The Real Cause of Your Lower Back Pain and How To Remedy It

*No information on this site should be misconstrued as medical advice. Always check with your doctor or another medical professional before implementing changes to your diet or daily routine. All information is for use at your own risk. Alyson Schlobohm nor Alyson Schlobohm Massage LLC is responsible for any injuries or illness that arise due to your use of the information provided.* 

Let’s not beat around the bush: lower back pain SUCKS. Granted, no pain is fun, but when the epicenter of our bodies is in crisis it can be debilitating. It can also refer pain to our neck and shoulders, our glutes, hips, legs and feet; it is, after all, the epicenter of our bodies.

The interesting thing about lower back pain is that, in many cases, your lower back is not the actual source of your problem. So what in the world IS the issue? In the majority of cases that I’ve seen, it’s your GLUTES (more officially: your gluteal muscles).

Any time a new client comes in and tells me they have lower back pain, the first thing I suggest is glute work. Glute work can be incredibly intense but is extremely effective in alleviating lower back pain; people that have walked in, barely unable to stand up straight, will frequently leave feeling like a completely different person after some intense, focused glute work!

How in the world is our BUTT responsible for so much pain?!

Yes. Put in plain and simple terms, our gluteal muscles are our “butt muscles”. There are actually three gluteus muscles, which are commonly referred to as “glutes”: your gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.

Beneath these large muscles that make up most of our “butt muscles” are some smaller, yet extremely important and frequently troublesome, external rotators of the hip. The most frequently recognized of these external rotators is the piriformis muscle, which is the cause of piriformis syndrome.

The piriformis muscle can even be a contributor to sciatica, which is very often caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica can lead to pain, tingling and numbness down your legs all the way to your feet.

On top of all of this, it is my opinion that the majority of us are not properly taught how to stretch these large, frequently used muscles. If I asked you right now how to stretch your glutes, what would you do? Bend over and touch your toes?

Take a look at the image to your left (or below, if you’re on a mobile device). The large muscles of your legs run parallel to your spine. Your glute muscles, however, run almost completely perpendicular to it; as do those deeper external rotators like your piriformis. So bending over and touching your toes is great for your hamstrings but really does not effectively stretch your glute muscles! (Don’t worry, we’ll address this below.)

What if my issue is a herniated disc?

While most of us do not want to hear the news that we’re dealing with a herniated or bulging disc in ANY area of our spine (cervical = neck area, thoracic = mid-back, lumbar = low back, sacral or sacrum = gluteal [butt] area), the good news is that the remedies we’re going to discuss can absolutely help pain due to a herniated or bulging disc as well!

Click to download.
Click to download.

Remedies

  1. Use Heat and Ice. A combination of heat and ice has kept this girl out of the emergency room (long story but the moral is: it works!). I recommend starting with ice to help reduce any swelling or inflammation, then switching to heat to help improve circulation. A simple baggie full of ice and a good, old-fashioned heating pad will suffice!
  2. Use a Foam Roller. Foam rollers are, quite literally, round pieces of foam that you can use to “steamroll” your muscles (mostly the larger muscles). I recommend the traditional 4×12 inch WHITE foam roller. Typically white is low density (but by no means “soft”) and black is high density and hard as a rock. Click here for some simple, but very effective ways to use your foam roller!
  3. Practice Yoga Stretches and Physical Therapy Exercises DAILY. While I firmly believe that you will get the best experience out of a live session with a GOOD physical therapist or yoga instructor, here are a few excellent yoga and PT-based exercises and stretches that can help tremendously with lower back pain:
  4. Avoid “Repetitive Motions”. Much of our pain is caused by repetitive motion. However, some repetitive motion does not involve movement. Take, for example, sitting at a desk that is not ergonomic to YOUR body for hours upon hours a day – with your hands on the mouse or keyboard. Guess what part of your body that can affect? That’s right, your lower back. Your latissimus dorsi is a large muscle in the lower body that has a lot to do with movement of your shoulder; so sitting with it in a “repetitive” state all day can exacerbate your lower back pain!
  5. Check Your Ergonomics.  Most of us are aware of the fact that our posture is not perfect; but are you aware of how damaging it can be? (Hint: the answer is horribly damaging to your body.)
  6. MOVE. Humans were not physically designed for the sedentary lifestyle that so many of us lead, whether it’s at work or at home. Prolonged sitting at the aforementioned desks is terrible for us. Going to the gym at the end of the day does NOT undo this; the best thing that you can do for your body is to take frequent breaks throughout your day. Stand up. MOVE. Walk around. A MINIMUM of 5-10 minutes every couple of hours. (I often recommend that folks who can get lost in their work set alarms on their cell phones or computers.)
  7. Consider a Standing Desk. Personally, I think that jumping from sitting all day to standing all day is ineffective. In addition to frequent movement, an ideal situation would be one where you could switch from a sitting to a standing position throughout your workday to avoid repetitive “movement”.
  8. Try to Get on an Inversion Table. I realize this is a little more unrealistic for the average person, but if you have chronic pain due to spinal stenosis or herniated discs, I cannot encourage you enough to consider an inversion table. There are many other health benefits to inversions, in general! 
  9. Check Your Mattress and/or Your Car. I am SURE that no one wants to hear this one but it is oh, so important…
  10. Consider “Chemical” Deficiencies. Dehydration, a lack of calcium, magnesium or potassium and other internal factors can also affect our spinal and muscular health. For me, vitamins B6 and B Complex (as much as I hate the smell, taste and, ahem, after effects of the latter) are instrumental in maintaining physical health. Another of my favorite go-to’s is Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Make sure to consult with a medical professional (which I am NOT) before making changes to your diet or daily routine. 

Other Considerations

The last thing that I want to mention concerning lower back is to check your quads (quadricep muscles) and hip flexors.

There is a muscle called the psoas that can wreak havoc on your lower back if it’s out of whack. Psoas stretches are similar to quadriceps stretches, but aren’t exactly the same. This one, for example, is super easy and super effective but does not frequently come up in quad or hip flexor stretch searches.

Weak abdominal muscles can also play a huge part in lower back pain.

Good luck, I hope this helps!

-Aly