Tight Hips Can Cause Lower Back Pain
Are your hip flexors to blame?
People sit a lot more than they used to and it’s becoming a real pain in the back. The problem revolves around a group of muscles that connect the lower body, called the hip flexors. These are the muscles that allow us to bend at the waist, raise our knees and sit down.
Muscles that aren’t regularly stretched or moved, over time tend to shorten. If you sit for long stretches at work, you’ll begin to experience a loss of mobility. If you then go home and sit in front of a computer, the television, or sleep in the fetal position, you’ll experience even more tightening.
That tightening can cause your hips to roll forward and your back to stiffen up, something known as anterior pelvic tilt. That position shortens hip flexor muscles and can lead to a condition called “tight hips.”
If you’ve got tight hips, muscles in your lower back need to jump in and help every time you want to move your lower body. Instead of the hip flexors extending your legs and moving your hip, your back has to assist. The longer you sit, the shorter the hip flexors get and the more your lower back muscles will be called on to work. All that help your back gives has a price, lower back pain.
There’s a simple way to test if tight hips may be what’s causing your lower back problems.
Start by laying down completely flat on your back. Relax for 60 seconds. Then write down what your lower back feels like. If it doesn’t hurt or if you don’t feel discomfort, you’re done with the test. Tight hips may not be the most likely cause.
However, if you feel pain, tightness or an uncomfortable feeling in your lower back, then bend both knees up and put your feet flat. Did that relieve some of the pain or discomfort? The knee-up position shortens your hip flexors so they don’t pull on your spine as much. If bending your knees provides relief, you might have tight hips.
Over time tight hips can cause chronic back pain, which can lead to poor posture as you slump forward to give yourself relief. Long-term pain often reduces your desire to exercise, which leads to muscle atrophy, weight gain and ironically, even more pain.
Don’t give up. There are three things you can start doing right away to begin correcting the problem.
Step One: Maintain proper posture when you have to be seated. That means keeping your torso straight, with your back supported by the seatback. Plant your feet flat on the floor or make sure they’re supported by a footrest. Adjust your chair to a height that keeps your hips slightly higher than your knees. Pull your head back so your neck is straight and your head is on top of your shoulders, not pushed forward.
One client I have used two strings and two fishing bobbers to help. He hung them both from the ceiling, with one behind his head and the other one in front. If he leans too far back, he hits the rear bobber and it reminds him to move forward. If he leans too far forward, he hits the front bobber and it reminds him to move his head back and quit slouching. As long as he’s between the two bobbers, his posture is probably OK.
Step Two: Set an alarm to go off every hour, that reminds you to move regularly. Stand up and walk around at least 2-3 minutes whenever that alarm sounds. If you’re able to, install a standing desk to keep you up for longer periods. If you’re really ambitious, look into treadmill desks.
Step Three: Include lots of full-body exercises that target a wide range of muscle groups. Don’t just sit on a bicep machine, stand up and do bicep curls. Instead of a leg press machine, practice lunges or squats. Engage your core, lengthen and strengthen those hip flexor muscles and banish your back pain.
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