Pain Fixes Blog

May is a hiatus. June 2017 is Neck and Shoulders focus.  

(April 2017 was Lower Back focus.)

Latest Reviews

Categorized Under: Lower Back

  • Lower Back: 3 Decompression Stretches on the Foam Roller
    Lower Back: 3 Decompression Stretches on the Foam Roller
    4.2 Reviewer
    Potential Relief4
    Universality4
    Ease4
    Low cost4
    Low time investment4
    Comfort5
    Summary
    This review covers three techniques from a single starting position: on your back with a foam roller under your sacrum, with hips and legs at 90 degrees in the air. We’ll call this chair position. See full review for instructions.

    Each stretch helps decompress your lumbar (lower) spine in a different way: a hip flexor stretch, a spinal twist stretch, and a knee tuck stretch. These are great as mobilizations, too: try the movements smoothly back and forth without pausing, to engage full range-of-motion from a decompressed position.

    They feel great, and you can make the stretches gentle or intense. Consult your doctor first if you’ve had spinal surgeries or major spinal conditions, and use good sense.
    • Potential relief: 4 – This is a powerful set of options. If they work for you, you can get relief of many symptoms. Combine with everyday posture adjustments and direct pressure.
    • Universality: 4 – I think most people would benefit from these stretches. Spinal compression feels very common amongst my massage clients with lower back pain.
    • Ease: 4 – Getting used to the stretches can take a few minutes. It requires a bit of core strength to control the movements, especially if your legs are heavy.
    • Low cost: 4 – A short foam roller works just fine, for under $10.
    • Low time investment: 4 – Each technique takes a couple of minutes to get some relief.
    • Comfort: 5 – It can be painless and comfortable while still being effective. If your back is very stiff or cramped, then you can control how much of the ache you want to experience. Over time you can ease into deeper stretches as your back loosens up.

    Getting into the starting “chair position”

    1. Lie on your back with knees up and feet on the ground.
    2. Place a foam roller horizontally under your sacrum (i.e. the flat part of tailbone just below your belt line).
    3. Carefully lift your knees directly above your hips, and knees bent at 90 degrees.

    Here is a helpful video by Sarah Spivey (also credited for the main review image) for getting into the chair position, then correctly doing the hip flexor stretch:

     

    The 3 Decompression Stretches on the Foam Roller

    1. Hip flexor stretch: From the chair position, lower and extend one leg straight to feel a stretch deep in your groin, front of hip, or deep abdomen.
    2. Spinal twist stretch: From the chair position, lean your knees to one side as far as you can tolerate.  Feel the twist in your hips and lower back; keep your upper back flat on the ground.  Stretch as desired, then slowly bring your knees back up and over to the other side.
    3. Knee tuck stretch: Avoid this if your lower back is vulnerable to rounded back motions.   From the chair position, carefully tuck your knees toward your chest.  You’ll feel a stretch in your lumbar spine and lower back.  I find this is an awesome stretch and decompression that I can’t quite imitate any other way (not even in yoga’s child pose).

     

    The first 25 seconds of this video demonstrate the spinal twist stretch.  After that, you can also see extra hip releases adapted from the MELT Method, from this same position:

  • Lower Back: Standing Side Stretch Uniquely Lengthens the Lumbar
    Lower Back: Standing Side Stretch Uniquely Lengthens the Lumbar
    3.7 Reviewer
    Potential Relief3
    Universality3
    Ease3
    Low cost5
    Low time investment5
    Comfort3
    Summary
    In yoga, this is called a side crescent moon. This doesn't get the greatest review total, but some people (including myself) will love how it lifts up your midsection and stretches a lot of side muscles at once.

