Lower back pain is probably one of the most common injuries that fitness professionals encounter. It’s extremely likely that you’ve either had, have, or will have lower back pain at some point in your life, therefore we thought we’d share a few tips on how to best deal with it.
When we have lower back pain, naturally we want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Conventional wisdom would tell us that we need to stretch it away, but we’d argue that this is not the optimal way to go about it.
With a lower back injury, a lot of the time we feel pain in the muscles surrounding the lower back such as the quadratus lumborum or the erector spinae, however we have not strained these muscles; they are just very tight and painful because of the inflammatory process of the injury that is occurring deeper within the lower back. Depending on the severity of the lower back pain, it may well likely be advisable to avoid stretching in the first 72 hours post injury as this is the inflammatory phase.
Once the inflammation has subsided, lower back stretches may illicit a temporary relief in pain because we are activating stretch receptors deep within the muscles of the lower back; when these stretch receptors are activated, they change the way our brain senses and communicates with our muscles resulting in temporary pain relief, but what we’re not doing is fixing the problem.
The Compression Test
The compression test is one way to assess how lower back pain is presenting:
1. Start by sitting on a chair with good posture (sit tall, retract and depress the shoulder blades)
2. Hold onto the chair with both hands and pull up as hard as you can – try to compress the spine straight down
3. Did that create any pain or make it worse?
If a rounded back (spinal flexion) causes pain or makes it worse, we can assume that we have a flexion intolerance. It could also be an indication that our hamstrings are tighter than they should be and therefore creating a posterior tilt of our pelvis (flexion) which may potentially be a contributing factor to the causation of our lower back pain. Post inflammatory phase, it may speed up our recovery and aid prevention of our lower back pain recurring if our hamstring flexibility is increased.
If a hyperextended back (spinal extension) causes pain or makes it worse, we can assume that we have an extension intolerance. It could also be an indication that our hip flexors (particularly the Psoas Major) may be contributing to the causation of our lower back pain.
Three Tips for Lower Back Pain
1) Mobilise the spine with a light load
– We’re going to move our spine through a slow range of motion that’s pain free in order to ease some of the tension and improve the range of motion when everything is still tight and locked up
– The Cat-Camel is a great exercise for this
. Starting on all fours, slowly raise (flex) and lower (extend) the spine repeatedly
. Don’t try to exaggerate the flexion or extension, just keep it nice and light
2) Mobilise the hips- Even though the pain may be felt in the lower back, the cause could very well be an imbalance at the hips
– The Hip Airplane is a fantastic hip mobilisation exercise:
. In the standing position, grab onto something to help with balance
. Assume the single-leg Romanian deadlift position (bent-over with one leg extended backwards in the air, and the chest facing the ground)
. Brace the core
. Rotate the body as far as you can to open the hips (you should feel a light stretch deep inside the hip joint)
. Return to neutral and rotate the body as far as you can in the opposite direction to close the hips (you should feel a light stretch in the outer part of the hip joint)
. 10 reps for about 5 seconds should suffice
3) Move in a way that will take stress off the lower back
– If we experience pain when bending forward, for example picking up a weight off the ground or taking something out of the fridge, we must think about moving in a way that will take stress off our lower back
– Any time we bend forward, simply place both hands on the thighs. This will create a bit of core stability as well as initiate a hip hinge which will both aid in decreasing the amount of stress on the lower back
Whilst stretching the lower back may provide symptomatic relief, we would advise taking measures that may remedy the deeper issue such as mobilising the spine and hips and moving in a way that will reduce stress on the lower back. If appropriate, this may also include corrective stretches of muscle groups that could be creating an imbalance. The sooner pain, and in particular inflammation is reduced, the sooner we can start working on improving and preventing lower back pain.
There’s no one size fits all solution. The tips we’ve shared usually help most people who are experiencing lower back pain, but if none of this works after some time or if you’re suffering from chronic lower back pain, we would advise consulting a professional such as a physiotherapist.
Thank you for reading this post
We truly hope that you found this post valuable. If you have any questions or if you’d like to work with one of our experienced personal trainers, please feel free to contact us