I recently talked to someone who gets recurrent low back pain. I tried to engage them in a conversation about strength and stability training, but was politely brushed off with a “I know what I need to do – I need to strengthen my abs”. A while later, I wished I had made one quick suggestion: “stretch your hip flexors”
Why hip flexors for low-back pain? Because the psoas (one of the hip flexors) attaches at the low back. For those of us who work at desks, this muscle tends to get short and stiff. When the hip flexor is short, it tends to tilt the pelvis forward, and a forward (anterior) tilted pelvis can force the lumbar spine to extend when walking. Think about how many steps you take in a day – that’s a lot of extensions for your poor low back pain. So give your back a break and get back some length in your hip flexors.
If I had somehow managed to get another suggestion in, it would be to strengthen the glutes. That is because most sitters also end up with weak gluteal muscles. Get a better butt, and you will probably have less back pain. When the glutes are strong, the back extensors have to work less. It’ll probably also reduce hip and knee pain if you have those too. That’s because the TFL (tensor Fascia Latae) tends to help out by doing the work that the weak glutes can’t do. This leaves the TFL tight, which often causes IT (Iliotibial) band tightness. If you know what the IT band is, then you probably know what IT band tightness feels like – not fun! Strengthening the glutes sure can take some of the pressure off the TFL and balance things out.
If somehow I managed to get the opportunity for a third suggestion, it would be to get someone to screen them with the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). I just cannot say enough about this great tool. Maybe process or system is a better term. The FMS is a system for evaluating and scoring 7 fundamental movements, and then providing a corrective exercise strategy that targets the biggest dysfunction. The FMS is currently in use by many NFL, NBA and NHL teams because they realize it is great for assessing injury risk. I think it’s relevance is even greater for the general public because we probably spend more time sitting, and we generally don’t have 24/7 access to great doctors, therapists and strength coaches. For more on the FMS, go to www.functionalmovement.com, leave a comment below, or send me an email.