The causes can be many, but the result is often the same: pain in the lower back. It doesn't have to be an inevitable circumstance of age, as it can be both preventable and treatable with the proper guidance, training and knowledge. Here are some tips on how to minimize both acute and chronic lower back pain.
Do you suffer from lower back pain? According to a study from the Scandinavian Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, it is estimated that roughly 80 percent of us will suffer from back pain at some point in our lives, with more than 30 million Americans suffering at any given time.
Whether it be from everyday tasks, such as carrying laundry, sitting at a desk or driving for long periods of time, the lower back seems to be susceptible to injury when we least expect it.
Pelvic imbalances, weak spinal musculature, inactive glute muscles, obesity, shortened hip flexors and tight hamstrings can all increase the potential for disc herniations, sciatica, piriformis syndrome and chronic lower back pain. Even a deficiency in vitamin D has been linked to lower back pain.
The causes can be many, but the result is often the same: pain in the lower back. It doesn't have to be an inevitable circumstance of age, as it can be both preventable and treatable with the proper guidance, training and knowledge.
Here are some tips on how to minimize both acute and chronic lower back pain.
Finding a comfortable position
Chronic lower back pain is referred to as dull or aching pain that lasts longer than three months. Acute lower back pain is referred to as pain lasting up to six weeks caused by strenuous activity or trauma of the lower back or pelvis region.
Often requiring bed rest, doctor's visits and high doses of anti-inflammatory/pain killer medications, acute lower back pain can be debilitating, making even the most menial of tasks incredibly difficult. Finding a comfortable position becomes a priority.
One position that can aid in alleviating acute lower back pain is the Egoscue Static Back position. With intense lower back pain, the pelvis can be rotated or shifted, leading to further muscle imbalances throughout the spine that can often result in painful muscle spasms. Referred to as an E-cise by the Egoscue Method, a postural correction brand, the Static Back puts the body into a position that allows for passive correction of this dysfunction.
To perform the Egoscue Static Back, lie flat on your back on the floor with feet and calves propped on a bench or chair. Knees and hips should be bent at 90-degree angles. Position your arms by your sides with palms up. Keeping your head back, try to completely relax, focusing on your lower back remaining in contact with the floor. Trying to remain completely relaxed, lie in this position for up to an hour or until your back begins to burn.
For more on Egoscue, pick up a copy of the book "Pain Free," or find an Egoscue Method therapist.
Supine unilateral hamstring stretch: Lying on your back, wrap a yoga strap around one foot. Raise the leg up by pulling the strap toward you, keeping the knee extended, hips flat on the floor and the opposite leg bent. Gently stretch your hamstring by pulling on the rope. Perform four to six repetitions for 15 to 20 seconds each, alternating legs each rep.
Static hip flexor stretch: Position yourself in a kneeling hip flexor stretch position with the rear foot propped against a bench. With torso kept upright, reach upward with the arm on the same side of the rear foot, sink your hips and feel the stretch in the front of the hip. Perform four to six repetitions for 15 to 20 seconds each, alternating legs each rep.
QL stretch: Lie on your back with knees and hips bent at roughly 90 degree angles. Keeping your lower back flat as flat as you can, bring your stacked knees to the ground on one side of the body and hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Alternate sides and perform for four to six reps.
Side plank hold: Lie on your side with your elbow on a padded surface and legs and feet stacked. Lift your hips off the ground, making sure to keep hips extended and glutes contracted to ensure activation of the proper musculature.
45-degree lower back extensions: Position yourself on a 45-degree back extension machine, with heels anchored and hips resting across the brace pads. Maintaining a neutral or lordotic posture, slowly lower and raise your torso by bending at the hips.
Suitcase carries: Holding a kettlebell or a farmer carry handle in one hand, walk a set distance, disallowing the torso to lean forward or toward the weighted side. Once you have completed the predetermined distance, perform with the weight in the alternate hand.
Microcurrent therapy: A form of therapy that utilizes low-level electrical currents to decrease inflammation and increase circulation to soft tissue. By stimulating ATP production, microcurrent therapy can be a valuable tool in alleviating both chronic and acute lower back pain.
Self-myofascial release: Those foam rollers you see stacked in the corner of your gym or personal trainer’s office are used to restore soft tissue known as fascia to its normal length. For lower back pain, a lacrosse ball can be an effective tool to palpate deeper muscles a foam roller cannot quite reach.
Active release technique: Developed by world-renowned soft tissue expert Dr. Michael Leahy, ART is an effective deep tissue massage/movement technique for breaking up adhesions (scar tissue buildup) to restore normal soft tissue length and function.
Pilates: According to Peak Pilates instructor and studio owner Gwen Mitrano, "Strong muscles along the spine and abdomen are critical for developing a healthy and pain-free back. Pilates works from the inside out by improving posture, correcting muscle imbalances and increasing flexibility."
ELDOA: Decompressive stretching exercises designed to alleviate back pain while improving spinal health and integrity, ELDOA is the culmination of over 30 years of research by world renowned osteopath and physician Dr. Guy Voyer.
Jason Shea is owner of Athletic Performance Enhancement Centers in Medway, Mass., and a strength coach and adjunct professor at Dean College in Franklin, Mass. He has a bachelor's degree in exercise science and a master's in human movement. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-533-9005.