What’s low back pain and how is it experienced?
First, let’s understand how low back pain is experienced. Typically it's compression between spinal vertebrae which can lead to a herniated disc, ruptured disc or bulging disc. Sometimes this compression can cause temporary acute pain (‘throwing one’s back out’) or a chronic dull pain that is felt most of the time.
Things like sitting, standing, lifting or sudden movements can be very painful. Strengthening the muscles in the core is often first the prescribed solution (before drugs and surgery). The goal of strengthening the core is to take pressure off of the back to hold your body upright and make the variety of movements you make on a daily basis.
What’s the real cause of low back?
The most common answer to this question is, ‘a weak core’. At Bendable Body we know that the root cause is something very different. In order to understand the root cause of low back pain you need to understand your pelvis and hamstrings and how they impact your spine.
Your pelvis sits at the base of your spine and your 3 hamstring muscles attach at the base of your pelvis. The hamstring muscles by design are very tendonus (Semi Membranosus, Semi Tendinosis, Biceps Femoris). This means they are innately tough and hard muscles prone to an accumulation of dense fascia. The muscles in the core and front of the hips (External Obliques, Rectus Abdominus and Psoas Major) on the other hand are primarily muscle fiber with very little added dense fascia. There’s an important reason why the hamstrings attaching at the back of the pelvis are tougher and harder by design.
When the hamstrings contract and shorten, they allow your pelvis to extend and your body to be in an upright position. In other words, your hamstrings are carrying the force to hold your body upright, not your abdominal muscles. When your hamstrings are dense and tight and full of hard, unhealthy fascia, they loose movement and contractability. The most common thing we see is the hamstrings get stuck in long position up high near the pelvis and push the pelvis into a flexed position from below… which in turn causes compression in the spine.
But that’s not all… the hamstrings often get stuck in a twisted position as well. This causes a twist in the pelvis. You may experience it as one leg being shorter than the other. When the pelvis has a twist it sends a twist up into the spinal vertebrae, adding another element of discomfort and wear and tear to the spine over time.
The best stretches for lower back pain.
Let’s talk about what you can do to relieve lower back pain on your own at home and if you should stretch if your back hurts. The best stretches to get rid of chronic low back pain are for the 3 hamstrings muscles: medial, central and lateral hamstrings. As we’ve explained, these muscles are touch and dense by design because of the role they play in your body. Over time due to repetitive movements and too much sitting, they get stiffer and harder. So by the time you have low back pain, your hamstrings have probably accumulated a good amount of dense fascia.
We recommend a daily routine spending about 15 minutes stretching your 3 hamstrings with resistance and tension to target the accumulation of dense fascia in them. In addition to this, we also recommend that you break up any time spent sitting with 5 minutes of lateral hamstring stretches.
When you sit for more than 20 minutes, your body is already laying down dense fascia in your hamstrings. So it's very important to get up and move around (and do a few lateral hamstring stretches) to counteract the negative impact sitting has on your hamstrings, pelvis and spine.
If you're currently experiencing acute low back pain, you can still stretch! You'll need to be careful getting in and out of the stretch position, and make sure that you are using sufficient resistance during the stretch to protect your spine. You’ll find that stretching with resistance will create space in your lower spine and give you immediate relief.
If you have chronic, dull low back pain you will find that in after a period of consistent stretching your pain is gone and you can go back to doing all of the things you love to do.