What Contributes to Your Back Pain?
Continuing on our trigger point journey, we come to the low back. It’s amazing how many clients come in with low back pain, and some of them don’t even mention it cause it’s been so chronic and their “new” neck pain is bothering them more.
Since low back pain is so prevalent and can be caused by many different imbalances, I decided to split the article in two. This first article will focus on a few reasons we get low back pain and how to treat them. The second will cover TrPs referring pain to the back (these points are primarily found along the spine, in the glutes, and also in your psoas muscles).
Let me first say that not all back pain is caused by soft tissue imbalance. It’s possible to have a visceral issue (organs can refer pain to your back) and of course there is always a possibility of a disc herniation or bulge.
When a protruded disc contributes to your low back pain, you most likely have a postural imbalance where your low back is actually overstretched and flattened, allowing the disc to protrude from the vertebrae. This is issue can be quite complicated, but your best place to start would be to stretch and massage your hamstrings. One of the last things you’d want to do is stretch your back. When you’re out of acute pain, you want to strengthen your back!
Stretch Your Front Body!
Just because you have pain in your back, does not mean you should spend all your time treating just your back, or hips for that matter. One of the reasons yoga helps relieve back pain is because it stretches the front of your body and strengthens some important deep muscles.
There are few times (if at all) during our day when we try to lengthen the front of our body. Many of us (even those without low back pain) walk around with a shortened front fascial line (running from your front neck to your feet). Usually there are a few key areas that are short, and each person has their own lovely pattern of shortened and lengthened muscle and fascia.
When you start to lengthen your front line, you relieve some back pain because your back finally isn’t working as hard in opposition to a shortened front body. This shortening can be anywhere along the front- sometimes it’s in the front thighs or hip flexors- your psoas attaches to your spine, so it’s no wonder it can cause back pain when short or weakened. And sometimes the shortened area is along your abs or sternum.
There are many ways to stretch your front, but an easy one is to just do upward dog– start laying down and then press your hands into the floor to lift your head and upper body up into a curve. If you are knowledgable at stretching (and really honing in on) your psoas, then go to town!
The other area often ignored for low back pain is the back of your thighs- your hamstrings. These lovely muscles can cause much discomfort in the low back when they are short. They’ll pull down at the bottom of the pelvis, where they attach, causing your back to flatten out.
When you have a flattened low back, the muscles in that area are lengthened (even though they feel “tight”). When muscles are in their lengthened state, they are weaker and more prone to injury. This is one of the reasons people say “stick your butt out” when lifting. Sticking your butt out engages your back muscles a little, shortening them, so they are much less likely to strain and tear.
One problem with “sticking your butt out” is if you already have really short hamstrings, it’s difficult to stick your butt out! The way to get out of this cycle, is to work on lengthening your hamstrings, not your back!! So, stop stretching your back (like in the picture to the right), and hone in on your hamstrings.
Stretch Your Hamstrings Not Your Back
Ok, so mobilizing your back is great, but if you have back pain, stretching your back will most likely cause more issues. So when you get down to stretch your hamstrings, focus on keeping your spine neutral, no collapsing in the front abs.
Here’s a video on how to stretch your hamstrings and also get some myofascial release of the hams with a lacrosse ball (a tennis or racquet ball could be used as well).
Don’t Stop Moving and Exercising
Unless you are in some acute pain or your gait is changed cause you are in too much pain, you should make sure you get some exercise in. Keeping your muscles resilient, healthy and supple are your best bets to staying out of pain.
Exercise and soft tissue manipulation (aka massage) are the best places to start. A specialized trigger point therapy session can help you get out of pain and also allow your muscles to engage. Trigger points weaken muscles over time, so it’s easy to develop unwanted patterns if you don’t take care of your body.
Stay tuned for the next article about the specific points that refer pain to your low back.
photo by sophiadphotography