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  • Mitchell Rothbardt

The Real Causes of Low Back Pain

I got an email from Esther last week. She wrote about having low back pain and wanted to know some exercises to strengthen her mid-section and back. This is a pretty common question, so let's talk about it.

One thing, though. In order to really understand how to help low back pain, you have to understand what the true purpose of your low back is, and to do that you'll have to follow me along the yellow brick road for a minute.

Yellow brick road
Follow it and the wizard will help with your back pain!

The first and most important thing to understand is that your low back is meant for stability. That means it's supposed to lock itself down so the rest of your body can move. That doesn't mean it shouldn't move at all, just that it's not supposed to move very much.

Take a look at this and see if you notice something a bit unusual.

Your core muscles

Notice how your core muscles cover both sides of your body?

Notice how the back side of your body includes your low back?

So does that mean that your low back is also kind of your core?

Yes logo

I may have gotten there in a roundabout way, but this is important.

The core and low back work together.

What that means is this:

If your low back moves too much, pain is likely the result.

Now that you have that info you may be asking yourself a question:

"If my low back and core shouldn't do I...ya know...reach for things...bend down for my puppy kisses...rock out to Rush...stuff like that?"

Homer Simpson contemplating low back pain

And the answer lies in your hips.

Your hips should be your body's primary movement catalyst. They move so your low back doesn't have to. That equals clean and free movement that doesn't cause pain. Asking your low back to move instead of your hips is like your kids making you pancakes for breakfast. Your kitchen winds up covered with syrup, butter, and flour, and they don't even taste all that great. (Your kids are your low back in this admittedly terrible analogy.)

Take a look at this picture:

Bad hip movement equals low back pain

Notice how his back is rounded in the example to the left? That's what it looks like to move your low back instead of your hips. Move like this over a long period of time and your back blows up after bending over to pick a pen.

Pen on the floor
Go ahead. Pick it up. Do you feel lucky?

Now that you have that knowledge let's get back to Esther's original question. What are some things to do to strengthen your mid-section and back?

(I know it took a while to get here, but there was a huge backup over on the 580 so Wayze told us to go this way.)

The first thing we're going to do is work on your hip movement. We don't want a messy kitchen, right?

We do that by working on the single most important movement you can learn to do. That is not a joke.

It's called the hip hinge and it's how we learn to move our hips while keeping our back straight.

Here's how it works:

  1. Grab a broomstick that's long enough to reach from your butt to the back of your head.

  2. Hold it behind your back touching your butt, upper back, and back of your head.

  3. Keeping your knees soft, push your hips back maintaining all three points of contact.

  4. Straighten back up.

The hip hinge
The Hip Hinge

Do a few sets of 10 until you get the feel for it.

You should NOT feel this in your low back.

Next, let's talk hip flexors.

Take a look at this:

Hip flexors
Hip flexors

The ones in green are a group of muscles called "Hip Flexors."

You can see how they run from above your hip to below your hip. They’re responsible for pulling your hips back. That means that when you sit, you’re tightening them up. Too much sitting and they stay tightened up, which pulls your hips into a position called Anterior Pelvic Tilt.

Anterior Pelvic Tilt

That position can lead to back pain and is a prime example of how back pain doesn’t always have to do with your back.

The causes of back pain are a big misconception. Most chronic back pain has to do with your posture and how your hips move, not your back. That's why the hip hinge is so important.

So, to help with your hip flexors here are a couple of things you can do.

The first one is the Lunge Stretch.

Lunge Stretch

Here’s how it works:

1. Kneel with one knee on the ground and your other leg directly in front of you with your foot flat on the ground.

2. Bend your front leg’s knee to about 90 degrees and bring your ankle directly under it. Point your front foot straight ahead.

3. Hold for 60 seconds each side.

The second one you can read more about here.

It's simply the single best thing I've ever found to relax your hip flexors, and in turn, your low back.

The body simply functions better in good posture. You have better circulation. You have more energy. You have less stress. You have less pain. You have better strength and mobility. All of that with good posture.

I hope this helps answer some questions about low back pain. The causes are just different then what you may think.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Castro Valley Fitness

2861 Grove Way in Castro Valley


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