Updated: May 13
80% of people in this country alone will experience debilitating back pain at some point in their lifetime. Back problems send more people to the doctor annually than nearly any other medical problem. It's no wonder people are searching for a back pain solution. Traditional medical approaches often focus on addressing the symptoms rather than the underlying cause and offer no real resolution.
Recent evidence has shown that the most effective form of treatment for both acute (short-term) and chronic back pain are natural approaches such as chiropractic manipulation, soft tissue techniques (myofascial release, graston technique, or cupping), and strengthening exercises to develop a stronger core.
COMMON CAUSES OF BACK PAIN
1. A Weak Core
When we think about our core, we almost always think about our abdominal muscles. The abs are important stabilizers, but of greater importance is the core in the back of the body. We have sets of core muscles in the front of our body (anterior chain) AND in the back of the body (posterior chain). Almost every activity we perform throughout the day is forward facing and uses our anterior core muscles. For example: sitting at workstations, cooking, sitting with a laptop on the couch, checking our phones, reading in bed. Even many forms of exercise put our bodies in constant forward flexion such as running or cycling.
Our posterior chain isn't activated nearly as often and this creates imbalances in the core and improper movement patterns. When your posterior chain is weak (lower back, gluteal muscles, and hamstring muscles), too much stress is placed on your weaker, vulnerable spine instead of the strong, capable core muscles. This can create many pain syndromes such as low back pain, sciatica, disc herniations, degenerative joint disease, knee pain, hip issues, and neck and shoulder problems.
You will not correct a back problem without strengthening and balancing your core. When your core is strong, your posture is upright and effortless, you move properly, and you feel strong and flexible.
2. Prolonged Sitting
Research has linked prolonged sitting with a number of health concerns including obesity, high blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, abnormal cholesterol, and heart disease.
There is no doubt that sitting too much is harmful for our health, AND it wreaks havoc on our musculo-skeletal system (our muscles and joints).
Sitting puts more stress on the joints of the spine, discs, and muscles than any other position. We weren't meant to sit as much as we do. Prolonged sitting leads to short and tight hip flexors and hamstrings, and weak lower back and gluteal muscles.
Its also difficult to maintain proper posture while we are sitting and most of us spend more time "slumping" and leaning forward than we do sitting upright. Try improving your sitting posture by placing your lower back firmly against the back of the chair and using a lumbar support. Hold your head upright and take frequent breaks. I recommend standing every 20-30 minutes and stretching or walking in place.
Adjustable workstations that allow you to alter your position from sitting to standing are becoming more popular and for good reason. I recommend standing for 1 hour to 90 minutes, then sitting for 1 hour to 90 minutes. Constantly changing positions and avoiding prolonged stillness seems to be the best remedy to counteract the negative effects of sitting.
3. Improper Bending and Lifting
There is a fundamental flaw in human movement and it is the inability to hinge at the hips. We've always heard that as we bend down to pick something up, we should bend our knees, shift our butt back, and use our strong gluteal and leg muscles to support us. Forward bending should come from movement of the hips NOT from the spine. As you bend forward, shift your hips back (hinge) and maintain the "S" shape of the spine. Bending from the waist distorts the natural curves of the spine. Hinging at the hips removes the pressure from the discs and vulnerable spine and places it on the strong, capable core muscles.
4. Hip Flexor Tightness
Tight hip flexors are often the hidden culprit in low back pain. They can be the root cause of joint pain, discomfort while walking, hips locking up, unnatural pelvic alignment, and poor posture. They are the muscles that attach the upper body to the lower body and sit within the abdominal wall. They attach to the lower vertebrae in the front of the body, move through the pelvic area, and extend to the upper thigh area.
Prolonged sitting is the most common cause of tight hip flexors. They remain shortened for too long and loose normal flexibility. Sleeping on your side with your knees pulled up can also create short hip flexors. See below for ways to lengthen and unlock your hip flexors.
3 BEST EXERCISES FOR BACK PAIN
The core strengthening protocol that I use in my office with my patients is Foundation Training. Foundation Training is a series of exercises designed to change destructive movement patterns and build a powerful posterior chain which begins with a strong low back.
You must redefine the core and shift the emphasis from the abs to the much larger muscles in the back of the body. I have seen significant changes in many of my patients with chronic back pain with just a few exercises in only 2 weeks of strengthening the posterior chain.
#1 - The Founder
Keep your head up, looking straight ahead
Extend your lower spine by lifting your chest and pushing your buttocks backwards
Keep your weight on your heels
Stick your buttocks back (hinge at your hips) as far as possible
When you lift your arms, keep them close to your ears
Hold for 15-30 seconds
#2 - Back Extension
Feet stay on the ground
Arms and elbows are pulled tight against the body
Elbows are pulled back toward the buttocks
Spine is in alignment
Shoulders are down
Repeat 15 times
#3 - Lunge Stretch - Hip Flexor Stretch
Back is extended
Arms are straight up
Shoulders are down
Front knee is pressed back behind the ankle
Hips remain squared, even with the bend
Hold for 20 seconds per side
I recommend that you perform all three of these exercises two to three times DAILY!! You are on your way to building a strong, powerful core.
If you have back pain that is unrelenting or unchanged by these exercises and suggestions, please seek the advice of a chiropractic physician or your medical doctor to reach an accurate diagnosis.
Are you looking for other ways to relieve back pain and muscular aches?