Like a lot of people, I used to suffer from chronic back pain.
It started young, when I was sixteen years old.
I thought ‘I’m too young to have back pain.’
I went to a chiropractor, but he just told me some BS about how one of my legs was shorter than the other (even if this was true, how does it help me?)
What ended up finally relieving my back pain was Bikram yoga. At the end of that hot and challenging ninety minutes my back pain had disappeared.
Only to return again a few months later.
See, the real cause of my low back pain was lifestyle.
Like most people in first world countries, I was sitting for most of the day. Through my own research I learned that what sitting does is put certain muscles in a ‘shortened’ position.
This lined up with my own observations.
When I was living an active lifestyle with minimal sitting my back was fine. Any time I sat for extended periods, like while traveling, my back pain flared up.
This makes sense when you consider the human body is not meant to remain in one static position for a long period of time.
We were made to move.
Sitting for prolonged periods has serious negative consequences.
But the reality of modern life is that we’re forced to sit a lot. Whether it’s in the desk at work, in the car commuting, or in the plane while traveling, sometimes sitting is unavoidable.
What we can do is counteract the negative effects sitting has on our body.
I’ve found the best way to counteract the negative effects of sitting is to develop my own stretching and mobility routine that I use whenever I’m sitting more than usual.
Every action has a consequence. Sitting for too long allows some muscles to shorten and tighten, which can often result in back pain.
By being pro-active and stretching those muscles we can bring balance back to the body and avoid the pain before it ever starts.
I’m going to give you two of my go to stretches to alleviate low back pain. Give them a try and feel free to take or leave whatever you find useful. Everyone’s biomechanics are different so some stretches may work better than others for your particular anatomy.
My stretches focus on the QL and psoas muscles, because for me, that is what is creating my low back pain.
QL Smash and Stretch
For me, releasing and stretching my quadratus lumborum (QL for short), gives me, bar none, the most bang for my buck.
Thing is, it’s not all that intuitive how to stretch this muscle. Like most of the muscles which contribute to low back pain, it’s thick and deep.
To smash and release this muscle, just place a lacrosse ball underneath the muscle while you’re on your back. Here’s a picture for reference:
For more intensity, pick up and hold the knee to your body on your problem side. You can also add a yoga block underneath the ball for more pressure.
Like all smashes/stretches, you should hold this position for at least two minutes, moving or ‘flossing’ around on the ball to hit those painful trigger spots. Remember to breath!
After smashing and releasing the QL, it’s time to stretch it out. One of the best QL stretches I’ve found is sitting on the ground with both legs bent at a ninety degree angle and stretching out with your leading arm.
It’s much easier to see a video of it than to explain in words. Here’s a video of Jeff Cavalier performing the stretch:
Psoas Smash and Stretch
Odds are if you’ve suffered from low back pain you’ve heard of the psoas. This thick muscle runs from your lumbar vertebrae to the top of your leg.
The psoas is one of the main muscles to become shortened from sitting. Many people have a tight, shortened psoas and could benefit from stretching it.
I’ll let Kelly Starlett show you how in this video:
Once I’ve smashed and released my psoas, I like to give it a good stretch.
One of my favorite psoas stretches is the good old fashioned lunge stretch. It’s performed by planting one knee on the ground and one foot out in front. Difficulty can be increased by raising the arm overhead of the side you’re stretching.
Here’s a picture for reference:
It’s helpful to have a yoga mat or small pillow to cushion your knee when performing this stretch.
You’ll see some people, especially yogis, go very deep into this stretch. Unless you’re very flexible, it’s not necessary to go that deep to feel a good stretch.
If you’re suffering from low back pain, give these four smashes/stretches a try.
Both these mobility exercises utilized a lacrosse ball to perform myofascial tissue release. Lacrosse balls are a simple and effective self massage and mobility tool.
We’ve created a great set of massage balls that come with a handy travel bag. I bring this set with me every time I travel so I can prevent and remedy low back pain when it occurs.
I recommend you get a set of massage balls to use both at home and while traveling. They’ve become one of my travel essentials and something I never leave home without.