You love being active. This lifestyle is your happy place. When you see 5:00 pm on the computer screen, you sprint out of work and cannot wait to get outside to run, play and stretch your way to a better you and a higher FitBit step count. Except every time you get moving, there is a dull pain in your lower back. What is that? Why does it happen? You need a low back fix for your lower back problems.
It may not make sense. You eat well, workout regularly, and your fridge is stocked with organic fruits and vegetables. Yet, every time you’re active, that pain in your low back fires up and makes the thing you love—exercise—almost unbearable.
So what does this mean? It means you are not alone. The American Spinal Decompression Association estimates that 80% of Americans will experience low back pain in their lives, leading to $26 billion in annual healthcare costs and the second most common reason for missed work days in the United States.
What much of the health care industry does not want you to know, however, is that low back pain is a choice. You have the ability to help yourself live a pain free life.
Lower Back Problems: Gaining Control
Your body is a system of systems. These systems work together to create this amazing thing that is capable of lifting, stretching, running and playing. Pain, however, is not one of these systems. Pain is a symptom of our body telling us one of the systems in not working properly.
In this system, your low back is impacted by the position of your pelvis and rib cage, along with the mobility of your hips and mid back. In a normal pain-free world (note that pain free is normal, but unfortunately NOT common) the spine is able to find a neutral position where the tissues that cross it have the right length-tension ratio necessary to work most effectively.
If you cannot find this neutral spine, or if your pelvis, hips or mid back are stiff or hypermobile, you WILL feel low back pain again.
So what’s up now, Doc? Below is the low back fix in two exercises.
The Brain-Body Connection
As you read this article, you are most likely sitting. After 30 minutes of sitting, the tissues that surround your low back and protect your spine are shut off. Do the following:
- Stand up.
- Gently roll your shoulders back and pull them down towards your hips.
- Gently tighten your abs to about 20 to 30% of your best summer selfie beach pose.
- Finally squeeze your butt to about 20 to 30% tension.
In four easy steps, you have performed the most basic function of what we call the brain-body connection. Our sedentary lives interrupt that connection. Your job is to reboot that connection.
This is the secret sauce behind eliminating back pain so that proper movement patterns are hardwired and become your default way of moving. The right muscles can be active when they are supposed to be and turned off when they are supposed to be. Your body is designed to move. It wants to heal, but you just need to become more aware of what it needs versus shutting down your brain to only “fight or flight” responses.
The Neutral Spine—Do I Have One?
The key to your ability to connect the brain and body is a neutral spine. To test yours, try the following (best done with a partner).
- Stand normally with a broom stick or PVC pipe parallel with your spine.
- Do the back of your head, shoulders, and butt all touch the stick? If any of these 3 points do not touch the stick, figure out where. Is it the head, the middle of the shoulder or the glutes?
- Now try to connect the 3 spots while in a good, active position. Gently squeeze your butt, draw your front ribs down so that they are flush with your abs, draw your shoulder blades down and back, and tuck your chin gently (so you almost have a double chin). How does this feel? Does the stick simultaneously touch the three different spots? This is a start to understanding where your spine is in space, and how far away from neutral you are.
For every inch forward your relaxed head position is, you are adding 10 to 11 pounds of CONSTANT pressure onto your spine. Your spinal erectors will never shut off with a forward head posture. This directly impacts the low back.
The good news is that this CAN be fixed. Repeat the tests above and work towards a neutral spine and a better brain-body connection. Your low back will thank you.