How to Equip Yourself Against Lower Back Pain

Offered By Fitnitiative

Lower back pain is an epidemic.  The World Health Organisation estimate that non-specific (or common) lower back pain has a lifetime prevalence of 60-70% worldwide.  The Pain itself can be acute, sub-acute or chronic. The severity of which depends on the cause, which is rarely addressed or understood.  Lower back pain doesn’t discriminate when it comes to age, but it does show to peak between the ages of 35-55.

Young woman bent over desk with back pain

Risk factors for lower back pain include: Occupational posture, depressive moods, age, height and weight.  There’s no “cure” for it simply because we don’t know what causes it.  Now, that’s not to say that you won’t find some sort of intervention that does provide you with relief.  If your back pain has been attributed a cause (i.e., an injury), then it will actually be much easier to find the right solution (when you know the issue you can address it).  Whether the suggested solution works for you will be for you to find out, but at least you’ll have a plan of action.

Sadly, more often than not, lower back pain is just classified as “common lower back pain”.  It seems to have become something that’s accepted for what it is.  One theory to as why lower back pain is a prevalent as it is, is seeded in our evolution.  We’ve evolved from quadruped creatures into bipedal animals that rely heavily on the spine to give us rigidity and movement in our day-to-day lives.   It’s hypothesised that it’s this evolution into walking on two legs which has resulted in increased stresses on the spine.  However, very little has been done to test this hypothesis, so for now it’ll remain as nothing more than a theory.

Man outdoors holding painful lower back

From here onwards I’m going to share some things that you can do to best protect yourself against the onset of lower back pain.  I would always recommend that you see a medical professional at the onset of your pain (especially if it does not subside).   However, if you are one of the many diagnosed with “common” lower back pain, with no clear injuries, obstructions and physiological ailments; then the following few tips may help you.

I don’t claim to have the answer to lower back pain, and I would be a fool to think that I did.  But in my experience, there are some things that you can do to ensure that any lower back pain you do experience isn’t due to a dysfunction within your control.

Recruit Your Glutes

Your glutes are the strongest muscles in the body and really are a powerhouse when it comes to the force they produce, and the stability they provide.  Sadly, we spend most of our time sitting down on them, rather than putting them to work. 

The Glutes are separated into 3 main muscles. The Glute Max, Glute Med and Glute Min.

Anatomical illustration of the glutes

These three muscles create the Gluteal complex which is responsible for driving movement in the posterior chain at the hips.  Not only that, but the Glutes also work to stabilise movement and work in conjunction with the lats to stabilise the pelvis and sacroiliac joint (joint that connects the pelvic and lower back). 

This opposing force on each side essentially creates force across the joint to stabilise the pelvis and lower back.  Our tendency to sit down all day can often result in our Glutes becoming inactive, tight or in most cases, just plain weak, which can then affect their role in stabilising the kinetic chain.

In fact, from my experience, strengthening and re-educating the glutes to work properly is one of the most effective strategies in helping to minimise lower back pain.

Here’s a few simple exercises that you can do to recruit your glutes at home:

Hip thrusts

Glute bridges

Single leg bridges

Find Your Core

When talking about the core, most people will think of 6-pack abs and the ability to do endless crunches.  Whilst having a 6-pack (or 8-pack in some circles) may be an aesthetic desire for many, it doesn’t particularly represent a proper functioning of the core.

The core is more than just abs, which we all have by the way, they’re just tucked under a little more body fat than others.  The core is about stability and the musculature involved in stabilising the spine. In fact, the core’s main job can be described as having to stabilise the spine whilst the extremities are moving.

Anatomical illustration of the core muscles.

The core isn’t limited to just the trunk, the muscles of the hips and lower back also play a role as they work together to stabilise the spine.

A strong, functioning core will help to transfer force through the body and spine effectively.  If your core is weak, then this force can place undue stresses on the spine as it isn’t in the optimal position to absorb and manage this force.

In the world of fitness, we preach the cue of maintaining a neutral spine in pretty much any movement that you can do. The neutral spine is neither flexed nor extended, which are both positions that can compromise the spines ability to absorb and manage force when it’s loaded.  If your core is weak (which is often the case), then it’s most likely not doing its job of stabilising well enough.

Here are few simple exercises that you can do at home to work on building some core strength:

Deadbugs

Plank taps

Bird dog

Side plank

Move Your Hips

The lower back directly inserts at the pelvis, through the SI joint mentioned earlier. Any dysfunctions in this area can have an effect on the how the lower back and pelvis operate together.

This combination of the lumbar spine, the pelvis and the hips is aptly named the Lumbopelvic hip complex.  As the name suggests, it is a pretty complex region that’s design for lots and lots of movement, as well as providing us with the means to stabilise this movement.

One group of muscles that often get a bad rap are the Hip Flexors. These muscles simply serve to flex the hip and have various attachment points at the pelvis, as well as the lower back itself.

The Hip Flexors work in conjunction with the glutes, producing opposite movements.  The Hip Flexors will flex the hip and the Glutes will extend the hip.

Illustration of Hip Flexor Muscles

Similarly, with the Glutes, if these Hip Flexors become inactive, tight or just plain weak; then their capacity to perform their job is affected.  With one of the Hip Flexors acting directly on the lower back, if this muscle becomes tight then it can shift the position of the pelvis to an anterior tilt.  This places the lower back into extension which once again affects optimal functioning of the lower back.

Truth be told, any dysfunctional patterns in this area can pull both your lower back and pelvis into suboptimal positions.

We won’t dive into all of them, but what you can do is make sure your adequately mobilise this area, as well as keeping the big drivers (Glutes and Hip flexors) behind movement strong enough to do their jobs effectively.

Here are some exercises that you can do to mobilise your hips:

Lizard with rotation

Hip rotations

Dynamic pigeon

Adductor rock backs

Hip flexor strengthening

Final Tips

Apart from the few key points listed in this article, they are some general things that I would recommend doing as well.  These will not only contribute to helping you fight off any potential lower back pain, but generally contribute to a positive sense of health and wellbeing.

  • Walk 7000-1000 steps each day

If you’re not walking then your hips aren’t getting the movement they need. Simple as that. We’ve evolved to walk and the convenience of our day to day lives means we no longer have to rely on our own human method of transportation.

I won’t dive into walking in this article, as it could warrant one by itself, but try it for yourself and see the benefits within a few days.

 

  • Stand up for a few minutes each hour you sit down

Sitting down all day does nothing for your kinetic chain. Give your lower back and spine a break from the contorted positions we sit in. Stand up, let your muscles lengthen and let your spine breath.

 

  • Practice lying down with your lower legs resting on a chair (like a L shape)

This is a particularly useful position as it directly takes pressure off of the lower back. There are not many positions that will give you immediate relief from tension in this area, so using it for just a few minutes per day can do wonders to introduce some relaxation.

 

Once again, this isn’t my “cure” for lower back pain. These are things that you can do to ensure your body is functioning as it should, minimising the risk of dysfunction being a cause.

 

Want to keep learning? Find more articles from Sam Lynch - Fitnitiative

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