Ah, the lower back. Almost every week I get a couple of questions from people with a tight and painful lower back. Or when people first sign-up to my gym, the constant use of muscles they’ve never trained before can cause a lot of tightness and pain in the lower back.
Usually this is because when you train the muscles of your back and legs as opposed to the more frequently trained chest and back – those untrained muscles are weak!
But the biggest issue we face each day that causes this pain and weakness in the lower back is this:
YOU SIT DOWN TOO MUCH!
You know you sit down too much, you know you could get up and adjust/stretch your muscles every hour (if not every 30 mins in an ideal situation), so why aren’t you?
First, let’s take a look at the most common issues that come from sitting down, then I’ll show you how to fix them.
Here are the biggest health issues to come from hours of sitting:
- The hip flexor muscles shorten and get tight – These muscles are located in the tops of your thighs but their origin is the lumbar spine. So simply by sitting, you are tightening up the cables that pull on your lower back.
- The glutes/bum muscles have most of your bodyweight stacked on top of them whilst in a relaxed state. This teaches your body to never contract these muscles and they basically switch off EVEN when you’re stood up.
- The upper back/thoracic spine is usually rounded like Quasimodo. The shoulder blades are stretched apart; causing the scapula retractors to lose strength and, like the glutes, switch off.
- The abdominals and lower back stop supporting the spine – which they would do when you stand – and again, they weaken and switch off. This is even worse when you have a back rest. You are laying your spine on the back rest like a lazy, wet piece of string.
- Your shoulders are constantly in internal rotation, that is, they are not in neutral (see pic below). This is worsened when you have to reach for a keyboard or laptop. What this means is your chest and internal rotators of the shoulder get shortened and tight, the external rotators get stretched and weak. Again, you start to look like you’ve escaped Notre Dame and stolen a shirt and tie.
To summarise: Sitting will f*ck you up!
In one day you’ve managed to tighten your hip flexors, shoulders and glutes and weakened your upper back, abs, lower back and glutes.
The body works as one piece, one wonderful flow of different muscles and joints all working in sync. When you take one piece out (for example, switching the glutes off) the body will struggle to move but probably be ok – at least for the short term. When you take out your hips, spine and shoulders, you are in trouble!
And this typically manifests itself in a tight lower back: there’s simply no support from the surrounding muscles.
So here are the best ways I’ve found to fix your lower back tightness:
1. Hip Flexor Stretch:
This position is literally the opposite of sitting, and doing it daily (preferably every hour but I wouldn’t expect that unless you were in chronic pain or extremely dedicated!) will sort out a lot of lower back pain. This may be the quick fix you’re looking for, as I explained before though, there are a lot of issues that arise from sitting down, test a few fixes before deciding what works!
2. Hip Grinder:
This mobility drill helps to loosen up the glutes and hamstrings that are almost matted together from your constant sitting on top of them. They aren’t designed to be sat on! So try this drill and feel the looseness in your lower back and hips….it’s a painful one at first!
3. Ball Roll Glutes:
Again, simply helps to free up the muscle fibres that have become glued together and really tight. Any direct soft tissue manipulation like this is a great way to improve the health of your muscles….again, this hurts like hell on your first couple of days. But remember: sometimes that’s what it takes!
Add in a few strength moves to strengthen the whole body; lunges, squats, sprints, press-ups and pull-ups and you can offset the problems of constantly sitting down.
Finally, just sit up straighter! Tense the abs, just slightly, lengthen your spine, get your back off the back rest and just sit taller. At first this may even be a struggle, definitely a struggle to remember to do anyway, so aim to adjust yourself from ‘dead body in a basket mode’ to ‘best posture in the world mode’ at least twice a day. Then build up from there.
Stand up more often and adjust your position whilst you’re working.
Strengthen and mobilise your body when you’re at home or at the gym.
Who knows, you may even get a promotion by looking like you care about your work a little more too!
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