Improve Chronic Lower Back Pain with Consistent Mobility Work

In the United States, an estimated 80% of the population suffers from chronic lower back pain. As a Fitness Professional, I’d agree that minimally 80% of my clients have suffered from some sort of lower back pain at one point in their lives. It is one of the most debilitating spots in our bodies to have pain and also try to lead an active life. Often times, exercises are deemed undoable because of the stress they cause people’s backs- then long term, back pain will ultimately be the reason they stop going to the gym all together. Fortunately for most, there are several stretches that if done on a consistent basis will improve back pain substantially.

Why as a society do we suffer from bad backs?

My theory is centered around this very simple fact: we’ve never been more collectively inactive as a society than we are right now. This lack of activity results in prolonged periods of sitting- not only at work but also on the commute and our leisure time as well. In addition, most of the time sitting occurs, we instinctively are on some sort of technological device. Whether it’s a phone/tablet or computer, the most comfortable position to assume while sitting is one with your neck down and shoulders rolled forward.

Sitting and/or being on a technological device results in two things that severely impact back pain:

  • Hunched shoulders
  • Tight Hips/Glutes

Individually, hunched shoulders or tight hips could each cause lower back discomfort. However, when these two symptoms are combined, it will almost certainly result in back pain.

How to Fight Lower Back Pain?

A lot of people make the mistake of training the lower back directly (with exercises such as back extensions), thinking “my back hurts because it’s weak.” While that may be partially true, it is almost never the root of the issue, and shouldn’t be where you start.

The main problem is hip/glute and thoracic tightness. Therefore, before anything else is focused on, MOBILIZING is the first key!

5 Minute Quadruped Mobility Flow

Quadruped means “hands and knees position.” When you are in this basic position always be sure your shoulders are directly over top your hands. As well as your hips should be directly over top your knees. Be sure to keep your back flat and most of the time keep your neck relaxed (look towards the ground) unless the exercise calls for different.

When performing this series of stretches, I perform each for 20-30 seconds and transition from one exercise right to the next. This series should take between 3-5 minutes. If you’re using it as a warm up then I’d only do everything once or twice. But if this is serving as an “active rest day” I’d do 3-5 rounds of these stretches- especially if you have tight hips and/or poor posture.

  • Hip Circles
Hip Circles: The key with this exercise is only experiencing movement at the hip. When we have tight hips, the tendency is to compensate by moving the entire back to get a nice hip circle. Instead work within your current range of motion without compromising your back position. For simplicity, just focus to start on shooting your leg back up and around into a nice big circle. Then once you’re comfortable with that movement pattern, you can perform repetitions in the opposite direction as well.
  • Cat/Cows
Cat/Cows- This is a Yoga move that can greatly benefit a stiff back. The goal with a Cat/Cow is controlled spinal movement. When you look down towards the ground you want to arch your back up towards the ceiling, then when you look towards the ceiling you want your spine to move back to a neutral position. Achieving spinal flexibility is important to improving back pain because the spine is hardly ever moved through a range of motion. The stiffer your spine is, combined with a tight thoracic is going to wind up keeping pressure on the lumbar spine.
  • Fire Hydrants
Fire Hydrants- The same concept used with Hip Circles applies to Fire Hydrants. Movement should only occur at the hip, avoiding any sort of back compensation. Work within your range of motion and seek to improve your hip mobility gradually- it’s not going to happen all at once!
  • Hip Rolls
Hip Rolls- Keep both knees on the ground the entire time as you lean from one side to the other. Give each side a solid 2 second hold before you switch. Everyone’s different as well- some can feel a fantastic glute stretch by leaning straight to the side, others have to sink back towards their heels a little to “feel” a glute stretch. Whatever you need to do, find your sweet spot that you feel a great stretch right on the outside of the hips. This is unequivocally one of my favorite stretches.
  • Hockey Stretch
Hockey Stretch- This is basically an active Deep Child’s Pose. The way you assume your positioning is to spread your knees out wider than hip width, then sink your butt all the way back as far as you can with the goal being to get your butt in between your heels. Bring your finger tips out in front as far as possible to lengthen your back out. Perform for about a 3-5 second hold then rock forward as far as you can, and transition right back into your deep hockey stretch. You should feel a great stretch in your groins the entire time.
  • Pigeons w/ T-Spine Ext.
Pigeons w/ T-Spine Ext- Bring your knee into your chest and slide your foot through to the opposite side of your body. Start by holding that low position and really sinking into the glute of the leg that’s pulled to your chest. Then, put your opposite hand to the leg that’s at your chest behind your head and perform T-Spine Extensions. To perform these, hold your glute stretch at the bottom still for two seconds, then open up (think about opening with the shoulder blade more so than just the elbow) and follow your elbows with your eyes. Keep the tempo steady and never wrench your back to gain added mobility.
  • Half Kneeling Adductor Stretch
1/2 Kneeling Adductor Stretch- This is another active stretch where you hold each position for about 2 seconds. The goal is to rock your butt all the way back to your heel, while keeping the opposite leg out straight with your toe almost perfectly straight ahead. After a 2 second hold down, simply rock it off and lose the tension, then go back into another 2 second hold.

Final Thoughts

This mobility flow is something I’ve come up with and is done in the exact order it’s been presented. It’s super easy to transition from one exercise right to the other, and if done on a consistent basis, you will begin to notice improvements in your back discomfort.

While mobility is the first place to start, there is a lot more work to do after you’ve mobilized your hips, glutes and thoracic spine. Next comes learning how to properly activate your muscles then finally strengthen the muscles that keep your lower back healthiest. Improving back pain is like building a house; you need to lay a solid foundation first, and that begins with the mobility flow I’ve laid out.

If you suffer from chronic back pain, I highly encourage you to try this mobility routine minimally 3 days a week for the next month and notice the improvements that will occur!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

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