As a Personal Trainer I hear a lot of complaints about back pain.
The spine is a very common area for pain to appear, it’s connected to everything and it is, quite literally, the center of our body.
It’s hard to distinguish between true back pain and back pain as a symptom of something else.
If you’re experiencing true back pain, an inability to move in a full range of motion or sharp shooting pain with any leg movement you need to stop reading and go see a doctor right away.
Ok. Are those people gone?
Good. Now we can have some fun.
If you’re experiencing mild discomfort or stiffness in your lower back it’s probably not actually a back problem.
It’s a hip, pelvis and glute problem.
Your back pain is just a symptom. The tightness in your hips and inactivity in your glutes are forcing your lower back muscles to work much harder than they should, and they are fatigued and prone to injury.
It’s 2017 and there are some daily behaviors that are new to us as a species. Tweeting at the President and pretending you’re making a difference, spinning things in our fingers that were made to specifically to be spun (use a pen like we used to, you stupid kids), and most infamously sitting on our asses all day.
Humans are meant to sit. That’s obvious. We are not meant to sit for 18 hours a day. We are made to sit and stand and move. Unfortunately we mostly sit, and only occasionally stand and move. We’re like 2 years from becoming the people in Wall-E.
All this sitting wreaks havoc on our pelvises, hips and glutes.
When you sit for prolonged periods of time your hip flexors, which are the muscles that connect your upper leg to your hips, actually shorten. They get so tight that they create a new, smaller range of motion that tugs your pelvis out of place.
This shorter range of motion is created and reinforced by sitting.
This pulls your pelvis into an Anterior Tilt. That simply means that your pelvis is being tugged forward, causing your hips to point towards the ground instead of remaining neutral.
This forward hip angle causes your butt to flare up, so you look like one of those attention seeking girls on Instagram.
It accentuates the curve of your lower back, which creates a dangerous environment.
This awkward, unnatural angle does not allow your glutes to be involved in generating force. It actually makes it nearly impossible for them to “activate” and work without direct stimulation.
An easy way to visualize this is to pull your shirt up and see your belt line. If your belt is pointing towards the ground you are most likely suffering from some degree of Anterior Pelvic Tilt.
It forces your lower back to be the main mover in many natural planes of motion like walking and picking things up.
That’s where your lower back pain comes from.
In order to combat this discomfort there are two things that need to be focused one. One is loosening the hip flexors and enabling their full range of motion. The other is to “activate” or “ fire” the glutes so they become involved in your movement throughout the day.
Luckily there is an easy fix that requires only a few minutes every day and the dedication to follow through on these instructions.
1. The Couch Stretch
How to do it:
Place one foot on the top of a couch, bench or any elevated surface. Lower yourself into a lunge position with your front foot directly under your front knee and your back knee directly below or slightly behind your hip. Once you are comfortable in this position squeeze the glue of the elevated foot. This is an ACTIVE stretch, meaning you will be working not just "hanging out". By squeezing that glute as hard as you can you are forcing your pelvis back into a neutral position, which will lengthen those pesky hip flexors.
Hold for up to 2 minutes, then switch legs. Perform this 2-3 times per day. I do this once in the morning, and once at night while the wife and I are watching TV.
What it does:
The active squeezing of one glute forces your pelvis back into a neutral position, which lengthens and will eventually bring your hip flexors back to their natural length. You will also feel a stretch in your quad, and the obliques.
If it is too hard:
Take away the elevated surface and just place your leg on the ground.
Single Leg Hip Thrust
How to do it:
Lie on your back. Bring one foot to the center of your body, about 6 inches from your butt. Extend and elevate the other foot. Press the downed heel through the ground as you contract that same glute as hard as you can in order to raise your hips from the ground. Pause at the top of the movement for a breath, holding the contraction as tight as you can.
Perform 15-20 then switch legs.
What it does:
By utilizing only one glute you are forcing it to contract to the maximum extent, therefore "waking it up". By contracting you are firing the muscle fibers in order to involve them in every other movement throughout the day. When you sit for prolonged periods of time your glutes remain inactive. This exercise will actually wake your ass up.
If it's too hard:
Use both feet instead of just the one, and hold at the top for a longer period of time.
There you have it.
Just like most things in the health, fitness and nutrition world maintaining a health spine does not take a lot of intensity. All that's required discipline and consistency. If you are suffering from an aching lower back these 2 movements will greatly help alleviate your pain, as long as you stick to the plan and ACTUALLY DO THEM.
Other strategies to keep your lower back healthy are:
- Walk more.
- Ensure your form is perfect with lower body exercises, or overhead exercises.
- Regularly stretch and foam roll your hips.
- Stand up for 2 minutes for every hour you sit
- Get off your ass more.