Chad Washington - Fit Men
FIVE STEPS TO PREVENT LOWER
It’s 5:00 p.m. and finally time for you to go home! You’ve been crunched in front of a computer all day, and when you finally get up from your desk, a deep wave of pain hits you right in your back! You do your normal twists and turns and still nothing. You, like many others, are now a victim of low back pain.
“Where did this come from?” you ask. Well, here are a few things to consider when assessing your back and also some ways you can alleviate the unwanted pressure you may be putting on your lumbar spine.
Our technology has now positioned us to be less mobile than before. We are able to do most tasks from a computer or desk. This restricts our movements and also starts to pull our bodies out of alignment from being in a fixed position for most of the day. We must remember that the spine has very limited mobility, so the muscles that attach directly to the spine play a big role in back pain.
Also cumulative stress plays a part as well. Stress from unbalanced muscles over time can lead to injury of the lower back. If you address the five issues listed below, you will align your posture better, treat your current pain, and prevent back pain in the future.
1. Tight Hip Flexors—Prolonged sitting leads to hip flexor tightness. When this happens the hips pull the pelvis down, causing an arch in the lower back. This is referred to as an anterior pelvic tilt. This can be painful, as the back is no longer neutral but is out of alignment. Performing exercises at the gym or even going about your daily tasks with your posture this far out of alignment causes stress in the back and will lead to injury. You can prevent this with foam rolling and stretching the hip flexors. It is also important to note that the gluteus maximus is the opposite muscle of most hip flexor muscles, so strengthening the glutes can help bring the hips back into proper alignment.
2. Tight Lat Muscle—The lats are the only upper body muscle that connects directly to the lumbar spine and often get overlooked when addressing lower back pain. Most gym-goers tend to focus on the lats along with other main muscles that are seen anteriorly, but we must realize that this muscle affects structure when it becomes tight. If this muscle is overactive (tight), it can cause pain in your lower back as the tight lats tend to pull on the lumbar region of the spine. Foam rolling and stretching this muscle can help relieve back pain.
3. Tight Piriformis—The piriformis is a small muscle that runs from the front of the sacrum to the femur; its job is to laterally rotate the hip. Once this muscle becomes overactive (tight), it causes a pinch on the sciatic nerve. The sciatic is a separate issue than the lower back, but if this muscle is tight for an extended period of time, the lower back will become affected. Check when driving your car to see if your knee slides to the outside as you become more comfortable. If so and you are experiencing pain in the lower back region, you may have a tight piriformis that needs to be released and stretched. By adding more flexibility in this region, you will be able to get relief from this muscle pain.
4. Weak Core Muscles—The core musculature is responsible for stability of the spine. All force is produced from the core as it is where your center of gravity is located. Most of these muscles are not visible. When thinking of the core, think of the core of an apple. It is inside the apple, at the center. If over time these muscles become weak, they will not support the spine and can cause pain in your back. These muscles often get overlooked or seen as not important. Another mistake is doing the exercises for the core muscles at the end of the workout, as opposed to the beginning. Core exercises should be done at the beginning of the workout as this is the freshest part of the workout, and if the goal is to build a stronger core, you must perform core exercises at the optimal time. One simple exercise you can do to strengthen these muscles is called the draw-in maneuver. Draw your belly button in to your spine. This will activate the muscles of the core (more specifically, the transverse abdominis). Hold this as long as possible, holding a neutral spine, while at your desk, watching TV, or even at the gym performing exercises. Don't forget to breathe while doing this! Time yourself and watch the improvement reduce your back pain over time.
5. Less Active—Today we have become consumed with work or just finding the most convenient and least active way to get a task done. Simply put, we move less. Sitting at a desk for hours tightens the hips, shoulders, trapezius (upper traps) and also compresses the spine. Doing this day after day will limit the mobility in the spine, which will cause you to have back pain. How can you fix this? On your lunch break, take a light walk or perform stretching exercises at your desk to help take some of the pressure off your back. One such exercise is a standing back bend. Stand from your chair, place your hands on your lower back, and bend back, adding range with every rep. This will help mobilize the spine and also set your vertebrae in a better position. Perform a set of twelve reps every hour or three sets on your lunch break before returning to work.
Additional points to consider—Poor nutrition and excess weight gain can also play a role in lower back pain. Adding more weight, especially in the stomach area, can cause the belly to protrude, which in turn adds more pressure to your back. It is important to keep your eating regimen as low in fat as possible and moderate in carbohydrates.
Stress in daily life leads to neck and upper trap tightness. As these muscles become tighter, if left untreated, the tightness can trickle down to the lower part of the spine and cause pain due to a misalignment of the spine.
Although they seem strong, our bodies can be very fragile based on the structure. It is important that we remember to assess tight muscles, strengthen weak muscles, and make ourselves more active in order to keep a strong structure and prevent back pain.
- Chad Washington
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