Who here has experienced lower back pain? One, two, thr... Ok everyone!
We hear about lower back tightness and pain all day long, so we’re here to break down why you’re back is aching and how to get some relief.
For most of us, lower back pain stems from too much sitting and/or not enough moving in the correct way. This leads to two things that can cause back pain:
1) A tight psoas
AND / OR
2) Abdominals that aren’t quite strong enough
Let’s look at the psoas first. Your psoai (plural of psoas and your word of the day) are your main hip flexors. They connect to the sides of your spine, thread through your pelvis, and attach to the insides of your legs. When you sit, even if your posture is perfect, there’s a 90ish degree angle in your hips. This brings the points of connection for your psoai closer together, which means they shorten.
Because our bodies are so intelligent and efficient, when we’re not using something, our bodies won’t bother to maintain it. (That’s why your quads shrink when you stop cycling and you lose your fluency in Spanish when you stop taking classes.)
If you’re sitting a lot (i.e. shortening your psoas) and not moving much (not stretching your psoas), your body won’t bother to maintain the length of that muscle. This means that, even when you’re standing up, your tight psoas will try and pull its connection points—your lumbar spine and your inner thigh—closer together. That causes your back muscles to have to contract and overwork, causing you pain.
As for your abs, they’re actually made up of four layers of muscle. The top layer is what makes up your “6-pack.” The deepest layer won’t show no matter how many teasers you do, but it’s actually the most instrumental in supporting your spine. This layer is your transverse abdominis.
Our muscles work in opposing pairs, kind of like a ladder: each side needs to be stable to support the other. If one side of a ladder collapses, the other is going down with it. So if your deep abdominal muscles are weak, the other side, your lower back, will have to compensate to keep you upright. Eventually, they’ll overwork and cause you pain.
The good news? Our bodies get really good at what they do most often—which means you get to pick what your body is great at!
To break the cycle of back pain, remind your body to maintain psoas length and abdominal strength by stretching your psoas and working your abs. Plug in headphones for phone calls and do a lunge stretch while you talk. Switch between standing and sitting while working. Break up your day with some planks at lunchtime. While you’re waiting in line for coffee, practice balancing on one foot.
If you do anything regularly enough, your body will be transformed. And you get to decide what it transforms into.
How cool is that?!
Author: Ali Weeks