    Stand with feet together and legs straight. Put your arms straight overhead and palms together, then arch sideways and reach high to one side. For safe pain relief, I have some specific pointers. The trickiest parts are not letting your shoulders turn at all, and not hinging hips sideways toward the ground. Lengthen and arch high, as if reaching sideways over a barrel under your ribs. If needed, hold onto something for balance.
    • Potential relief: 3 – Unlike many other methods, it’s uniquely effective at opening each side of the lumbar spine. Few stretches make me feel so tall that quickly. With that said, I’d say it can only relieve roughly half of symptoms for most people it helps. Self-treat the rest of symptoms with heat (ice), forward-back stretches, direct pressure, and/or other methods on this site.
    • Universality: 3 – It works for a lot of people, but maybe not most people. This stretch is a bit challenging, and not everyone with back pain or injury can tolerate it. Also, it may or may not affect the root cause of your back pain, which can be in the hips or deep spine.
    • Ease: 3 – It probably takes a few tries to get a good handle on it. The position is a little complicated to balance and get every piece correct, with no twisting and a nice high arch. Hold onto a wall or chair to make this much easier, as explained below.
    • Low cost: 5 – Like all classical yoga, it’s free!
    • Low time investment: 5 – 20 seconds on each side will often be enough for a little pick-me-up. Stretch longer for greater benefit – just don’t do long stretches that weaken your core right before a workout. Save that for afterwards, in order to minimize injury.
    • Comfort: 3 – It’s not terribly comfortable when you’re doing it effectively. Without holding onto something, it takes some work to balance. However, it should not be very painful. Just a tender, “good hurt” stretch.

    Detailed Instructions for the Standing Side Stretch

    I picked this video because it demonstrates crucial tips I’ve learned elsewhere:  keep your torso *tall* and shoulders squared forward.  It’s like you’re trying to arch sideways over a barrel.  Their pointer is “keeping length in your right [downward] side of the body, AS you stretch the left side of the body”.

    Keep your feet and thighs together, and don’t stick your butt out.  Suck in your belly a bit (pretend you’re bracing to get punched in the gut!), and make sure your mid back is arching upward and sideways – *not* arching backward.

    These specifics will even out the stretch to each entire side of the lower back, and avoid hurting your hips or overly side-flexing certain vertebrae.  Yoga teachers show dramatic 90 degree stretches most of us can’t imitate safely.  Most of us who get aches and pains are a lot stiffer than them…

    (This stretch is also good for shoulder flexibility!)

    If that’s too hard on your back, please hold onto a wall or chair on your right side, while you reach overhead to the right.  I do this all the time.  It helps relax into the stretch more easily!  Just remember to keep both shoulders squared forward.

    Check in a mirror that your shoulders stay facing forward in a flat plane, and do not twist at all.  Reach high and tall for our purposes, not collapsing toward the ground.

  • Lower Back: The Humble Wall Sit for Rest and Retraining
    Lower Back: The Humble Wall Sit for Rest and Retraining
    3.8 Reviewer
    Potential Relief2
    Universality5
    Ease4
    Low cost5
    Low time investment4
    Comfort3
    Summary
    Stand with your back against the wall, knees comfortably bent. Let your entire lower back press flat against the wall. Walk your feet out as needed, in order to keep your knees directly over your ankles (not over your toes). Hold your weight up mostly through your heels. See the rest of the article for a great video example. For pain relief purposes, don’t focus on the exercise effort in your legs. Focus on allowing your back to relax and expand into the wall.
    • Potential relief: 2 – It can often relieve some symptoms. It’s best at providing a temporary rest for your back muscles. It can also help rebalance your posture muscles when done at least daily, for a couple minutes at 90 degrees.
    • Universality: 5 – Practically everyone can do this and benefit to some degree.
    • Ease: 4 – It’s mostly easy, until your legs start getting tired.
    • Low cost: 5 – It’s as free as a free wall.
    • Low time investment: 4 – Takes a couple of minutes.
    • Comfort: 3 – It gets somewhat uncomfortable after a minute, depending how close to 90 degrees you lower yourself to.

    While it doesn’t mention the pain relief benefits, here is a solid video demonstrating a wall sit:

    In this video, he’s strong and he sits quite low.  This emphasizes the leg exercise.  We’re first looking for immediate lower back pain relief.  For that, stand as tall as you need to, as long as you can flatten and relax your entire lower back into the wall.

    For the greatest long-term benefits, do practice the leg exercise aspect.  Aim to eventually hold your body up for a couple of minutes – with your knees bent as low as 90 degrees. This helps train your hip flexors to relax more, while your body is sitting or standing upright.  It also trains your large quads and glutes to help support your standing or in-motion postures, instead of over-relying on more vulnerable lower back and hip flexor muscles.

