What Causes Lower Back Pain? It’s All In The Hips, Literally.
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Alright, so that statement I have made above is a little inaccurate. Lower back pain is, in fact, lower back pain.
But what I mean is that it doesn’t originate there. Instead, the pain that people feel in their lower and upper backs comes from somewhere completely different.
Actually, the answer is a bit surprising and counter-intuitive. It’s a place on most people’s bodies that gets surprisingly tight even if you are a powerful athlete.
Even if you are someone who is constantly on his feet or has a physical job, you likely have this problem.
It’s causing you all kinds of unnecessary stress, anxiety, discomfort and lack of energy.
“Okay, I get it, what is it!?”
Your hips. Excuse my French, but they’re waaay too F**ing tight(I mostly keep it PG-13). I know, weird huh?
It isn’t that your back gets tight from all that sitting you do. No, sitting causes your hips to get tight and imbalanced.
More surprising that that?
Athletic movement and a physically demanding lifestyle often create tight hips too. Seems like a cache-22 or a lose-lose situation.
Have no fear, there is an answer, but you’ll have to invest a little time and energy to figure it out.
Let’s explore the issue a little further shall we?
So What Says the Psoas:
Unless you’re a yogi, or physical therapist, you won’t know what a psoas is. To keep it real simple, it’s the muscle that joins the lower body to the upper body and the back to the front. It starts at the lower end of several vertebrae in your spine and it ends at the top of the femur.
Think of it as a very important bridge which stabilizes your entire body. That is it’s the function to maintain stability and strength between all the parts mentioned above. You wouldn’t have the ability to walk upright with two legs while maintaining a posture without it.
So what happens if the psoas is weak or tight?
Many things, but the first and most glaring is literally your gut.
If you have a weak psoas, your gut will almost always stick out very far.
People used to think that was because you had weak abdominal muscles.
That makes a lot of sense, but it’s not the primary reason.
The real reason is that a weak psoas causes your spine to bend forward excessively. That means your lower back will curve, and our gut will stick out.
That also causes the opening point to this article, back pain.
You see, a strong, activated psoas pulls the spine into proper alignment, and it tucks the hips under the spine. When the psoas is weak, the hips slip out one direction, and your gut goes in the other.
This is why many people have postures that are exaggerated, with a bulging butt and a bulging gut.
Now that you know this, what can you do today to start correcting the issue? There are several areas to look at. I’ll start with basic preventative methods.
The two S’s of stress and sitting:
Let’s start with the most obvious. This is one you have probably heard talked about before. can give rise to a weak psoas.
The psoas is involved in flexing at the hip joint. When the hip joint is constantly flexed, the psoas is always in a shortened position. This means that the lower vertebrae are pulled forward and an anterior tilt is created.
Adding to this problem is an uneven level of tension in the psoas. Some folks have one side of their psoas much tighter than the other (yours truly as a matter of fact!). This particular problem causes an uneven posture and level of muscular tension because one side is shorter than the other.
Granted, the most recent scientific studies show that sitting is terrible for you period. In fact, it’s been linked to worse mental health, worse blood markers and it correlates heavily with obesity.
This is particularly true when those who sit more than a few hours every single day are examined.
But, the evidence is still clear that it is a significant contributor to pain and tightness in the lower back because of a tighter psoas.
Thankfully, there are some ways lessen the impact of sitting. These would be:
- Have feet flat on the floor.
- Sit slightly in front of hips
- Use a standing desk if possible.
- Take frequent walking breaks.
- Don’t lean back into the chair.
- Don’t stretch forward from the back of the chair.
Those are the tips for sitting specifically. Next, you’ll learn about psoas tightness more generally, and why it often happens even when moving.
The psychology of the psoas:
The biggest problem with psoas tightness is that it’s not just physical. It’s a very psychological phenomenon. The psoas is one of the muscles most tightly contracted when you become nervous, anxious or restless.
It is involved anytime the “fight or flight,” response is activated in the body.
So everything from that guy who cut you off in the Escalade, to a fight with your spouse, to you worrying about how you’ll pay bills next month can cause psoas tightness.
Like sitting, it’s a result of a psoas that’s always contracting. Unlike sitting, you can’t just move your bodies position to change it.
No, this calls for something more than adjusting yourself in a chair.
In fact, this likely why you’ll continue to have a tight psoas even if you stand and walk all day long.
You’re going to have to “hack,” your stress response a bit. This also means that you need to learn to live and let live much more often.
If you are somebody who lives in a state of constant neurotic stress and worry, consider this your wakeup call.
You know who you are if you’re reading this.
I don’t want to be a mean drill-sergeant like a guy, but you need to get serious about your mental, emotional and spiritual state.
I won’t get into excessive detail here, but I have a few basic rules of thumb to get you started:
- Simplify your life.
- Become a minimalist.
- Make happiness your #1 priority.
- If they wouldn’t cry at your funeral, their opinion doesn’t matter
- Even if they would, it’s still YOUR life.
Feel free to ask me in the comments what any of that means. That’s just a quick list to get y’all started. I’ll actually be talking about all the above in more depth in the future.
Okay, but back to exercises and practices which help.
Try this method often used in meditative teaching. It’s a yoga practice, but don’t let that scare you away. I know that’s the temptation nowadays.
The Navasana Yoga Pose:
This is an especially good beginners pose to use if you’ve never worked on stretching the psoas. It’s what I recommend if you’ve never done any type of regular or serious yoga or stretching program period. That being said, don’t expect it to work miracles because it is just a beginner pose. It goes like this:
1). Sit down near the edge of a chair. Don’t worry about exactly where just make sure you have plenty of room in the chair behind you.
2). Put your arms forward in front of your body so that they form two parallel lines.
3). Lean back in the chair until you are almost touching it with your back, but make sure to not make contact. Instead, go past vertical (past a 90-degree angle with your back), and your psoas will automatically contract to keep you from losing balance. Basically, it will keep your body positioned like this without any support.
Then there is the slightly more advanced floor version:
1). Sit up straight on the floor.
2). Bend your knees up as high as is comfortable for your flexibility, and then put your feet flat on the floor.
3). Pull slightly on your shins to help lift your chest up. Then “let go,” of your shins. That means stop contracting or using them to balance yourself. Instead, use your psoas to come in and keep you in balance.
This is similar to the chair version, but it takes a little bit more strength and balance in your psoas not to fall over. Remember to start with the chair version first if you’ve never done any stretching program before.
That is a good start, and it’s more than enough to achieve a basic degree of mobility.
Most importantly, it’s more than enough to relieve yourself from a significant amount of pain.
That’s it for now.
But stay tuned, in the coming articles you’ll learn a few more things about how to fix common pain points (literally) in your body.
Feeling good is mostly physiology believe it or not.
And since I’m all about helping you be as happy as possible…
It’s a necessity you learn how to keep your body feeling good.
That should be obvious, but sadly it’s not.
End that today. Be serious about becoming happy.
Happiness is both psychology and physiology.
It makes no sense to fight a two-front war.
Take care of the physiology, then you can focus on the psychological stuff.
Do it today, because you only have one life (as far as we know).
You deserve to live it without constant physical discomfort.
Don’t just accept it as “just what happens,” when you get older.