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Aug 31, 2016

Stretch Away Your Lower Back Pain

Sitting all day killing your low back? Low back pain is the leading cause for disability and missed work and the second leading cause of doctor’s visits in America. Approximately 80 percent of American adults will suffer from lower back pain at least once in their lifetime. In fact, statistics show that direct healthcare costs related to back problems can exceed a cost of $50 billion annually. Alarmingly though, due to various factors including the typical white collar job demands, many adults will let signs and symptoms of lower back pain slide until it is too late to prevent or treat.

Photo: NPR

In order to prevent and treat low back pain you first must understand what increases your risk.

  • Sedentary Lifestyle: Lack of movement and exercise can decrease muscle flexibility and strength that can actually prevent and treat low back pain.
  • Age: As you age, your likelihood of spinal degeneration and osteo-related health problems increase, thus changing your ability to maintain strong back muscles necessary to support the spine.
  • Weight: Excessive body weight can place additional burdens on the body’s joints and spine which can lead to inflammation and pain in the lower lumbar.
  • Posture: Paying close attention to your spine’s natural curvature while sitting or standing is critical to decreasing pressure felt within the spinal disc which can increase back pain.
  • Smoking: Smoking decreases oxygen in the body which plays a significant role in the repair and maintenance of healthy spinal discs and muscles in the lower back.
  • Pregnancy: The added weight changes the center of gravity thus leading to discomfort in the lower back.
  • Medical/Family History: A Family history of lower back pain from various factors like disc degeneration, osteoporosis, discogenic disease etc. can increase likelihood of your suffering.
  • Occupational or Activity Hazards: Excessive and repetitive bending, standing, lifting, twisting and/or sitting may put stress on the muscles and joints causing low back pain from overuse.

Due to its anatomy, your lower back does not independently function from the rest of your core. Instead, a strong core can help support the low back in addition to maintaining mobility and flexibility in other connecting muscle tissues like the legs, buttocks/glutes, and hips.

Photo: Julie Lohre

Try these exercises, stretches, and other techniques to release the tension in your lower back muscles and prevent further job related aches and pains!

  • Lower Back Stretch: This stretch is a no brainer. Lay on your back with your buttocks as close to a wall as possible. Extend your legs straight up to rest on the wall. Scoot as close as you can to the wall, sink your low back into the floor, and hold for 15-20 seconds with steady breathing.
  • Hip Flexor Stretch: Connecting the pelvis and abdomen, the hip flexor muscles can easily tense up while sitting for extended periods of time. Resting in a low lunge position with your right knee on the ground and your left foot planted firmly on the ground in front of you. Push your hips forward. Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds as you breathe. Switch sides.
  • Quadricep Stretch: Tight muscles on the front of the legs can affect the tilt of the pelvic thus affect the lower back. Standing with one hand rested on a solid object like a chair or wall, bend your left leg back with your foot moving toward your buttocks. Keeping your body upright, grab a hold of your left foot. Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds. Switch to the other leg.
  • Hamstring stretch: Although most people do a standing hamstring stretch, it can place more pressure on the lower back. Instead try it lying flat on your back with one leg lying straight out on the ground and the other extended straight in line with the hip. Keeping the extended leg straight, reach and hold your ankle with both hands. Hold the stretch for a count of 15-20 seconds as you inhale and exhale. If you cannot keep the extended leg straight while in the stretch, do not go as far as your ankle, instead grab your calf or even cup the back of the knee. Don’t forget the other leg!
  • Gluteal Stretch: The muscles of the buttocks are interconnected with the muscles of the lower back. Lay with your back on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cup one knee and bring toward your chest as you remain lying flat on the ground. Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds. Switch sides.
  • Piriformis Stretch: Located deep within the muscles of the glutes, this muscle in particular can cause sciatic pain in the back. Lay flat on your back on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your left ankle on your right knee. Grab your right thigh and pull toward your chest. Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Other techniques that have been found to also prevent and relieve low back issues is foam rolling the low back, hamstrings and quadriceps in addition to deep diaphragmatic breathing and planking to strengthen the core, legs and glutes.

I encourage you to print this quick cheat sheet of ideas and place it in your office as a reminder of your well-being and back health!


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