  • Back: Refresh Your Spine with a Twist in Your Chair
    Back: Refresh Your Spine with a Twist in Your Chair
    4.3 Reviewer
    Potential Relief3
    Universality5
    Ease5
    Low cost5
    Low time investment4
    Comfort4
    Summary
    Sit tall in your chair. Grab a chair arm or back, and exhale into a twist with an arm holding your knees in place. (See the video below.) An exercise variation is to twist with hands behind your head. Breathe and lengthen tall, then exhale to relax into a further twist. Repeat as needed for each side. Return to center slowly. This is great at mobilizing and refreshing stuck, tight vertebrae muscles. It helps squeeze and lengthen the smallest postural muscles deep in the grooves of the spine. These spinal muscles need to be healthy for a resilient, pain-free back!
    • Potential relief: 3 – This stretch can relieve symptoms like spinal pain and fatigue. However, it is not designed for some of the bigger back muscles or hip flexors. For the most benefit, take a long time and imagine every single vertebrae turning just a little with each exhale, from your tailbone to your skull. (The ribcage vertebrae turn the least, and that’s completely normal.)
    • Universality: 5 – I think almost everyone would benefit from this stretch to some degree, especially those who sit and/or have been in car accidents. Rare exceptions may include major injuries or surgeries, like spinal fusions. Check with your doctor that you’re cleared for spinal twists.
    • Ease: 5 – I love this stretch because it’s so easy and convenient!
    • Low cost: 5 – Free, assuming you have a chair…
    • Low time investment: 4 – Takes a couple of minutes for a decent stretch. Quick 15-second stretches also feel good in a pinch, and even longer stretches can allow more lasting flexibility and relief.
    • Comfort: 4 – Typically, it’s painless. It can be a little uncomfortable, though, if your spine isn't used to its full rotation. You become aware of how stiff or achy your spine is!

    This is a great 1-minute video demonstrating this spinal twist with good cues and pacing:

    *My main correction is that this stretch does *not* target the erector spinae (large surface muscles) very much.  It shines in stretching all the small, deep muscles holding the individual vertebrae together.  That’s especially great for scoliosis and poor posture.

    Hands-free variation is an exercise that engages back muscles

    Some people will like turning this stretch into an exercise. That’s to help get the blood flowing in a stiff, stagnant back. This picture demonstrates putting your hands behind your head, and twisting using only your back and neck muscles.  It’s a very different sensation!  It will give much less of the relieving stretch in the deep spine, so I’d suggest incorporating both throughout the day if you like both.

    What about the neck?

    This stretch happens to twist the cervical [neck] spine a bit, but I don’t list this as a neck stretch. There are many more useful neck stretches.  (Turning the upper back in the same direction reduces the range of twist you can get in your neck.)

    Keep feet flat on the floor

    I don’t recommend crossing a leg over a knee like in some videos. From what I observe, that blocks the lowest vertebrae from twisting naturally. In general, crossing your knees tilts your pelvis back (like a bowl pouring down your tail). That’s the bad foundation of a slumping posture most people need to undo.  See this review for more on ideal sitting posture of for the lower back.

     

    So, are you an aching desk worker?  Please take at least 30-second breaks to do this, and you will probably suffer less!

  • Back: “Get Into the Groove!” The Deepest Direct Spine Relief
    Back: “Get Into the Groove!” The Deepest Direct Spine Relief
    4.3 Reviewer
    Potential Relief5
    Universality5
    Ease5
    Low cost5
    Low time investment3
    Comfort3
    Summary
    Use a small dog tennis ball to apply pressure on one side of the spine’s bony ridge. Pin it between a wall and your back, controlling the pressure. Keep your back as relaxed as possible. Roll slowly or pause 30+ seconds on a spot to relieve stiffness and pain in the smallest spinal muscles!
    • Potential relief: 5 – The relief you can get from this is awesome.
    • Universality: 5 - So little relief is given to the spine’s laminar groove muscles in other treatment methods, even though I find practically everyone is stiff or achy deep in there. This method fills that void, and will help practically anyone with upper, middle, or lower back pain – possibly dramatically! It's safest and easier against a wall, instead of the ground.
      Cautionary exceptions are rare: As with all direct pressure techniques on the back, consult a diagnosing professional if you have spinal medical conditions or vertebral joint weakness. This technique may require a bit more caution in the lower back or around nerve impingements, as the pressure is directly behind the spinal column and discs. In the rare chance it feels fiery, shock-like, or disabling stop immediately and consult a doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist, or other medical professional.
    • Ease: 5 - It takes just a couple of minutes to get the hang of placing the ball, rolling steadily on it, and pausing at an ideal pressure for you.
    • Low cost: 5 – A small dog tennis ball costs about 75 cents at a local pet store! Don’t order severely overpriced options online.
    • Low time investment: 3 – Usually, relief happens within a few minutes in an area.
    • Comfort: 3 – As you apply pressure, it may trigger some discomfort or pain in the area, or may send (“refer”) pain/sensation to other areas. As with similar techniques, you’re looking for a “good hurt” that’s ultimately relieving.

