(Please note: this article is only about muscular discomfort and weakness. It does not address major structural spinal issues, such as disc degeneration or slipped discs. Please see a medical professional if your concern is structural or spine-related).
It’s a common problem: you work at an office job all week long, and by the time the weekend comes around all you want to do is go out and hit a few golf balls, ride a bike, play tennis or basketball. And then your Sunday is spent lying on the couch, nursing a sore lower back and wondering what happened. Let’s get to the bottom of this problem and find out how to fix it!
What’s Going On Back There?
There are three major sets of muscles that govern the lower back:
The first are two quadrilateral shaped muscles called the quadratus lumborum that attach to the bottom of the ribs, the lumbar vertebrae (spine) and the top of the pelvis. Additionally, running the length of the spine are a set of muscles called the erector spinae. And also attached to the lumbar spine are the upper fibers of the psoas, a long and famously tight muscle that connects the torso to the legs. Because of our habits of sitting for long periods of time at a desk or in a car, these muscles often become both short and weak.
While we usually think of our core as being that belly that we see in front of us, three of the major core muscle groups also attach around to the lower back (both sets of obliques and the transverse abdominals).
An additional factor is the attachment of the hamstrings, the muscles on the back of the legs, that tend to get passively tight and weak from sitting (a condition called adaptive shortening). When tight, they start a chain reaction of pulling that runs up the back of the body and leads right into the lower back muscles, compounding the discomfort.
So you can start to get a sense of how many different muscle groups are involved in maintaining a healthy back, and how important it is to stretch and strengthen all of the above!
Why Does My Low Back Hurt After Sports?
All of these different muscle groups converge at a place on the spine where the shape of the vertebrae (the individual discs that link together to make up the spinal column) changes dramatically from those in the thoracic spine just above. The discs become larger and bend much more easily in every direction (try this experiment: move your head around and feel how your neck bends easily. Then move your belly around and feel the same range of movement in the lower back. Then try and do the same with the middle of your ribcage. It doesn’t happen!) Because of this mobility, the lower back can often take the brunt of any movement we undertake. So we have a combination of weak muscles with a highly mobile part of the spine taking on more than it should, and it’s easy to understand how this would lead to discomfort.
What Can I Do To Prevent This From Becoming a Real Problem?
1. Identify the Pain If you’ve pulled a muscle in your back, your first approach should focus on reducing inflammation in the muscles using the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) so that the tissues have a chance to rest and recover. If you’re only suffering from discomfort brought on by overuse, try a hot bath with Epsom salts, or a massage to increase the flow of blood and nutrients to the area.
2. Strengthen the Low Back You don’t need to give up your weekly pick-up basketball game; instead, add targeted yoga therapy exercises to strengthen the lower back and notice how this positively affects your jump shot!
3. Add In Abdominal Work Create even more support for the back by strengthening and stretching the abdominal muscles.
You can begin a self-massage therapy program for the Lower Back using Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls – find the audio guide here. To strengthen the lower back, begin with Revolved Abdominal Pose – it’s a safe pose for everyone to use (posted in Wednesday’s blog). You can then continue strengthening with the Yoga Tune Up® Quick Fix Low Back Video here, which includes many core strength exercises.
Lower back pain is an increasingly common complaint as we grow older, but with some targeted therapies and preventative measures, it doesn’t have to disrupt your game!
Learn about our Therapy Balls Program for your lower back.
Check out our Post athletic stretch DVD
Discover how to strengthen your core.