(Please note: this article does not address major structural spinal issues, such as disc degeneration or slipped discs. Please see a medical professional if your concern is structural or spine-related)
For the millions of people that work in an office all day long, by the time the weekend rolls around, they're ready to go out and hit a few golf balls, ride a bike, play tennis or basketball. And then their Sunday is spent lying on the couch, nursing a sore lower back and wondering what happened. Let's get to the bottom of this problem and find out how to fix it!
A Close Up of the Low Back
Let's identify the three major groups of muscles that make up the low back.
The first are called the quadratus lumborum that attach to the bottom of the ribs, the lumbar vertebrae (spine) and the top of the pelvis. Additionally, running the length of the spine are a set of muscles called the erector spinae. And also attached to the spine are the upper fibers of the psoas, a long and famously tight muscle that connects the torso to the legs. Because of our habits of sitting for long periods of time at a desk or in a car, all of these muscles often become both short and weak.
In addition to these back muscles, three of the major core muscle groups also attach around to the lower back (both sets of obliques and the transverse abdominals).
And as if that wasn't enough, the hamstrings tend to get passively tight and weak from sitting (a condition called adaptive shortening). When tight, they start a chain reaction of pulling that runs up the back of the body and leads right into the lower back muscles, compounding the discomfort.
So you can start to get a sense of how many different muscle groups are involved in maintaining a healthy back, and how important it is to stretch and strengthen all of the above!
Why Am I in Pain?
The back and core muscles described above all converge at a place on the spine where the vertebrae dramatically changes shape from those in the thoracic spine just above. The discs become larger and bend much more easily in every direction (try this experiment: move your head around and feel how your neck bends easily. Then move your belly around and feel the same range of movement in the lower back. Then try and do the same with the middle of your ribcage. It doesn't happen!) Because of this mobility, the lower back can often take the brunt of any movement we undertake. So we have a combination of weak muscles with a highly mobile part of the spine taking on more than it should, and it's easy to understand how this would lead to discomfort.
How Do I Fix It?
1. Identify the Pain If you've pulled a muscle in your back, your first approach should focus on reducing inflammation in the muscles using the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) so that the tissues have a chance to rest and recover. If you're only suffering from discomfort brought on by overuse, try a hot bath with Epsom salts, or a massage to increase the flow of blood and nutrients to the area.
2. Strengthen the Low Back You don't need to give up your weekly pick-up basketball game; instead, add targeted low back exercises and notice how this positively affects your jump shot!
3. Abdominal work Create even more support for the back by strengthening and stretching the abdominal muscles with targeted core exercises.
Lower back pain is an increasingly common complaint as we grow older, but with some targeted yoga therapy exercises and preventative measures, it doesn't have to disrupt your game!