    About Laminar Groove Back Pain

    Along each side of the bony ridge of the spine is a vertical groove filled with dozens of small muscle fibers that hold individual vertebrae together.  You can feel some of each groove most easily in the mid-back: slip your fingers between the bony processes of the spine and the bigger vertical muscles; that slight gap up and down each side of the ridge is an access to the deep “laminar groove” of the spine.

    Both laminar grooves are filled with deep, small, postural muscles, which frequently get achy and exhausted from poor posture, spinal curves like scoliosis, or chronic contraction after past injuries or car accidents.  They can radiate pain and fatigue outward and downward across your back, just like your neck muscles can give you headaches.

    It can be *so* refreshing to contact laminar groove muscles directly and massage out that tension!  How do we do that ourselves without breaking our fingers?

    While you can use a Theracane/Back Buddy, they’re slow and cumbersome.  Golf balls don’t work because they grind and bump against bone.  Normal massage balls, which I review here for the lower back, are too big to affect that roughly half-inch space.

    The best solution I’ve found – by accident – is to use pet store tennis balls designed for small dogs!  Small dog tennis balls have enough give to conform to the bumpiness of the spine, but are strong and small enough to sink into the deepest layers.

    When you hit a good spot, you may feel a very deep ache in that area of the spine, or even send an ache to the front of your body.

    I *love* this method to relieve my scoliosis symptoms.

    Detailed Instructions

    To use a small dog tennis ball in the grooves of your spine, stand against a wall with bent knees, so you have some weight pressing into your back on the wall.   Then, place one doggy ball between your back and the wall, next to one side of a spinal process (spine ridge bump).  Your back must be as relaxed as possible!  If not, the big, strong surface muscles will contract and block the ball from affecting deeper muscles.

    Apply 30+ seconds of pressure to a tender spot, and then slowly move your body up or down to roll the ball to another sore area.  If everything’s sore, feel free to enjoy slow long strokes up and down each side of the spinal ridge.  For a visual, see Wizard of Health’s video demo on putting a lacrosse ball on the lower back, then follow this article’s directions on how to affect the laminar groove instead.

    If pressing against the wall is not enough pressure, and you have no medical risks with direct pressure, you can lie down on the ground and carefully place the ball underneath you. Ease into it, and make sure you can breathe and relax into the pressure.  Since the lower back naturally arches away from the ground, you can tilt your pelvis to press your lower back better into the ball.

    If constant 30 second pressure is too intense or too boring for a spot, you can also get relief by rolling an inch or two back and forth over the spot, at least a dozen times.  I would like to record my own video of this in the coming weeks, but do try it in the meantime.

    Enjoy your more buoyant and pain-free deep spine!

     

  • Lower Back: The Simplest Psoas Stretch for Sitting Stress
    Lower Back: The Simplest Psoas Stretch for Sitting Stress
    4.5 Reviewer
    Potential Relief3
    Universality4
    Ease5
    Low cost5
    Low time investment5
    Comfort5
    Summary
    Watch the video in this review: Stand with one foot in front of the other, front knee bent and back leg straight. Keep your back tall and vertical. Move your hip forward, and tilt the bowl of your hip backward, to feel a stretch through the front of your hip and lower abdomen. This stretch can relieve chronic tension in the psoas muscles along with other front of hip muscles, typically from chronic sitting, which contributes to a LOT of lower back pain.
    • Potential relief: 3 – For those who sit, it often can relieve many aches and pains when done consistently. The more pain you have, the more you may need to combine this stretch with self-massage techniques.
    • Universality: 4 - Most people who sit a lot will benefit greatly from this simple correction.
    • Ease: 5 – It takes a couple of minutes to figure out. This video gives clear directions, however, making it easy to get right. You can use a wall or object for balance.
    • Low cost: 5 – Utterly free.
    • Low time investment: 5 – Most people benefit from just a quick 20-second stretch on each side when they stand up from sitting, or get out of the car. More benefit comes from longer 30-60 second stretches as you can tolerate.
    • Comfort: 5 – Should feel totally comfortable and painless.

