The lower back is the single most neglected muscle group on the body. Most gym-goers only like to work the muscles they can see in the mirror and do not care about performance. There's nothing wrong with wanting to look great at the pool without being an athlete. The problem with this mentality is that roughly 80% of Americans have suffered or will suffer some form of lower back pain in their life. The main reason for this is the sedentary lifestyle of Americans. Another is the increase in seated computer jobs, but it can also be linked all the way back to grade school where students are forced to sit at a desk for 7 hours a day.
There are several causative factors that greatly attribute to lower back pain. These factors include structural deficiencies, core weakness, and tightness of the posterior chain muscles. Structural deficiencies can be caused by either traumatic or passive injuries. With traumatic injuries, we think of things like a car crash or being tackled in football. With the lower back being the stopping point for the midbody hinge; it absorbs most of the impact in these situations. Generally with these types of injuries, one is aware that there may be an injury because there is often soreness and/or pain. To truly understand what is going on with your body, we need to understand that the pelvis is the entire foundation for your spine. If for some reason the pelvis was to become uneven or twisted, even the slightest bit, it would impact the spine resting upon it, because the spine then has to try and compensate for any unevenness exhibited by the pelvis.
A structural change to the pelvis can occur naturally if the muscles that attach to it on both sides are unequal in strength and tonicity. Just like you have a dominant arm that is stronger than the other arm, you also have a dominant leg that is stronger. With time or exercise the stronger muscles in your dominant leg pull harder on the bones of your pelvis than the muscles of your weaker leg can resist. Eventually these muscles can cause the pelvis to elevate or twist on one side. At this point the entire structure of your spine but most significantly in the lumbar spine has been compromised.
(On the left is a normal spine in proper alignment with an even pelvis. On the right, we have a pelvis that is slightly higher on the right side and we can see the difference that is produced in the spine’s alignment between the green and red lines.)
Other more passive factors could include compression injuries such as sitting for long periods of time. New studies are coming out every day saying, “Sitting is the new smoking.” With a huge upswing in computer related jobs, more and more people find themselves having to spend extended amounts of time sitting at a desk. One of the biggest taboos for the low back that most men are guilty of, is sitting on a wallet. Repeated sitting for extended amounts of time on your wallet on the same side will almost certainly cause your pelvis to become uneven. This can lead to structural deficiencies in your pelvis and lumbar spine.
The next issue is weakness of the midsection. The muscles of the lower back work to stabilize the spine and assist in posture support and lifting items from the floor. When picking up heavy objects, the legs should be used as the major movers by squatting down and keeping the back straight. If the midsection is weak the spine will hold the load instead of the muscles. This can cause compression and torquing injuries.
While these issues are common among people with a sedentary lifestyle, they do not need to lead to chronic conditions. I see clients from all walks of life on a daily basis. Those that maintain an active lifestyle are the ones who rarely complain of lower back pain. These individuals’ workout a couple days a week and maintain hobbies that keep them moving. American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines suggest performing a cardiovascular activity for 30 minutes at least 3 days a week. This could be hiking, playing with the kids in the yard, swimming, etc. Simply taking a walk can greatly reduce lower back pain in most cases. Once the pain is lessened, the next step is to protect the body from future pain. To do this we need to loosen up the posterior muscle chain with some stretches and strengthen the lower midsection with resistance training.
The best exercises to build the lower back are hip hinges and stability exercises.
The Hip Bridge is a great low intensity exercise to build the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. This is performed by lying supine with feet flat on the floor and lifting and lowering the hips.
The Roman Deadlift (RDL) is also a hip hinge that can be low or high intensity depending on the load (weight) and depth used during the exercise. Begin the RDL standing up right, then lower your weight forward bending at the hips with a slight bend in the knees. Squeeze the shoulder blades together throughout the movement to resist slouching of the upper spine. This can be performed with no load until the full range of motion can be established. Always lower to a comfortable depth that can be reached with no pain
Tightness of the posterior chain muscles pull the hips into a posterior tilt. This pushes the hips forward and pulls the glutes under the body making the lumbar curvature straighten. When the lumbar curvature straightens the shoulders tend to slump forward to balance during walking and create poor posture throughout the entire body. This is a common result of repeatedly sitting for long durations. Tightest of the piriformis muscle could also cause discomfort and is one of the leading causes of pain associated with the sciatic nerve. This muscle is commonly worked and stretched with the glutes, but there are some stretches used to lengthen the piriformis specifically.
This is apparent in students and office/desk workers, but also in individuals who have long commutes and binge watch television. This is not always a quick fix, but stretching and increasing activity will help to relieve the tension. The best stretches for the hamstrings put the body into hip flexion. Always stay within a comfortable range while stretching, and remember a stretch should not cause pain.
In most cases lumbar pain can act as a double-edged sword. Inactivity will cause the pain and the pain will lead to more inactivity. The only way to break the cycle is to be active in your own recovery. With the help of a qualified team, you can get your life and mobility back. The team starts with identifying the problem with a healthcare professional, such as a chiropractic physician. Your Chiropractor will be able to check for any pelvic unevenness or any other subluxation or alignment issues. Then locating a qualified fitness professional to strengthen or loosen the area (depending on situation) is essential, and finishing with self-motivation to experience life to the fullest.
For more information on this or other fitness related topics visit my blog at
http://www.originalworkout.net/daniels-blog. Feel free to contact me via phone or email to schedule a consultation or training session.
Daniel Fredell Dr. William Davis
ACSM Certified Fitness Professional Active People Chiropractic
Danielfredell@yahoo.com 325 1st Ave SW Hickory, NC 28601
ACSM Certified Fitness Professional