Low back pain is a body signal with a huge range of potential underlying causes. It could be as simple as a sedentary lifestyle and postural causes like sitting at a computer all day, slouching on the couch or in the car. Or it could be something more serious like disc bulges, facet joint injuries, arthritis, spondylitis, tightened muscles, strains, sprains and abnormal spinal curvatures such as scoliosis to name a few.
So before we dive into this article, we’ll start off with the usual ‘go see a professional’ message. No matter how long you’ve been struggling to stand up straight, get out of bed/the chair or just generally move around, the first step is going to a professional to establish what the cause is of your back pain.
One common misconception is that back pain and stiffness is just ‘part of getting older’. More accurately, repeated movement patterns over time cause pain & stiffness, not ageing itself. Change those movement patterns, and you’ll be able to address the cause of your pain at any age!
With so many underlying causes, this article is focussed around muscle tightness and sprains in the lumbar and pelvic region and how this affects the lower back. Subscribe to our email list to ensure you don’t miss future posts!
The anatomy of lower back pain caused by muscle tightness & sprains…
The major muscle groups supporting the lumbar spine are:
- The extensors – the erector spinae muscle group and the gluteal muscles.
- The flexors – the abdominal muscles and the Iliopsoas muscles (hip flexors).
- The rotators – the obliques, multifidi, rotatores.
Muscles generally connect to the bones of the body via tendons. Think of muscles as being like an elastic band. When a muscle is healthy and neither too tight or too loose it should be able to stretch and contract when needed like an elastic band. When a muscle is under stress either from being too tight, too stretched or due to trauma such as scar tissue it cannot easily stretch and contract and is unable to function properly. Because these muscles are unable to perform their usual functions we can feel stiff and sore. A muscle under strain often has trigger points which are highly irritable areas in tight bands of muscles. Trigger points cause pain to be referred either into the area surrounding the muscle the trigger point is in or to an area distant to the muscle.
Having chronically tight muscles has an effect on our posture. A chronically tight Iliopsoas (hip flexor) muscle leads to the pelvis being pulled into a forward tilt causing the natural curve of the lower back to be exaggerated which can cause pain in the lower back. Sitting for long periods of time such as in office work is a leading cause of tight hip flexor muscles. Weakness in the Abdominal muscles can place the Quadratus Lumborum muscle in the lower back under stress due to this muscle being one of the stabilising muscles of the lower back. This can cause pain on one or both sides of the lower back and a feeling of stiffness.
Phew, forgive us for geeking out over human anatomy in the last two paragraphs – if you skimmed over it we understand! The nuts and bolts of it is, that when muscles are tight, overstretched or otherwise injured, they don’t work as they should. This can put pressure on other muscles, reducing your normal range of movement and just hurt!
What can you do to help decrease or prevent lower back pain? Like we mentioned earlier, its repeated movement patterns over time that can create pain. So, to resolve the pain you’ve got to put your Sherlock Holmes hat on and identify what patterns are causing your pain. Here’s a list of some of the most common movement patterns that cause lower back pain, and easy ways to change it up.
- Sitting at a computer or for long periods.
- Try setting alarms on your phone to get up and stretch for 5 minutes out of every hour (minimum).
- Take phone meetings while standing/on the move
- Review your posture & desk ergonomics. Things to consider could be a sit/stand hybrid desk, changing your chair (or height of), lifting your computer screen to eye level… Take a photo of yourself at your work space and bring it with you to your next adjustment, we’ll suggest ways to improve!
- Waking up sore? Consider how you sleep! Ensure you’ve got the right mattress and a good supportive pillow to help align and support the spine while you sleep.
- Have weak core/abdominal muscles? Your core muscles are the primary supports for your lower back. So any exercises that strengthen these muscles may be helpful – pilates, yoga and swimming are all great for core strengthening.
- Can’t touch your toes or sit cross-legged? Having limited flexibility in the lower back, hamstrings, quads and hip flexors could all be contributing to your pain & stiffness. Get stretching these with low lunges, forward folds, cat/cow, downward dog – there’s so many to choose from! Just ensure that you work with a professional to avoid further injury.
- Frequently lift heavy items? Those workplace safety diagrams that tell you to life from the knees are not just decorative. Use good manual handling techniques for everything – bend your knees and twist from the knees and hips rather than the lower back, and hold heavy items close to your body.
- Notice yourself slouching around? Poor posture including leaning to one side, crossing your legs, slouching forward and slouching into a rounded back are all possible contributors to lower back pain.
How can Aubin Grove Chiropractic & Wellness help with lower back pain?
- Spinal checks performed by our Chiropractor to determine whether your back pain is caused by joint subluxations
- Remedial Massage from one of our qualified Remedial Massage Therapists to address muscular tension and/or dysfunction that may be contributing to your lower back pain
- Our Vibrosaun vibration sauna is a safe and effective treatment that combines heat and whole body vibration to assist with decreasing muscular tension, reducing cortisol levels, improve circulation and lymphatic drainage.
- We can provide advice and feedback on what you can do to reduce the impact your workstation has on your body.
- Attend one of our workshops! We’re running a free Bulletproof Your Lower Back workshop this weekend (17th July). See our facebook page for upcoming events.
L.Perry, January 2013. Iliopsoas Trigger Points: Hidden Pranksters of Lower Back Pain
W.G Elder, N. Munk, M.M. Love, G.G. Bruckner, K.E. Stewart, K. Pearce. March 2017.
Real World Massage Therapy Produces Meaningful Effectiveness Signal for Primary Care Patients
with Chronic Lower Back Pain: Results of a Repeated Measures Cohort Study.