Say Goodbye to Chronic Back Pain!
By Tiffany Encinas aka the “Glute Girl”
Years ago, I went to a Perform Better seminar and there was a particular session dedicated entirely to the glutes. Out of sheer curiosity, I took the bait. My world was rocked with the information I received on just how important the function of the glutes are, especially as it relates to the chronic back pain we see in America. I knew they were important and the biggest muscle in the body but that was the extent of it. Thus began my butt journey!
Let’s look at some interesting statistics according to WebMd. Approximately 8 out of 10 Americans will have back problems at some point in their lives; 54% who experience lower back pain spend the majority of their workday sitting. The cost of back pain in America is over $50 billions, to be more accurate. Back pain has wider financial implications to patients and society. Indirect costs include not only lost wages and productivity but also legal and insurance overheads and the impact on family.
Why is this? In my experience, which is confirmed and backed up by people who have way more experience and credentials with names I can’t pronounce than I do, the reason is because they don’t move correctly. They move with their backs and not their hips! So the solution is- learn proper mechanics! Well it’s not that simple. Many people are unable to move with proper mechanics due to poor mobility and motor control. It takes quite a bit of time to reprogram the body to move correctly. So below I want to list some strategies I’ve found personally to either fix chronic back pain, or help tremendously:
- Activate the Glutes aka “turn on those lazy giants”
SO many people have weak glutes. The glutes, even though they are the biggest muscle group in the body, are pretty lazy and don’t like to contract unless need-be. They like to let other muscles such as the hamstrings and quads carry the load and stay asleep unless you force them to contract. Years of inactivity and sitting (which shortens the hip flexors and causes more glute dysfunction) cause the nervous system to literally forget how to use the glutes. I can always tell how functional someones glutes are by how fast their glutes turn on during a glute specific exercise, the longer it takes someone to feel that “burn” in their glutes tells me a lot about how functional their glutes are. Here are a couple strategies to strengthen the mind-muscle connection in the glutes: Start by just squeezing the glutes. People often hear me say “crack the walnut” so envision a walnut between your cheeks and focus on squeezing so hard you can actually crack it open, like it’s your only source of food for the winter and this is the only way you’ll be able to open it. If you still are having a hard time, feel free to actually grab a walnut and practice (haha). You can do this either standing or in a hip bridge position. Second, do some low load training like fire hydrants, clams, band walks or hip bridges. Your glutes can handle a lot, so work on turning them on as often as you can throughout the day and overtime not only will you have a better looking backside, but you’ll find your back pain and/or knee pain will be less severe.
- Improve soft tissue quality via SMR
I have every client start their session with foam rolling. Over the years people build up scar tissue that needs to be cleared. A muscle cannot function properly if it has scar tissue or adhesions. By using self-myofascial release (SMR), which is basically a technical term for a “poor man’s massage,” you will restore optimal tissue quality and allow proper functioning of the muscle’s nerves and blood flow. In addition to a foam roller I use a lacrosse ball for more targeted areas like the fascia of the feet, which is especially good for people who have plantar fasciitis.
- Improve soft tissue length via static stretching
Static stretching turns off inhibition and increases flexibility. This is to be done after a workout or an off day. You don’t want to static stretch before exercising where your muscles need to be turned “on,” not off. In particular, hamstring flexibility and hip flexor flexibility are critical components to minimizing lower back stress and pain. PNF techniques are my favorite to use.
- Prevent lumbar movement and learn to control the core
Most people move by contorting their lumbar spines. I see it so often in the gym and I cringe, but I was also once there myself! During exercise I see overarching (excessively extend) their lower backs during squats, deadlifts, bridging, lunging, and back extension movements. They round their lower backs (flexion) during deadlifts, bent over rows, good mornings, and they twist their lower backs during rotary movements by not moving their feet. In all of these situations, this is improper mechanics. Proper movement mechanics usually involves keeping the lower back locked into place (bracing) in neutral position while moving about other joints such as the thoracic spine and hips. Some tricks in helping with core control are anti-movement exercises like front planks, side planks, suitcase carries, cable chops, and pallof presses.
There are many other strategies that can help with chronic lower back pain but these are the more important ones I’ve found. If practiced, daily, many lives can be changed dramatically, I’ve seen it with my own clients, and so many others as well. You’ve heard it said before, “do what you’ve always done and get what you always got.” So if you want change you’re going to have to do something different, something that feels so unconventional, maybe even hard. The solution is simple, but the process takes work. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. There’s no magic pill, only hard work and consistency leads to success and living a pain free life. So what are you waiting for? The stars to align? Your kids to be out of school? Work to slow down? There will never be a better time than TODAY. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, start living your best life today doing one small thing.