    From chronic sitting, most people have a pair of chronically shortened psoas muscles. These deep hip flexor muscles connect your inner thigh to the front of the lumbar spine, and can pull your thigh and belly together.

    Often, the opposite lower back muscles tighten to keep the spine upright.  When both the front and back of the spine tighten, you get compression!  The compression and tensions can all cause pain.

     

    Excellent, Clear Video of Standing Psoas Stretch

    I’ve found this video that demonstrates where the psoas muscle is, shows the anatomical drawing, and accurately demonstrates the most practical psoas stretch I’ve found.  As described in this review’s summary, you just need to stand!  Watch:

     

    Many psoas stretches you’ll find require another person to help, or inconvenient scenario like lying on the edge of a table.  Most of you don’t need this!  Stand, and use a wall or surface to help with balance if you need it.

    I’ve taught this to people as something to do right after they get out of the car, or up from their office chair.  It simply works and helps.

  • Lower Back: An Elastic Wrap can Soothe and Stabilize
    Lower Back: An Elastic Wrap can Soothe and Stabilize
    4 Reviewer
    Potential Relief3
    Universality3
    Ease5
    Low cost4
    Low time investment5
    Comfort4
    Summary
    Wearing an elastic wrap around your lower back does several things:
    1. It keeps your lower back warm, increasing circulation and comfort for most individuals.
    2. It provides light to moderate support without inhibiting too much movement.
    3. It reminds you to be cautious of your back, avoiding excessive strain or reaching.
    4. It can help you keep the core ab muscles engaged, encouraging better lifting, sitting, and bending habits.
    5. If able, placing it partly lower around the hips seems to help with hip instability that can contribute to lower back pain. (There are “sacroiliac belts” that do this specifically.)
    • Potential relief: 3 – For people who benefit, they can often relieve about half of symptoms while wearing them over time.
    • Universality: 3 – This may help roughly half of people with lower back pain. It may not be convenient enough for everyone, or it may not be acceptable in your work to have a wrap outline showing through your clothes.
    • Ease to learn: 5 – Wrap at a comfortable but firm tightness. For some people, it helps to wrap lower to include the hips, which can be done if your hips are narrower.
    • Low cost: 4 – Options range from $10-40.
    • Low time investment: 5 – Takes a few seconds to apply.
    • Comfort: 4 - Elastic wraps are mostly comfortable, especially with lower back pain. They might get a little irritating, for some people.

    Here’s one 4.7-star example via Amazon by iDofit:

    Ignore the marketing:  A lot of the elastic wraps I’m talking about are marketed as “fat burning”, which I believe is incorrect.  If you’re physically active in them, you’ll sweat more around your midsection and lose more water weight.  Personally, I’ve worn a neoprene stretchy wrap during multiple hours of giving massage (manual labor), and it didn’t bother me or smell.

    Lower back support “braces” are typically more stiff, but you might want that instead.  I don’t like how they limit movement so much, as research and experience suggest that some movement helps most lower backs recover.

