by an existing injury or condition, for example, scoliosis.
The hip joint is designed to withstand a fair amount of wear and tear, but it’s not indestructible. For example, when you walk, a cushion of cartilage helps prevent friction as the hip bone moves in its socket. With age and use, this cartilage can wear down or become damaged, or the hip bone itself can be fractured during a fall. In fact, more than 300,000 adults over 65 are hospitalized for hip fractures each year, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Since someone has to do the job… (Side note: That’s one of the coolest things about our body. There is always a backup system. Always another set of muscles ready to take over. Even if they are not the most effective and it leads to pain and tightness.) So, who takes over for spinal stability when the abdominals aren’t fully working? The psoas of course.
Start kneeling on your mat with knees hip-width apart and hips directly over knees. Press your shins and the tops of your feet into the mat. Bring your hands to your low back, fingers pointing down, and rest palms above glutes. Inhale and lift your chest, and then slowly start to lean your torso back. From here, bring your right hand to rest on your right heel and then your left hand to your left heel. (If you can't reach your heels, turn your toes under; it will be easier to reach your heels in this modification.) Press your thighs forward so they are perpendicular to the floor. Keep your head in a relatively neutral position or, if it doesn't strain your neck, drop it back. Hold for 30 seconds. To come out of the pose, bring your hands to your hips and slowly, leading with your chest, lift your torso as you press the thighs down toward the floor.
Start on your hands and knees with your palms flat on the floor and shoulder-width apart. Your neck should be in line with your back, and your gaze should be down or slightly forward. Brace your core, and raise your left arm and right leg until they’re in line with your body. If that’s too challenging, only raise your leg. Either way, hold for five to 10 seconds, and then return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side (right arm and left leg) to complete one rep. Aim for five to seven reps total.
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.
Sit on floor with knees bent and shins stacked with right leg on top. Use your hand to position right ankle on left knee. Ideally, the right knee will rest on the left thigh, but if your hips are tight, your right knee may point up toward the ceiling (overtime, as your hips become more open, your knee will lower). Keeping your hips squared to the front of the room, hinge at the hips and slowly walk hands slightly forward. If this is enough of a stretch, hold here, or fold your torso over your thighs to go deeper. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
Sometimes pain on the side of the hip is a result of bursitis. A weak abductor muscle, a leg length discrepancy, overuse, and an underlying early degenerating hip joint can cause bursitis. At times, the origin cannot be determined. Symptoms include pain on the side of the hip with prolonged walking, side lying in bed or when rising from a chair or similar types of movement.
Your doctor may order imaging tests, such as an MRI, to get more information about the location and cause of the irritated nerve. An MRI can show the alignment of vertebral disks, ligaments, and muscles. A CT scan using contrast dye can also provide a useful picture of the spinal cord and nerves. Determining the cause of sciatica can help guide the course of treatment. X-rays can help identify bony abnormalities but can't detect nerve problems.
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.
The more than 20 muscles that make up your hips are responsible for stabilizing your pelvis, moving your legs from side to side, and shortening to draw your knees toward your chest every time you sit down, run, jump or pedal, explains Kelly Moore, a certified yoga instructor and co-founder of Mindfuel Wellness, which brings health and wellness initiatives to companies throughout Chicago.
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 cross-legged twist will stretch the outside of your hips and part of your buttocks. Sit crossed-legged on the floor and then lift your right leg and place your foot on the outside of the bent left leg. Twist your upper body to look over your right shoulder. You can reach your left arm to the outside of your right leg to hold the stretch and place your right hand on the floor behind you for support. After 30 to 40 seconds, switch sides.
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.
If you've been working out hard, playing football or other sports, or moving a lot of heavy furniture and are suddenly suffering with radiating lower back pain, chances are you have pulled muscles or strained muscles in the back. Often, strained muscles will cause a burning sensation in the lower back a feeling of having limited movement ability. Doctors prefer to limit prescribing of opiate pain medications and may give you an alternative medication with less risk of becoming dependent.
