Lower back-pain can be a pain in the arse (hips, neck, spine, etc). But what happens when your back flares up and feel stiff, sore and immobile? You stretch it, right? Guess what? You probably shouldn’t be stretching your back. Why? Allow me to explain.
Joint by Joint
The joint by joint principle was popularised by Mike Boyle, it’s not an especially evidence-based approach, in that it doesn’t really take much research to confirm that the body acts in this way. I pretty much stumbled across it through trial and error before more research confirmed that I’m not as smart as I thought and hadn’t come up with a brand new concept.
As you can see in the image here, joints alternate between mobile and stable. Now, this is merely a guide, not a rigid rule but, in most cases, the image is correct. As I’m discussing the lower back her, I’ll be focusing on that area but you could apply this same principle to other joints around the body.
Why did I say you shouldn’t be stretching your lower back when it hurts? Because it’s a stable joint. The trouble is, that stable joints like the lumbar have tend to have a vast range of motion available to them. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be moving your back, you should, in fact it’s almost impossible not to. But what should be happening is that the muscles that control the range of motion should be able to decelerate motions to prevent excessive ranges.
Above and below the lumbar are mobile joints, the hips and the Thorac spine. Yes, the Thoracic spine (mid-spine) is not as mobile as the lumbar, it has the same planes of motion but the ranges of motion available are much lower. That said, it ought to be able to achieve movement in those planes and often doesn’t.
The hips however are one of the most mobile joints in the body. But they often become weak through said ranges. Let’s back up a second…
Flexibility or Mobility?
Flexibility is the range of motion available to a muscle, it’s pretty much fixed and a muscle cannot be lengthened, not really. Mobility is the strength available to the those muscles to move a joint through it’s range of motion. This is sometimes referred to as dynamic stability. Therefore, if your hips have become unstable, weak and stiff (stiffness caused by weakness and poor movement mechanics or low levels of movement from sedentary living) the lower back will compensate and achieve the movement the hips are unable to. So when your lower back becomes stiff and sore, it’s likely that mobilising your hips will release a lot of the tension in the back that has built up from over exerting the muscles around the lower spine.
So what can you do about this? You can perform some dynamic mobility work to improve hip mechanics.
The Hip Hinge
First off, make sure you can hinge your hips. To do this, simply push your bum back without flexing your spine. Keep the knees off lock and if Hamstring tightness is a limiting factor (something that could also be improved by strengthening the hips) bend your knees a bit more.
Half Kneeling Hip-Flexor Stretch
A half-kneeling hip flexor stretch will open up the hips by getting some length into the hip flexors. This also mobilises the ankle and “wakes up” the Glutes a bit (muscles don’t litrally fall asleep but let’s stick to the commonly used buzzwords). A common mistake here is to lean back and place the lumber into hyper extension, so don’t do that.
The Hip 90:90 is a challenging exercise for some people, men especially because we are notorious tight arses. But what you are doing here is placing one hip into internal rotation while the other is in external rotation. You may experience some cramps here, that’s normal and it gets better with practice.
The curtsy lunge is a dynamic hip mobility drill that helps develop hip internal rotation and power. Internal rotation is limited in some people and can sometimes be a cause of Piriformis syndrome which causes sciatic symptoms. If you have Piriformis syndrome (that has been diagnosed by a Physio) this could be the pill you’ve been looking for.
Putting it to Practice
These are just a handful of suggestions, you could put these into a little morning routine or as part of your warm-ups for your gym workouts. OR simply do these on days when your back is nagging you. But mobility is a finite mechanism and, like most things, the more you do it the better it gets. Use it or lose it, in other words.
Combine this with the core stiffening exercises in this blog and if you want to know more about the causes of lower back-pain, how to treat it and how to exercise to not only improve your back-pain but also get back to your athletic best then you need the Back-Pain Solution.
That’s all for today folks, have a good ‘un and don’t forget to share this with your friends.