  • Lower Back: For Many People, Massage Balls Can Do It All!
    • Lower Back: For Many People, Massage Balls Can Do It All!
      4.2 Reviewer
      Potential Relief5
      Universality5
      Ease5
      Low cost4
      Low time investment3
      Comfort3
      Summary
      For some people with lower back stiffness and pain, enough direct pressure with a ball can relieve ALL symptoms! Most people will enjoy significant benefit. To use a ball in your lower back for the first time, stand against a wall with bent knees. Have some weight pressing into your back on the wall. Then, place one ball between you and the wall, on your lower back or hips. Apply 30+ seconds of pressure to a tender spot, and slowly move your body to roll the ball to another sore area. To increase the pressure, you can lie down on the ground with the ball underneath you. Ease into it, and make sure you can breathe and relax in to the pressure. If constant 30 second pressure is too much, you can also roll an inch or two back and forth over the spot, at least a dozen times.
      • Potential relief: 5 – Point pressure release can often eradicate lower back pain by itself! (The relief lasts longer if you also learn how to improve your posture.) Trigger points and other knots are not to be underestimated. For the greatest relief, also roll the sides of your hips and your glute (butt) muscles!
      • Universality: 5 – Almost everyone can benefit from point-pressure self-massage with various sizes!
      • Ease: 5 – It doesn't take too long to get the hang of placing the ball, rolling steadily on it, and pausing at an ideal pressure for you.
      • Low cost: 4 – Most balls will cost about $2 to $10 each to get started. I like having 2-3 different sizes and densities handy, depending how sensitive I’m feeling or what knots I want to get.
      • Low time investment: 3 – Usually relief begins within a minute or two on each side, but it takes a few minutes on each side to cover all the tight muscles.
      • Comfort: 3 – As with any direct pressure release of tight, painful tissues, it can be pretty sore! With a ball, especially a softer tennis ball, there's a lot of control to keep it tolerable. Apply a tenderness level that you can still relax into. For maximum relief, try applying pressure to a pain level of 5-8 out of 10, depending on your pain threshold and pain tolerance.

    Detailed Background

    Caution If you have medical conditions with your lower back, ask a spine specialist or experienced physician if direct therapeutic pressure on the side of your spine is okay.  Weakened or loose vertebrae joints, as with spondylolisthesis or spinal ligament damage, could be hurt by too strong of pressure.

    Otherwise, there are a LOT of back muscles and tendons that could benefit from being massaged.  Something round and semi-hard like a tennis ball is the easiest way to do it, since it’s tricky to reach. Ball self-massage not for everyone – the harder balls can be pretty painful.  However, if it’s tolerable – you can breathe through it and relax into it.  It can be a tremendous relief to lower back pain caused by knots and tension.

    Here is the clearest video I’ve found for ball rolling of the lower back (skip to 1:02 for wall instructions – demo at 2:17)

     

     

    In addition to repetitive stress from posture, strains and sprains usually leave behind stuck and/or contracted areas of muscle.  The restrictions can help protect the area, but sometimes that protection comes at too high a cost.  Stiffness and chronic contraction makes an area often painful – as you notice!  While restriction stabilizes the area more strongly during normal activity, it also can make it more vulnerable to re-injury under extra stress, like lifting something heavy or trying to reach/bend further than usual.  Most people benefit from massaging out excessive tension.

    Long, slow, vertical motions with the ball on the lower back may also help decompress the spine.  Tight muscles compact the vertebrae together, which seems to irritate facet joints or occasionally impinge nerves.  Most people over the years of my massage practice get the most relief when I incorporate spinal decompression in various ways.

    I highly recommend using a ball for self-treatment if you have hurt your back, or suffer chronic aches and pains.  Order online or go to a sports store and try out different sizes, or order a therapy ball designed for this specific purpose.  Your gym might have lacrosse balls available to use for free!  Invest in your well-being, and contact me if you have any questions.

     

    Massage Ball Options

    The best medium-small ball tools for lower back point relief:

    Smaller:

    • Small dog tennis balls (get at local pet store) – more conforming, great for getting into the deepest “laminar grooves” of the spine.  A detailed review of this is in progress.
    • Racquetball
    • 1 to 2 inch hard foam balls (I like the RAD brand set)

    Larger:

    • 6lb medicine balls are helpful for the prominent lower back muscles (QL muscles) and hip attachments, but too large to relieve everything.

    Not recommended:

    • I don’t recommend a spikey ball for the lower back – it’s going to irritate the skin more than penetrate the dense muscles.
    • Don’t use a golf ball on your lower back, either, because that’s just too hard and will hit bone.
    • Don’t use the “peanut” double massage ball under your lumbar spine, as you don’t want direct, forward pressure there.

     

    Also Consider for Direct Pressure Relief of Lower Back

    Review: Lower Back: Simple, Sideways Foam Roller Release

    Knobbler – handheld, rounded wooden cone to simulate a therapist’s thumb

    Back Buddy –  especially if shoulder restrictions stop you from reaching behind with the knobbler. (Back Buddy is a better design than the famous Theracane, and easier to hold.)

  • Catching the Earliest Pain Warning Signs

    As I announced to my email list last week, my first series of reviews focuses on pain fixes for the lower back.

