Compressive pain is a result of pressure or irritation on the spinal cord, nerves that leave the spine. For example, if an intervertebral disc herniates (usually called a ruptured disc) and pushes into the spinal canal, it can cause problems with the nerve. Usually this pressure or irritation causes pain, numbness, and muscle weakness where the nerve travels.
Walking is an easy way to strengthen your bones and muscles, burn calories, and lift your mood. If you don't currently walk for exercise, try walking for five to 10 minutes every day. Gradually build up to 30 minutes a day. It's easy to sneak walking into your day. Take up golf, window-shop at a large mall, or visit a walking-only destination, such as a museum or botanical garden.
Just because your hip flexor region feels sore doesn’t necessarily mean the muscles there are tight — in fact, they might need strengthening. This is where that sports science debate we mentioned earlier comes into play. It’s important to identify whether you’re tight or if the muscles are weak. Again, the Thomas Test will help you identify if you’re maybe stretching something that actually needs strengthening.
To understand various causes of low back pain, it is important to appreciate the normal design (anatomy) of the tissues of this area of the body. Important structures of the low back that can be related to symptoms in this region include the bony lumbar spine (vertebrae, singular = vertebra), discs between the vertebrae, ligaments around the spine and discs, spinal cord and nerves, muscles of the low back, internal organs of the pelvis and abdomen, and the skin covering the lumbar area.
Note: Exercises that strengthen the hip flexors also involve contracting (shortening) these muscles. So if tight hip flexors are a problem for you, it might be wise to limit how many direct hip-strengthening exercises you perform. These exercises are more geared toward people who have been told they have weak hip flexors that need strengthening or are looking for targeted exercises to build more power and stamina in the hip flexors.
How to: Stand tall, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out at 45-degree angles (a). Keep your back straight, knees over toes and your weight in the heels of your feet (b). Engage your glutes and thighs as you lower into a deep squat until thighs parallel to the ground (or as close as you can get them) (c). Powering through your heels, push up to return to starting position (d). Repeat.
Stretching the hip muscles that sit on top of the bursae, part of the lining in your hip joint, can give you some relief from bursitis pain. Kneel on the leg that's giving you the pain, holding on to something sturdy for balance. Tilt your pelvis forward, tightening your gluteus muscles (the muscles in your buttocks). Then lean away from the side of your hip that hurts, for instance to the left if you're kneeling on your right knee. You should feel a stretch from the top of your hip bone down the side of your leg to your knee, Humphrey says. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat once or twice.
Shingles (herpes zoster) is an acute infection of the nerves that supply sensation to the skin, generally at one or several spinal levels and on one side of the body (right or left). Patients with shingles usually have had chickenpox earlier in life. The herpes virus that causes chickenpox is believed to exist in a dormant state within the spinal nerve roots long after the chickenpox resolves. In people with shingles, this virus reactivates to cause infection along the sensory nerve, leading to nerve pain and usually an outbreak of shingles (tiny blisters on the same side of the body and at the same nerve level). The back pain in patients with shingles of the lumbar area can precede the skin rash by days. Successive crops of tiny blisters can appear for several days and clear with crusty inflammation in one to two weeks. Patients occasionally are left with a more chronic nerve pain (postherpetic neuralgia). Treatment can involve symptomatic relief with lotions, such as calamine, or medications, such as acyclovir (Zovirax), for the infection and pregabalin (Lyrica) or lidocaine (Lidoderm) patches for the pain.
Before recommending exercises, physical therapists evaluate their patients to develop a routine that’s appropriate for their specific condition. Pariser says the following exercises, done at home and at the gym, are generally safe for everyone. “If a patient has already received a total hip replacement, however, certain precautions should be taken,” he says.
Neglect your lower body too often and you risk losing mobility — that thing that allows you to plop down on the floor to play with your kids, or get up and out of even the cushiest chair with ease. “A lot of people sit all day, so they’re not necessarily using their glute muscles,” says Daily Burn Fitness/Nutrition Coach Allie Whitesides. “And a lot of people are in the car all the time, so we’re not using our leg muscles much, either.”
Pregnancy commonly leads to low back pain by mechanically stressing the lumbar spine (changing the normal lumbar curvature) and by the positioning of the baby inside of the abdomen. Additionally, the effects of the female hormone estrogen and the ligament-loosening hormone relaxin may contribute to loosening of the ligaments and structures of the back. Pelvic-tilt exercises and stretches are often recommended for relieving this pain. Women are also recommended to maintain physical conditioning during pregnancy according to their doctors' advice. Natural labor can also cause low back pain.
