If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you’ve had low back pain (LBP) at some point in your life. Maybe you just have some aches periodically. Or, maybe, like some of our Members, you’ve had surgery to repair discs or block nerves.
Wherever you are on this LBP continuum, there is one thing that is for sure: having back pain sucks. But, sadly, the prevalence of LBP has risen over the years. So much so that LBP is ranked as the 3rd highest reason why we visit the doctor.
Yet, with all of the information we have available to us and with such a focus on improving our fitness, you would think that issues such as LBP would be decreasing within our society. So, why are we having such a hard time figuring out what we need to do to get our LBP under control? Is it really that hard? Or are we just looking in the wrong places?
The Problem Starts at the Very Beginning
Approximately 50% of Americans will have LBP at some point over the next 12 months. And of that 50 %, 85% will be diagnosed as having Non-specific LBP. Basically, this means that there is no direct, associated cause for the pain.
For instance, someone who has a specific LBP disorder might have kidney stones causing the pain. Or, they could possibly have a fractured vertebra. These are direct, obvious reasons as to why someone has LBP.
For that unlucky 85 % who show no specific cause of the pain, you’re given a handful of pills and told to “get fit” or “stretch more” or “lose weight”.
And none of these suggestions are wrong, necessarily. Being out of shape has proven to be an indirect cause of LBP. So, has having tight muscles, and being overweight.
The problem isn’t that these are bad suggestions. The problem is that there’s no specific guidance on how to accomplish these suggestions overall.
You’re on Your Own, Kid
Instead, you have to venture out of your own to figure out what you need to do to rid yourself of this LBP. Which will eventually bring you upon 2 basic ideas for making yourself better: stretching and strengthening your core.
This results in you constantly bending over to stretch your hamstrings and low back and doing countless reps of crunches and sit-ups to try and strengthen your core muscles. Neither of these ever resulting in long-term relief from the LBP itself.
Where to Go From Here
The truth is, it’s not your fault that you can’t figure out what to do in order to help your LBP. You’re told to stretch, so you do, but it doesn’t help. You’re told to strengthen your core, so you do, but it doesn’t help.
It’s not that what you’re doing isn’t helping at all. It’s that you’re not focusing on the full picture. Or, said differently, your focusing on the individual trees and not the forest as a whole.
Stretching is great for improving LBP. But stretching by itself is unlikely to resolve most LBP issues for the long-term. Same goes with strong core muscles. If that’s all you focus on, it’s unlikely that you’ll be successful in building a resilient body that will be strong and enduring until the end.
The New Program for LBP Relief
What you need to start to focus on, then, is improving the body as a whole. More specifically, there are 3 areas that you should strive to improve on a regular basis.
#1) Stretching the Proper Areas
Yes, stretching is important for resolving LBP. However, many people focus on stretching the wrong areas and not stretching the right areas for long-term relief.
For instance, from my experience, I see a lot of people who like to bend over and stretch their hamstrings and low back area when they’re having pain. Yes, this relieves the pain you have on your back….momentarily.
Low back tightness generally doesn’t come from the low back area itself. It also generally doesn’t come from the hamstrings. The reason you get temporary relief when you stretch these areas is that you’re releasing the pressure from that area only for that time you’re stretching and for a short time after the stretch.
Instead, it’s important to focus on the muscles around the low back that causing the low back to stiffen up and feel tight. More specifically, these muscles tend to be the hip flexor/quad muscles on the front of the leg, and adductor muscles on the inside of the leg.
Here are a couple of great stretches to help you in these areas:
For many people, it doesn’t make sense why walking would help relieve LBP. But it’s proven to be an essential part of an LBP relief program.
The reason that walking works so well is 2 fold:
First, walking increases blood flow. When blood flow is increased, you have more nutrients available to heal the muscles in the low back, therefore giving them a better chance loosening up over time.
Second, walking also increases endorphins. These are chemicals released by the brain that will lower your perception of pain as you walk.
A simple strategy to use here is what I like to call Intermittent Stretching. Set a timer to go off every 30 minutes. When the buzzer sounds, make yourself get up and walk around for 3-5 minutes. As a matter of fact, my alarm just went off…
#3) Proper Strength & Stability Training
Notice I said “proper” training. Jumping into any training program without having a good rhyme or reason for doing it can often do more harm than good (if you missed it, check out THIS ARTICLE that mentions why you need to get help).
With a proper training program, you won’t just work on getting a stronger core. Yes, this is important for lower back stability. However, there are many more muscles that help stabilize the core than just the ab muscles.
Which is why a proper strength and stability training program should focus on 2 things:
First, the program should always emphasize proper form over everything else. This means doing good technique with a full range of motion. Exercises performed with a full range of motion can serve as better mobility work than stretching can at times.
Second, the program should focus on strengthening the full body. Not just the core. Not just the legs. Not just the arms. Like I mentioned before, it takes much more than just the ab muscles to help stabilize your back.
For instance, two muscle groups that are equally as important for low back stability are the lat muscles and glute muscles.
The lat muscles are the muscles that run down the side of your back. If you’ve ever done a pulldown or a chin up, that is working your lat muscles.
Your glutes, on the other hand, are…well…on your butt. I like to call you glutes the fountain of youth. This is because strong, flexible glutes can help prevent you from falling far into your later years.
For most people, it makes sense to find someone to put a program like this together for you. Or, better yet, just hire someone like a Coach so they can make sure you’re performing the exercises correctly at all times.
As you’re thinking of what you need to start doing to relieve yourself of that debilitating back pain, take these ideas into account. If you start incorporating proper stretches, going for regular walks, and find someone to build you a training program that fits these criteria, you’ll be well on your way to better health, better fitness, and overall better life.
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