    Lower back, neck, and shoulders are by far the most common complaints both for normal aches and disabling pains…  Over 50% of adults (NIH) have had pain in the last 3 months!

    One of my earlier emails shared how I jumped back to full functioning after I threw my back out again.  Since then, it’s doing pretty well.  I’m aware of the earliest signs of stiffness and aches, so I try to head off worse pain within a few days…

    Some of the earliest, subtlest warning signs of the lower back needing hands-on attention include:

    • Getting tiny twinges of pain, then it’s fine
    • When sitting, I have to move my hips more to pick things up
    • It’s harder to reach and tie my shoes
    • When standing, feeling like I have to squeeze the lower back muscle to stay upright
    • At night, catching myself slump-walking, which is walking and standing with knees deeply bent
    • It’s tiring to stay bent over in the kitchen
    • It hurts more than usual to press my fists into the lower back
    • I find myself shying away from fun physical activities like dancing or racing the dog
    • At the gym, I feel overly cautious about picking up heavier weights off the ground
    • Having a nagging instinct that I just want to lie down or even hang from a ledge or bar!

    Think about what your own earliest warning signs are for your recurring aches and pains.

    Sometimes they’re observations you’ve learned to notice, like shoe-tying getting harder.  Other times, they’re often instincts, hunches, and even hesitations — your body is trying to warn you!

    Catching stiffness or weakness early before it becomes full-blown pain is a life skill!  The area is often just tense from stress, stagnation, or overuse and needs some circulation or relaxation to recover.  Without recovery, it might worsen.  Early detection can save you from preventable strains + injuries, improve work productivity, and keep you more active without worrying.

    Many of you feel warning signs like this all the time, which means it’s worth taking care of!  Of course, you can get a massage or chiropractic adjustment if you have the means.  If you suspect a medical condition, see a physician or physical therapist to instruct on care and self-care.

    Most of you can empower yourself, though, by using foam rollers, massage balls, stretching (learn which types!), or those exercises you got from “that physical therapist…” once upon a time 😉

    An elastic wrap or sleeve may be a good idea, too.  Light compression reminds you not to suddenly over-exert the at-risk body part, and provides gentle stabilization if there’s a joint involved.

    Go forth and enjoy your lives as able, but don’t forget to catch the earliest warning signs.  Earliest is easiest!  The sooner you restore healthy structure and function, the happier you’ll be.

     

    Warm regards,

    Alex Gwozda, CMT/LMP

  • Lower Back: Heat Soothes and Releases Painful Tension
    Lower Back: Heat Soothes and Releases Painful Tension
    4.2 Reviewer
    Potential Relief3
    Universality4
    Ease5
    Low cost5
    Low time investment3
    Comfort5
    Summary
    Moderate, steady warmth is ideal. Apply a hot pack, an electric heating pad, or a damp, hot towel to soothe and relax the lower back muscles. Also try a hot bath or homemade dry rice heating bag. (Real heat is very different than topical “warming” creams that will soothe or distract skin nerves from pain, but do not increase the temperature.)
    • Potential relief: 3 - The right level of heat can often relieve roughly half of symptoms.
    • Universality: 4 - Generally, use heat for tension that is NOT inflamed. Most lower back pain is not caused by inflammation or injury, but by over-contracted muscles. Of course, get a diagnosis if unsure. Heat may help relieve most cramps, especially if ice does not help it. Typically, heat relieves achy tension from poor posture. Heat is often far better than ice for “knots” and trigger points, when there’s no other fresh injury or inflammatory condition.
    • Ease: 5 – Easy! Microwave a wet towel or hot pack, or find a heating pad (or bathtub). Apply heat. Don’t burn yourself, especially if you have a condition that reduces nerve sensation around the lower back.
    • Low cost: 5 – It’s essentially free to wet a hand towel, wring out excess water, then microwave it for about a minute. Learn online how to make your own microwaveable hot packs! E.g. use a sock and dry rice, or a moist heat pack that conveys heat better, or even purchase bulk instant hot packs that are large enough. Or, buy a medium to large reusable heating (/cooling) pack. Plus, for sustained heat I really like heating pads.
    • Low time investment: 3 – It takes a few minutes for increased blood flow, warmth, and relaxation. Heating pads can be left on for much longer, like 20 minutes or longer if only set to a low or moderate temperature.
    • Comfort: 5 – Moderate heat feels great.