Lower back pain is something that everyone will experience at some point in their lives, whether it is due to sitting a lot, lifting improperly, or a past injury.
The lumbar spine is a complicated area that is actually pretty mobile. Lower back pain usually arises when there are issues at the hips. Generally speaking, the hips are meant to be highly mobile but when they get tense or weak, the lower back takes over which is a job that it isn't really cut out to do.
The result is a group of much smaller and weaker muscles attempting to cover for the much larger more powerful muscles of the hips. Eventually, something is going to give.
When these muscles around your hip get tight and tacked down, they can even turn your abdominal muscles off, leaving other muscles to pick up the slack where spinal stability is concerned resulting in even more tension.
This is particularly why sitting is so damaging.
To prevent this from happening we need to focus on mobilizing tight tissues around the hips and lumbar spine. This frees up the lumbar structures to do what they were designed to do, stabilize. They were not meant to be prime movers.
We'll start with some targeted tissue mobilization by means of self-myofascial release or SMR.
Foam rollers work great for myofascial release, but if you have something more pinpoint like a lacrosse ball, these mobilizations work more effectively. With any of these, aim for muscle tissue that is tender and/or tight. Spend more time in these specific areas. Do not target bone, nerves, or blood vessels. If you feel numbing or tingling, that's a sign that you're in the wrong place.
I will now go over the main targets of this muscle tension release:
If you have trouble activating your glutes it could be because the tissue is tacked down. Freeing up this muscle tissue allows it to more effectively contract.
The quadratus lumborum (QL) and spine erectors
The QL and spine erectors are responsible for spinal lateral flexion and extension respectively. Because they both attach to the lumbar spine itself they are deeply important to proper lower back function.
The psoas and hip flexors
People tend to sit a lot these days and our hip flexors get brutally tight. Some of these hip flexors attach to the lumbar region itself so if they are tight, they end up pulling our spine. Even the hip flexors that don't can still affect pelvic position which in turn affects spinal position.
Outside of SMR, here are a few dynamic mobility techniques that help loosen up your lower back and relieve tension.
Reverse lunge side bend
Not only does this help open up your hips, but it helps open up the lumbar spine laterally.
Swiss ball lateral opener
Just like the previous move, this is great for decompressing the spine laterally with the help of an exercise ball.
This exercise is great for accentuating spinal extension and rotation at the same time.
A fantastic but intense hip flexor stretch. If you sit a lot, this one is a must!
Opening up the hips into external rotation and rotating from the spine is great for mobilizing on a more global scale.
Notice how these are more dynamic in nature as opposed to statically stretching. We don't just want to make the tissues more flexible, but we want to strengthen the surrounding muscle and put it through its full active range of motion. It's a much more effective long-term strategy.
Beyond mobilizations like these, you need to learn how to properly activate the glute muscles, brace the core musculature, and keep the tissue around your spine mobile to prevent lower back pain in the long run. That is beyond the scope of a single article, but let me know in the comments if you'd like to see more on this topic.
**Keep in mind that everyone's situation is individual. Certain mobilizations and exercises will work better for some than others and a more tailored lower back pain rehab program will be most effective. In the absence of knowledge on your particular situation, these exercises can help you relieve back pain. If you're looking for more individual information about your particular issue, feel free to reach out or check out my coaching options for more information.
To your good health,
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