Correct posture and a protected spine requires strong muscles, and strong muscles require exercise. Rather than sit around waiting for lower back pain to fix itself, keeping active and exercising regularly can actually help it recover and stay in shape much more quickly. Not only that, regular exercise will help you lose weight which, in turn, will take pressure off your legs, hips, and back.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
When a muscle contracts, it shortens. Take the biceps for example. Without getting too technical, the biceps are attached at the forearm and shoulder. When your biceps contract, they shorten and bring those two points closer together. When you rest, the muscle returns to its normal length, and the two points move farther away. Constantly contracting your biceps over a long period of time would cause them to get shorter, even at rest.
Outer hip pain and lateral hip pain, though typically not cause for alarm (as the hip is not sitting near any major organs like the heart, lungs, kidneys, or liver), can be a sign of a serious bone condition, such as arthritis in the back, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or tendonitis but can also indicate a more serious bone condition like a fracture, labral tear, or conditions such as snapping hip syndrome or osteonecrosis.
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.
Meanwhile, it’s extremely common for non-life-threatening low back pain to be alarmingly severe and persistent — to have a loud bark! Your doctor may not appreciate how true this is, and may over-react to all persistent low back pain, even without other red flags. In most cases, you shouldn’t let them scare you. Being “freaked out” about persistent back pain is the real threat: it can make low back pain much worse, and much more likely to last even longer (a tragic irony).
How to: Start feet hip-width apart, with your arms straight out in front of you. Step one foot back on a diagonal, feet flat. Once your foot reaches the floor, lower into a shallow lunge. Keep your knee bent and butt back, twist your pelvis, and rotate your arms back behind your body until they frame the knee. Return to starting position. That's one rep. Do eight reps on each side. Do three to four sets before moving on to the next move, resting for 30 seconds in between each set.
To do this stretch, sit on the floor with your legs about three or four feet apart, depending on how tall you are. Make sure your toes and knees are pointed straight up. Next, take a deep breath, and on the exhale, slowly fold your upper body forward. Rest your hands on your feet, legs, or the floor in front of you and hold this stretch for five deep breaths.
There are cases of low back pain that have alarming causes, but it’s rare. Once in a while back pain is a warning sign of cancer, autoimmune disease, infection, or a handful of other scary culprits.7 Over the age of 55, about one in twenty cases turns out to be a fracture, and one in a hundred is more ominous.8 The further you are from 55, the better your odds.
Like quadriceps, the hamstrings are 2-joint muscles. Unlike the quadriceps, though, the hamstrings reside at the back of your thigh. They attach at the siting bones, which are located on the underside of your pelvis. When the hamstring muscles contract, the effect is a pulling of the back of the pelvis down toward the back of the thigh, or a bringing of the lower extremity back behind you.
Start in a runner’s lunge with right leg forward, right knee over right ankle and back leg straight. Walk right foot over toward left hand, then drop right shin and thigh to the floor, making sure to keep right knee in line with right hip. Allow left leg to rest on the floor with top of left foot facing down. Take a moment to square your hips to the front of the room. Hold here, or hinge at hips and lower torso toward floor, allowing head to rest on forearms. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side. You want to feel a moderate stretch in the outside of the right thigh, but if this pose hurts your knees or feels too uncomfortable, stick with Thread the Needle.
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.
Sacroiliac joint pain can occur when movement in the pelvis is not the same on both sides. Uneven movement may occur when one leg is longer or weaker than the other, or with arthritis in the hip or knee problems. Autoimmune diseases, such as ankylosingspondyloarthropathy, and biomechanical conditions, such as wearing a walking boot following foot/ankle surgery or non-supportive footwear, can lead to degenerative sacroiliitis.
A basic bodyweight glute bridge is one of Lefkowith's favorites. Want to try it? Lie on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, and push your hips up toward the sky, squeezing your glutes at the top. This will not only help get your glutes in the game, but it also gives your hip flexors a chance to stretch out. (Try these five hip openers, too.)