The Surprising Cause of Lower Back Pain – And How To Conquer It
Aching, throbbing, nagging lower back pain.
One day, it crops up…and then it’s just kind of “there.” Lower back pain can be so much more than an inconvenience; it can be the barrier between the active lifestyle that you enjoy and make the start of each day truly uncomfortable.
Though back pain is incredibly common, many people experience difficulty pinning down exactly why it began in the first place– especially if it’s not connected to an accident or traumatic injury. Oftentimes, back pain seemingly creeps up over an extended period of time, making it even more difficult to identify an exact cause.
Of course, the first step toward recovering from an injury or health issue is to understand where it’s coming from. So, what’s a person with unidentified lower back pain to do?
Guess what— the antagonist of your lower back pain— it may not have to do with your back at all. In fact, there’s a good chance that hip flexor tightness is what’s really causing your pain.
How Hip Flexors Affect Back Health
Anyone remember the Dem Bones children’s song?
“The thigh bone’s connected to the knee bone, the hip bone’s connected to the backbone…”
The song is getting at a foundational concept of anatomy: our bones, ligaments, and muscles throughout our bodies are all extremely interconnected. When one area isn’t functioning correctly, it can affect the way that other areas operate. From a purely anatomical sense, the hip and the lower back are pretty close to each other– they’re neighbors, really! So, it’s understandable that when something is off in one of these areas, the other feels it, too.
Our hip flexors are the group of muscles in the front of our hips that are in charge of fundamental movements, like lifting our legs and driving our knees upwards. When these muscles get too tight, they begin to shorten and pull on the pelvis– creating a slight pelvic tilt. This tilt makes us alter our everyday posture in subtle ways that places increased pressure on our lower back area. As this pressure builds over time, lower back health begins to deteriorate, and discomfort and pain sets in.
It’s important to note that it is completely possible to have tight hip flexors without realizing it. In fact, this is the case for many people. Tight hip flexors may not cause direct pain in that area, but this tightness still puts undue pressure on your lower back. In other words, the physical discomfort derived from tight hip flexors more commonly manifests as back pain rather than hip pain.
Common Culprits Of Hip Flexor Tightness
Tightness in the hip flexors is much more common than most people realize. This ball-and-socket joint and the muscles around it control much of our daily movement, putting this area in high demand. However, surprisingly one of the most common causes of tight hip flexors is inactivity.
Prolonged sitting (anyone out there do desk work for a living?!) can wreak havoc on our hip flexors. When we remain in a seated posture for long periods of time, our hip flexors shorten and tighten slightly to accommodate this stance. Add in consistent day-after-day sitting that compounds over weeks, months, years…and, you get the picture. We’re talking about some seriously tight hip flexors…and the ensuing back discomfort that comes with it.
Hip flexors can also become tight from overuse— running and cycling are prime culprits. The knee drive that both running and cycling require at a repetitive cadence can put an excessive amount of strain through the hip flexor muscles.
In all of these cases, the key irritator is the mechanism of overuse. When we sit for long periods of time, we’re using the hip flexors in a very specific way. The same goes for running and cycling– the repetitive use of this specific set of muscles can make it easy to overdo it. Like all overuse injuries, the symptoms tend to compound over a length of time rather than all at once, often making it more difficult to determine the cause of your pain.
Exercises To Relieve Tight Hips
So, what does all this mean? If you’re struggling to pin-point the cause of your nagging lower back pain, you may be able to find some relief by working on better hip mobility. The following exercises are a great place to start if you’re trying to relieve hip flexor tightness and restore better back health.
Start this stretch by standing facing a wall. Place your left hand on the wall for balance just below shoulder level, and lift your right foot toward your buttocks, using your right hand to guide it. Use your right hand to gently pull your knee back a bit more, and hold this stretch for 5-10 seconds. Release, and repeat this on the opposite side.
Kneel down on one knee, with your left knee on the floor and your right leg at a 90 degree angle. Then, gently rock or lean forward, keeping your back straight and your left knee pressed into the floor. You should feel a nice stretch through your left front hip. Hold this stretch at the end position for 5-10 seconds. Release, and repeat on the opposite side.
This stretch is more than just a fun name– it can help break up some serious tightness in your hips! Begin this stretch in a push-up position. Keeping both of your hands in the same position, bring your right foot forward in a lunge toward the outside of your right hand. Rock forward a bit, until you can feel a stretch through your left front hip. Release, and repeat on the opposite side.
The Link Between Chiropractic Care And Back Health
Of course, the end game in all of this is to heal the root cause of your discomfort and allow you to return to pain-free daily living. At this point, have you tried treating your lower back pain at home without improvement? Is this an ongoing issue that you’re still not sure how to tackle yourself?
The good news is that chiropractic care can provide the relief you’re seeking. On top of providing an appropriate injury diagnosis, the gentle, chiropractic adjustments of the spine and extremities help to alleviate pressure in your joints, decrease inflammation, and allow your entire body to function optimally. These adjustments can provide direct relief to built-up tension that you may be feeling in your back from super tight hip flexors. By working in chiropractic care, you’re not only giving yourself immediate relief, but also treating the crux of the injury.
Additionally, your practitioner can recommend appropriate at-home exercises specific to your health history to perform outside of the office. At-home exercises can pay huge dividends toward your healing timeline and support your in-office treatments, too.
If you’re struggling to manage nagging back pain, it’s time to get relief.
Schedule an appointment online or call (256) 333-9429.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for in-person advice or care from a medical professional.