Nearly 80 percent of Americans will experience low back pain at some point during their lives, according to the American Chiropractic Association. And 55 percent of those who experience low back pain admit to spending the majority of their days sitting.
Most low back pain isn’t caused by an underlying disease or disorder. Instead, it arises because of an overuse of key muscles, or weakness in other muscles caused by their underuse. If you’re training movements such as squats and deadlifts with poor form, or constantly rounding your lower back while sitting and working, you’re setting the stage for lower back pain. Other factors, such as stress and weight maintenance issues, can also exacerbate your problems.
The key to avoiding all these issues: Building a blend of lower back mobility and strength—and yes, you need both.
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The Balance of Strength and Mobility
Strong lower back muscles are key to alleviating back pain, taking pressure off your spine. You also need strong and balanced surrounding core muscles, too—and this is what’s often lost when you spend too much prolonged time sitting. Sit too long and spinal extensors and glutes can weaken; these are two critical muscle groups that provide support for your lower back when standing.
But building core strength isn’t the only key to avoiding and alleviating back pain. You also need mobility. Your lower back muscles are key drivers in a variety of movements, everything from bending at the waist to hinging backwards (as if deadlifting) to rotating your torso. Creating careful, mindful movement in these directions can help relieve lower back pain.
It Starts With Mobility
Mobility, which can be broadly defined as “the ability to move your joints active through their full range of motion, should be the start of any rehab program; it relieves tension and decreases pain. Focus on three areas when you do this: Your thoracic spine, your lumbar spine (or your lower back area itself), and your hips.
The Stretches You Need to Do
Work these stretches into your daily movement rotation. They can help alleviate lower back pain you’re dealing with already, and if you do them regularly, they may also help prevent lower back pain too.
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This one attacks the length of your spine, from upper back to lower back. Start in a child’s, shins on the ground, butt back, and hands out in front of you. Then, keeping your back rounded, shift your torso forward, straightening your legs, and eventually finishing in an upward dog, back arched, hips near the ground. Slowly shift back to the start. Do 30 seconds of reps. Do 3 sets. Focus on creating a “wave” motion, aiming to move one vertebrae at a time.
Lumbar Figure Four Windshield Wiper
Here, you’ll attack your hips and lower back. Start lying on your back in situp position, and place your right foot on your left knee. Keeping your shoulder blades on the ground, hold this position as you rotate your knees toward the ground. Focus on pulling your knees toward the ground to get the full effect of the stretch. Work for 30 seconds; do 3 sets per side.
This stretch also attacks lower back and hips. Lie on your stomach, legs outstretched, trying to keep your chest on the ground. Lift your left leg into the air; reach it to the right, trying to touch your toes to the ground on your right side. Focus on keeping your chest and upper body on the ground as you lift your leg up and over to the other side. If you cannot tap your toe on the other side, don’t worry! Be consistent with the movement and, over time, your range will improve. Work for 45 seconds, alternating reps. Do 3 sets.
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