Lower back pain is a common complaint for many people, and it’s becoming increasingly common for younger people as modern lifestyles become more sedentary. Read on for some tips on how to alleviate lower back pain.
See a specialist
We know this is not why you’re reading this article BUT this should be your first stop! A physiotherapist will be the best starting point, because there can be a lot of different causes for lower back pain so they can check out exactly what’s going on. They can also rule out issues that require special attention such as a slipped disc, sciatica, spinal curvatures or infections. You also don’t want to start an exercise routine that may inadvertently make the problem worse.
If you’re after some more generic tips for alleviating lower back pain, read on for some ideas about what can help.
Develop your core strength
One of the most common reasons for lower back pain is poor core strength. Sit ups or crunches are not a good indication of core strength, so don’t go signing up for a 100 crunches a day challenge just yet! Core exercises in basic breath work, planks, tabletop, and supine/lying down Pilates-style floor work are the best way to work on your TVA, or Transverse Abdominis.
This is a corset-like band of muscle that lies deep inside your belly and wraps all the way around your tummy attaching into your spine. While crunches focus more on your ‘6-pack’ muscles down the front of your belly, your TVA is important because it helps stabilise your spine.
Pelvic floor issues as well as Diastasis recti, the separation of the abdominal muscles which is typically experienced during pregnancy and postpartum, can also contribute to weakness in the core muscles. This can continue for many years after delivery, so even if you haven’t had baby recently ,it can be helpful to see a physiotherapist specialising in women’s health for a check up, and potentially form a plan that’s right for you.
Focus on good posture
Our body is designed to stack on top of itself, to be aligned. We don’t typically think about needing to learn how to just stand there, but poor posture can be a primary cause of lower back pain (as well as other tension-related issues in the body). The yoga pose Tadasana is perfect for revisiting how to stand with purpose. Some key points to remember:
- Check your feet are in hip-width alignment with toes pointing straight forwards
- Have a soft bend in your knees so they don’t lock out
- Pelvis should be level – not tilted forwards or backwards – so that your tailbone rolls down towards the floor
- Shoulders are open with broadness from collarbone to collarbone, a slight squeeze sensation between your shoulderblades at the back
- Chin is drawn slightly in and down, not jutting forwards (common from straining to look at computer or cellphone screens)
- Lengthen through the crown of your head (the top/back, not the front/forehead)
Exercises and yoga to alleviate lower back pain
When we have an area that feels injured, we often take awareness straight to the place in our body that is hurting. When it comes to lower back pain, sometimes it can be multiple areas that are tight or weak. Here are some of the common muscles that may need attention:
Weak inner glutes can sometimes be a problem as they help stabilise the hips. A sedentary lifestyle with lots of time spent sitting down can cause this, as well as poor posture. Some options to help build strength include:
- Tiger’s Tail (Bitilasana/Cat-Cow with one leg bent at the knee, foot extended towards the ceiling behind you, draw knee to belly as you exhale and curl)
- Glute kickbacks – option to use a loop band for a more challenging workout.
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge)
Tight hip flexors often go hand in hand with weak inner glutes. In particular – the illiopsoas (also commonly referred to as the psoas), runs from your lower back diagonally through the pelvis to the top of your inner thigh. When this gets tight, it can pull on your lower back, leading to pain in the area. Some options to help stretch your hip flexors include:
- Supta Padangusthasana (Reclined Hand to Big Toe Pose)
- Pelvic tilts, paying attention to opening/lengthening through the front of the hip by tucking your tailbone under slightly
- Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge) with tailbone tucked to open hip flexors at the front.
One more thing – if you do a lot of lifting because of a job task or caring for young children etc., make sure you squat to lift, rather than hinging at the hips like a crane. Putting the effort into your legs rather than dumping it all into your lower back will help reduce your risk of injury.