Medicine today has taken giant strides, particularly in the eradication of illnesses such as; malaria, smallpox, and even the historic eradication of polio in most countries. Despite all these 'achievements,' medicine still hasn't provided a cure for low back pain.
Eighty-five percent of people who have had low back pain have a very high risk of suffering it again. Back pain is one of the most significant causes of disability in humans. It affects both the young, the old, the active, and the inactive population.
Let's take a look at athletics, for instance. Most athletes, at some point in their career, deal with cases of low back pain. The experience is quite frustrating for them, but they can recover and bounce back through physiotherapy.
What is Low Back Pain?
The human back is comprised of very intricately connected bones and a sophisticated weaving of ligaments, tendons, and muscles, and rubbery discs that separate them from the spinal cord, which is actually a continuation of the brain. The spine is joined to an extensive network of nerve endings. Every day, this mechanism experiences pressure and contortion. It is, therefore, not surprising that sometimes, things go awry, and low back pain is the inevitable result.
Low back pain is any abnormal pain located in the lower back of the body (between your lowest rib and glutes), whose origin is associated with the musculoskeletal structures such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments. You could even experience pains in your buttocks, lower spine, and also your legs sometimes.
The Most Common Causes of Low Back Pain
There are tons of reasons why you may be experiencing low back pain sensations, and these reasons are often interwoven; one leads to another. But then, no matter the reasons, low back pain is undoubtedly relievable, and I will show you how.
With that said, let's see some of the most common causes of low back pain:
1- Your Thoracic spine is unable to move freely
Since the thoracic spine includes all vertebrae from your neck down to your abdomen, it's often called the "mid-back.” But then, this article is all about low back pain, so why should I concern you with the thoracic spine? The answer is thus; the mid-back is before the lower back, so any disorder in the thoracic spine affects the lower back, causing low back pains.
Now, most people have a hunched posture while sitting, and if this posture is maintained for too long, it puts a strain on the thoracic spine, which is already rounded, as the thoracic spine has a kyphotic (outward) curve. This strain makes the thoracic spine unable to move freely. Hence it becomes less mobile, and this results in low back pains.
Let me explain further;
The back, which is the broadest support structure of the body, must maintain a correct posture to avoid back pain. When the thoracic spine deviates from its central axis and leans at a certain angle over a long time, pains set in, as reclined positions, with drooping shoulders caused by working for several hours in front of a computer, for instance, injures the back. To make up for this injury, the lumbar spine (lower back) is forced to move, and ideally, the lower back isn't supposed to move as freely as the mid-back. This imbalance causes pains in the lower back.
With all that said, what's the solution to this problem?
Below, are two exercises that are guaranteed to restore the mobility of the thoracic spine?
Thoracic stretching by foam Rolling
- Lie on your right side, and let your thigh form a right angle with your torso by raising it (legs) up.
- With your hands, reach out in front of you.
- With your knees together, and both your arms straight, raise your left arm in an arc above your head, with your torso in contact with or close to the ground, rotate it (your chest) as you move your arm around your body. Continue moving your arm in this arc until your left shoulder blade touches the floor.
- Change the motion, and repeat for about 10-15 times.
When you’re done with that, change your position to your left side and repeat the same steps.
Rotating the Thoracic spine by lying on your sides
- While lying on your right-hand side, raise your thighs, so they form a right angle with your trunk (chest).
- With your hands together, reach out in front of you.
- With your knees locked together and both arms straight, raise your left arm in an arc above your head, keeping it in contact with or close to the ground, allowing your torso to rotate as you move your arm around your body. Continue moving your arm in this arc until your left shoulder blade touches the floor.
- Change the motion and repeat 10-15 times.
- When you're done with that, change your position to your left side and repeat the same steps.
2- Tightened Quadratus Lumborum Muscle
The quadratus lumborum muscle begins at the level of the pelvis and runs to the lowest rib. This muscle lies below the erector spinae muscles. It plays an essential role in stabilizing the pelvis when a person is standing.
The quadratus lumborum muscle also assists in supporting the core of the body when breathing.
To know how these muscles work, I want you to try this;
Get on your feet and lift one foot from the floor without bending your hip or knee. You will notice that can only your foot can only rise a couple of inches upwards. This is so because of the contraction of the quadratus lumborum muscle.
What causes pain in the quadratus lumborum muscle?
There are many possible causes of quadratus lumborum pain, including:
Sitting too long
Sitting for a long time causes the quadratus lumborum muscle to contract or tighten continuously. Constant contraction can lead to muscle fatigue. If the blood flow to the muscle decreases, it can become stiff and painful.
Poor posture, when standing or sitting, can create additional stress on the quadratus lumborum and cause pain.
Squatting, bending over to one side, or sitting without back support can cause muscle pain and contractions.
If the muscles surrounding the lumborum quadratus are weak, the other muscles can work more than necessary.
Over time, the quadratus lumborum muscles become quit overworked and tense.
Uneven leg length
Uneven leg length can put additional pressure on various muscles in the body, including the quadratus lumborum.
The pelvis is usually higher on the longer leg, and this creates an imbalance, which in turn adds pressure to the quadratus lumborum
Tilting the pelvis can also cause the quadratus lumborum to shorten, which can tire the muscle.
Like any muscle, the quadratus lumborum be injured. Muscle trauma from a car accident or sports injury can cause pain in this muscle.
Also, poorly performed everyday activities can lead to injuries. For example, lifting heavy objects awkwardly can tire the quadratus lumborum muscle.