Imaging is indicated when there are red flags, ongoing neurological symptoms that do not resolve, or ongoing or worsening pain. In particular, early use of imaging (either MRI or CT) is recommended for suspected cancer, infection, or cauda equina syndrome. MRI is slightly better than CT for identifying disc disease; the two technologies are equally useful for diagnosing spinal stenosis. Only a few physical diagnostic tests are helpful. The straight leg raise test is almost always positive in those with disc herniation. Lumbar provocative discography may be useful to identify a specific disc causing pain in those with chronic high levels of low back pain. Similarly, therapeutic procedures such as nerve blocks can be used to determine a specific source of pain. Some evidence supports the use of facet joint injections, transforminal epidural injections and sacroilliac injections as diagnostic tests. Most other physical tests, such as evaluating for scoliosis, muscle weakness or wasting, and impaired reflexes, are of little use.
Before discussing different strength and mobility exercises, we should first look at activation exercises for your Gluteus Maximus (referred to as the glutes) muscles. The reason for needing to activate your glutes is simple—as a population, we spend way too much time sitting, and as a result, what happens is what noted spinal researcher Stuart McGill terms gluteal amnesia—your glute muscles can "go to sleep" and not function properly.
Intervertebral disc degeneration is one of the most common mechanical causes of low back pain, and it occurs when the usually rubbery discs lose integrity as a normal process of aging. In a healthy back, intervertebral discs provide height and allow bending, flexion, and torsion of the lower back. As the discs deteriorate, they lose their cushioning ability.
Analgesic medications are those specifically designed to relieve pain. They include OTC acetaminophen and aspirin, as well as prescription opioids such as codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine. Opioids should be used only for a short period of time and under a physician’s supervision. People can develop a tolerance to opioids and require increasingly higher dosages to achieve the same effect. Opioids can also be addictive. Their side effects can include drowsiness, constipation, decreased reaction time, and impaired judgment. Some specialists are concerned that chronic use of opioids is detrimental to people with back pain because they can aggravate depression, leading to a worsening of the pain.
Endometriosis implants are most commonly found on the ovaries, the Fallopian tubes, outer surfaces of the uterus or intestines, and on the surface lining of the pelvic cavity. They also can be found in the vagina, cervix, and bladder. Endometriosis may not produce any symptoms, but when it does the most common symptom is pelvic pain that worsens just prior to menstruation and improves at the end of the menstrual period. Other symptoms of endometriosis include pain during sex, pain with pelvic examinations, cramping or pain during bowel movements or urination, and infertility.
Gait analysis studies in the elderly show that they typically have a shortened step length. Whether that is a result of tight hip flexors or due to reduced balance, the propensity to walk with shorter steps will itself lead to tightness in hip flexors and anterior joint structures. Hip stretches may be a relatively easy preventative strategy for the elderly with gait abnormalities and may help to prevent falls.
Epidural steroid injections are most commonly used in situations of radicular pain, which is a radiating pain that is transmitted away from the spine by an irritated spinal nerve. Irritation of a spinal nerve in the low back (lumbar radiculopathy) causes pain that goes down the leg. Epidural injections are also used to treat nerve compression in the neck (cervical spine), referred to as cervical radiculopathy, which causes pain.
The condition is cauda equina syndrome. It involves “acute loss of function of the neurologic elements (nerve roots) of the spinal canal below the termination (conus) of the spinal cord,” where the nerves spread out like a horse (equina) tail. Again, this condition causes symptoms in the “saddle” of the body: butt, groin, inner thighs. BACK TO TEXT
Nerve block therapies aim to relieve chronic pain by blocking nerve conduction from specific areas of the body. Nerve block approaches range from injections of local anesthetics, botulinum toxin, or steroids into affected soft tissues or joints to more complex nerve root blocks and spinal cord stimulation. When extreme pain is involved, low doses of drugs may be administered by catheter directly into the spinal cord. The success of a nerve block approach depends on the ability of a practitioner to locate and inject precisely the correct nerve. Chronic use of steroid injections may lead to increased functional impairment.
You'll need a resistance band for this one. With this exercise you're focusing on four movements—flexion, extension, abduction and adduction. Try and stand up straight while doing the exercise. If you have to lean excessively, step closer to the anchor point of your band to decrease resistance. You'll find that not only are you working the muscles of the leg that's moving, the muscles of your stance leg will work quite hard stabilizing and balancing.
Model Heather Lin grew up in the deep south but is currently hustling in New York, working at a bank. Whether she is biking home from work, deadlifting, kicking a heavy bag, or pouring all of her effort into a bootcamp class, it's important to her to find time in her busy day to work out. She feels her best when she is strong and energized, and blogs about her health and fitness journey at The Herbivore Warrior.