You Should Read This Post If:
- You have back pain.
- Your clients have back pain.
- You enjoy Family Guy references.
- You think that shoveling snow sucks.
Did you know that one out of every ten Americans is experiencing back pain, right now? That’s almost the entire population of Canada.
According to the American Chiropractic Association, back pain is the leading cause of disability world-wide and the second-leading cause of doctor’s office visits every year.
It has become a $50 million per year industry and affects about 80% of the population over the course of their lifetime.
Common injuries to the back area include herniated (“slipped”) discs, vertebral fractures, and forward vertebral slips (spondylolisthesis). But these diagnoses aren’t nearly as common as a complaints of a lower back “going out.” That’s what this post will focus on, muscle-related low back pain.
Here’s the truth: your lower back doesn’t “go out” because it’s weak.
Your lower back keeps “going out” on you because it’s fed up. It’s fed up with you asking it to pick up the slack for the hips and core. And until you kick them into 5th gear, your lower back is going to keep “going out” on you. Over. And over. And over again.
Need some examples? Great, I’ve come to class prepared.
Common Instances of Back Pain
How many times has this happened? You’re just trying to clear out the four foot pile of
snow rock salt that some plow driver just dumped at the end of your driveway when, out of nowhere, good ol’ quadratus lumborum throws up the middle finger.
It’s not the snow’s fault. No, you didn’t twist the wrong way either. And some light stretching might alleviate some short-term aggravation, but it won’t solve the issue.
Your lower back is fed up because you were asking it to pick up the slack for the hips and core.
Not only might your lower back decide to spasm, it might end up strained.
Picking Things Up Off The Ground
It was a few years ago and I had just finished coaching a set of glute bridges with a client. The weight on the bar was 205 lbs and to make clean-up easier, I deadlifted the bar and placed it on the rack next to us.
Then I bent over and picked up a 2.5 lb plate. That’s when it happened. I felt my right QL develop a death grip on my rib cage and hips.
This doesn’t happen because your lower back is weak, it happens because your lower back isn’t supposed to actively pull your body upright as you lift things. That’s the job of your hips.
As a Result of Sitting Too Much
When we sit too much (be it in the car, at work, or at home) we weaken both the deep and superficial core musculature that evolution worked so hard to give to us.
Whether that results in constant lordosis or a flat lower back, muscles like the QL are asked to pick up the slack for the core and hold us upright when we need to stand, walk, or run for long periods of time.
This constant tension creates the perfect environment for both back spasms and strains.
General Low Back Tightness
Sometimes, back pain is a one-time deal. It happens all at once. The muscles spasm for a few days, few weeks, or few months. But in the end, the pain goes away with some rest and ibuprofen.
Other times, back pain is chronic and chronic pain is the result of chronic problems. One-time strains and spasms don’t generally result in chronic low back pain. In fact, the definition of chronic is “persisting for a long-time or constantly recurring.”
In order to solve your chronic back pain, you must find the persistent or constantly recurring stimuli that are causing it in the first place.
The most constantly recurring stimulus in your life? Your standing and sitting postures. The second most? Probably the position your sleep in. The third? Most likely your daily job tasks. When we add all of these things together, we come up with a stimulus that is persistent for somewhere between 16 and 24 hours, every day!
The first step to neutralizing your back pain goes back to our previous section. You need to neutralize your posture. If your lower back is always arched, you need to spend some time un-arching it. That could mean one of two things:
- Strengthening your core and posterior chain (overused fitness expression alert) to bear their load of the whole “standing upright” equation.
- Stop standing around like
an assholeDonald Duck. (He probably has back problems, too).
Moreover, your should be conscientious of the position you sleep in. Sleeping on your stomach could cause severe back arching, as could sleeping on your back. Use various pillow-mattress-bedspread combinations to find a neutral-ish position.
The second step to neutralizing your back pain concerns your movement. Whether it’s on the job or at home shoveling snow, you need to optimize your movement technique in order to avoid back pain.
You need to brace your core and lift with your legs & hips. You can practice the movement with things like basic hip hinges, kettlebell swings, and deadlift & squat variations. (Yes! Deadlifts and squats are great for lower back pain when performed correctly!)
Core strength comes in three planes of motion and your core can be fortified with exercises like deadbugs, planks, side planks, chops, lifts, Pallofs, rollouts, gymnastic holds, and farmer’s carries, just to name a few.
Here are a few other things you should do:
- Self-myofascial release on your hips and upper back. Mobility will help prevent lower back overuse.
- Not sitting so much. Your core will thank you.
- Not staring at your laptop/computer/tablet/iPhone so much. Your neck, back, eyes, and social life will all thank you.
Now here’s a funny video as a reward for making it to the end of this lengthy post.