I have made a few posts this week over on my Facebook page about lower backs and how to help them yourself with lower back discomfort. Whilst sports massage isn’t an option during lockdown and as such I’ve had a lot of people ask me about how to help their lower back.
While it used to be known as lumbago, lower back discomfort can cause all sorts of issues within those who are suffering with it, and contrary to popular belief, it’s not always a disc herniation that’s responsible nor is your back ‘weak’ or ‘delicate’, two such terms bandied about in forums I’ve seen this week when someone simply asked for help on how to solve their back issues. The other advice offered was to ‘stop exercising immediately’ and while that is necessary in some situations, for most it is absolutely the worst advice ever. Same goes for laying still on the floor.
Argh! Please do not turn to forums for advice from those who have experienced similar to you and ‘You Must Do This One Thing to Never Experience A Bad Back Ever AGAIN Just WOW’…. Yeah, you’ve seen them. They’re usually the beginning of a tricky sales funnel to try and get you to buy into a program or a gadget or some other nonsense. Or the poster genuinely has experienced it and really wants to help… but they’re not a professional nor are they you, so take what you read with a pinch of salt and research anything that sounds like it may help, or turn to someone who has helped many people resolve many different causes of lower back issues.
Your Lower Back
First, your whole back is incredibly strong, flexible, complicated and a beautiful piece of anatomy.
Second, It takes a lot to do it genuine damage, even if you regularly ‘put it out’ and have had periods of time spent being careful with it.
Third, there are 33 bones in your spine with 140 overlapping and interconnected muscles enabling it to function correctly.
Wow. 140. You probably weren’t expecting to learn that, and now it puts into perspective that there could be more than meets the eye to your back issues.
Last, you CAN heal your back.
Yes, really, even with a herniated disc or after surgical interventions, it is indeed possible to return to freedom with your back.
So, what does cause your lower back to misbehave?
MUSCLES. LIGAMENTS. TENDONS… and the imbalances they have as well as tightness or weakness.
Sometimes it is a little more complicated than that, and a face to face consultation would be more beneficial for you.
Most Common Cause Of Lower Back Discomfort
The most common cause of back issues would be your glutes. Those big fleshy muscles making up your bottom cheeks, are the most frequent issue in my treatment room and I will explain why.
Your Gluteus Maximus muscle is attached to your pelvis as well as your IT band, and controls movements of your leg and standing upright, to put it simply, and they can be incredibly lazy. I like to joke that that is where the phrase ‘lazy arse’ originates! When your glutes are being lazy, your body quickly recruits other nearby muscles to help achieve the movement you need, the most common of these being the Quadratus Lumborum (QL) muscles. These relatively small muscles sit either side of your spine to help support it, and because of their positioning in your lower back, they can take over from your glutes.
Because the QL is not meant to perform any other action than what it was designed for, it tires out quickly when being recruited to work instead of the glutes and then is aches. If the ache is ignored, it escalates the warning signs to you and makes it hurt a lot more.
Massage can help relieve this as well as regular stretching, visit my Facebook page for images of stretches, as well as strengthening your muscles once you are able to move with ease again.
Other Causes Of Lower Back Discomfort
Tightness and weakness in muscles that work in opposition to each other can cause a lot of issues with your lower back too.
I had a client with incredibly strong Quad muscles, the front of the thigh, and weaker abdominal and hamstring muscles. This had the effect of pulling on the bottom of his pelvis by the quads, the hamstrings and abdominals allowing the pelvis to drop slightly, causing a feeling of compression in his lower back which he was struggling to alleviate. Several weeks later after a few massage sessions to relax his quads and activate his hamstrings, with his own work on his abdominals, eased the pressure and discomfort in his lower back.
Another client, upon assessment of his posture, presented with very wide turn out of his feet, indicating tightness within the piriformis muscle. This little muscle is attached to both the lower spin and the leg, causing the legs to turn out and pulling on the spine and causing discomfort there. A few sessions of massage later, working on releasing the piriformis and activating his adductor muscles proved to solve the issue.
I have seen several clients who all have the same thing in common, and all who suffer greatly with their backs as a result, and that is a lack of movement. They have sedentary jobs and sedentary lifestyles outside of those jobs, nearly all have poor muscle tone as well as extra weight being carried. If you’re one of these people, the first thing you need to do is MOVE.
Movement is healthy, movement is necessary, movement is medicine.
If movement is difficult or uncomfortable for you, it is only a temporary state. Your body loves to move and it will overcome aches from moving or exercising very quickly and you will feel better for it.
Help! I’ve Put My Back Out
You pick something up and whether you had a back niggle before or not, suddenly you’re frozen in position and in extreme discomfort, you’ve put your back out.
The absolute best thing you can do right now is to MOVE. Carefully, gently, but yes, move and keep moving. The last thing you want is your muscles freezing into a tightened or distressed state.
Lower Back Discomfort
Last year I put my back out during a weighted squat, I felt my form broke and knew with certainty that I was about to experience something with my back. I racked the barbell and could barely stand up straight, I was hurting like hell. I knew how to help myself and put my own advice into action and shuffled about and kept shuffling even though I just wanted to lay down or stand still. I put an ice pack on the area for some immediate relief* and I kept on shuffling. I took some painkillers** and kept on shuffling. As soon as I was more mobile, about three hours later, I applied a heat pack*** to my back and I did some very gentle stretches and self-assessed to ascertain what was causing this. A few moments later, I determined it was my quads that had gone into spasm and so I focused on releasing them gradually.
About seven hours after the event, I was moving normally again as my quads had finally released with the stretching and rolling work I did. Two days later after careful continual movement along with rest at night and stretching when appropriate, I was moving completely normally with no residual effects of the incident to be felt.
*applied over clothing for a maximum of twenty minutes
**not to be constituted as advice but as an anecdote of what happened
***can induce further discomfort as the muscles get new blood to the area
How Sports Massage Can Help
Whatever the cause to your lower back issues, if you don’t know what it is or don’t know how to help it, then getting an appointment with a professional will be able to lead you in the right direction.
Sports Massage is a particularly good choice because there is quick availability and I can assess you to help understand what is happening as well as apply hands on work to help gain you some immediate relief.
Ongoing Back Care
You know what I am going to say already, if you’re honest with yourself, that the best ongoing back care you can do for yourself is movement and exercise. Specifically strengthening exercise combined with mobility. Yoga, as the above picture suggests, is an excellent choice to over both bases, or pure strength training in the gym or at home with mobility stretches afterwards to keep you flexible.
If you need specific advice for your back, please do get in touch via an online consultation or ask to be on my waiting list for when I am reopened to take in person appointments.
See you on the other side, Chloe.