The pain experienced by the quadratus lumborum muscle leads to the tightening of this muscle, which in turn affects the lower back.
So, what are exercises that can be performed to combat this pain?
Stretching the quadratus lumborum muscle
- Sit on the ground with both legs spread wide apart.
- Bend your left knee slightly and hold your left foot.
- Using your right hand, try to bring your head down to your left knee.
- Hold your head there for 30 to 60 seconds, then repeat these steps with your right knee.
- Lie on your right side and place a tennis ball or barbell under the area where the Quadratus lumborum muscle is located.
- Support your body weight with your right elbow.
- Raise your right knee as high as you can without pulling yourself out of position, and then straighten out your right leg, as far as possible.
- Repeat three to four times, then change your position to your left side and repeat the steps above.
3- Weak or Fatigued Glutes
The glutes are probably the most important muscle group to work with, especially if you want to develop them for aesthetic reasons, limit low back pains, increase your sports performance or even remain independent and be able to walk properly at 90.
This muscle group is made up of 3 distinct muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus maximus. They are involved in most body movements such as; standing, sitting, walking, running, and even jumping. Also, the glutes help to stabilize the pelvis and the knees.
However, the many hours we spend sitting over the years can cause gluteal amnesia and muscle wasting. In other words, your glutes no longer function properly. A weakened glute muscle doesn't have enough strength or endurance to perform their work, and this forces the body to move differently while using other muscles to compensate for the weakness of the glute muscles.
This malfunctioning glute causes low back pains.
What causes gluteal weakness?
The buttocks of most people have amnesia, and when they are unable to perform their function correctly. Therefore people use the back muscles or their hamstrings (back of the thighs) to do the work that should be done by the glutes first and assisted by the back muscles. It is, therefore, fundamental to perform activation exercises to wake the gluteal muscles to reprogram their proper use in all movements where they must first do the work.
If this work of rehabilitation and motor activation is not carried out, then your gluteal muscles will develop, but less quickly, less efficiently, but above all, you will develop injuries to the back, hips, and knees. This is because the compensating muscles will always do most of the work, which will exhaust them in time, and put too much stress on the back, hips, and knees.
Aging glutes and muscle wasting
The glutes have a higher muscle loss than other muscles as we get older. In other words, beyond 30 years, whether you are a man or a woman and the more you advance in age, the more your gluteal muscles weaken, especially if you haven't been maintaining a good exercise regimen over the years. Not to worry, the exercises which I will tell you about later, will not only help you maintain muscle mass but also the excellent brain/muscle connection. So that your glutes play their full role in your everyday life and even in your sports movements.
Depending on your type of posture and body morphology, you may contract and feel your glutes less than other people do. This contraction obviously limits the development of the glutes. Nevertheless, with proper exercise, the connection between the brain and muscle is re-learned, and the posture you maintain while working it, (glutes) improves at all ages.
Exercises for gluteal strengthening:
The Frog Bridge
- Start by lying on your back with knees raised. Place your feet a few inches in front of your buttocks and turn them inward so they can touch each other, then extend your arms straight up in front of your face, towards the ceiling.
- Flex your abs slightly until you feel the hollow of your back making contact with the floor
- Lift the hips toward the ceiling, while focusing on contracting your glutes.
- Lower your hips back to the floor slowly and easily.
- Repeat for about 10 to 15 times.
- While lying on your right side, move your knees slightly toward your trunk until they’re at about a 45-degree angle.
- With your feet together, raise your left knee toward the ceiling, while contracting your glutes.
- Repeat this exercise for about 15 times, then switch over to your left side and repeat this exercise.
Haven talked about low back pain, its causes, and remedies. I figure that it would be nice if I also write about the ways you can prevent them from reoccurring.
Ways to prevent low back pain
- Stand straight; when you are standing. Straighten the shoulders and tuck in the belly. When you have to stand for long periods, move frequently, and swing from one foot to the other. If you often stand in the same place, for example, in front of the sink to do the dishes, put one foot on the bar of a stool or on the step of a small step stool to reduce the pressure on your lower back.
- Sit properly; your chair should have a back that supports your back and a firm seat. The armrests also help. Place a pillow in your lower back, if you have to sit for an extended period, get up at intervals to stretch your body.
- Watch how you lift objects; do not bend at the waist. Instead, kneel or squat and use your thigh muscles to lift the object and contract your abdominal muscles. To drop the object elsewhere, do not twist your back, instead turn your whole body.
- Sleep properly; your mattress should be firm; if necessary, put a firming board underneath. Sleep on your side, never on your stomach, legs folded, and put a small cushion between your knees. Or, sleep on your back with a large pillow under your knees.
- Lastly, adopt and maintain a good exercise regimen. You won't go wrong with the ones listed here.
- All of these exercises are relatively easy, and they stress you out. But then, you are sure to improve your gluteal strength and maintain firm buttocks.
Although suffering from low back pain is undoubtedly a painful experience, it isn't a death sentence, you don't have to live your life miserably, and in pains.
These exercises will help ease all of these pains. My advice is that you should practice all I have written about these exercises, as well as the preventive measures.
A quick rundown through the causes of low back pain:
- The inability of the thoracic spine to move properly.
- Tightened quadratus lumborum muscles.
- Weakened or fatigued glutes.
Just a parting shot; don’t just read through this article, ensure you practice all of the exercises, and maintain a good exercise regimen.