Part 4: Self Care of Lower Back Pain
The purpose of this article is to discuss some of the self-care practices that can prevent or address lower back pain. Lower back pain is not a general condition but has many specific potential sources that cannot all be addressed in this article. This article will discuss self-myofascial release
(foam rolling) for maintaining tissue health and Stuart McGill’s Big 3 exercises for building a strong, well-rounded core.
Self-myofascial release (SMR):
SMR is essentially the poor man’s massage. Massages are great for releasing knots and reducing creep. Creep is the low stretching of muscle beyond their normal length that can come from slouching. Mike Boyle explains creep as slowly pressing your fist through a plastic bag. If you don’t apply too much pressure, the bag will stretch and retain that stretched length. Slouching does the same thing for the lower back. The muscles and connective tissue of the lumbar spine are slowly stretched a lengthen and become denser. It was found that slouching as little as 20 minutes a day causes the ligaments of the lower back to lengthen (Boyle). The end result is lower quality muscles. SMR is especially important for the back side of your body because it reduces creep.
Importantly, SMR is perhaps the only area of strength and conditioning where “no pain, no gain” is actually true. For any SMR movement, roll out at a rate of about 1 inch per second and when you find a sensitive area hold that position while taking 3-5 deep breaths. The targeted muscle should be relaxed while rolling. If the muscle is flexed, transition to a softer tool.
Foam Roller Piriformis
The piriformis is an area I roll out daily. Put a foam roller, tennis ball, or lacrosse ball on the ground and sit down on it so pressure is applied against the butt cheek. You are looking for sensitive areas where the back pocket of your pants would be located. Check out the video below!
Other areas I like to focus on during SMR are my thoracic spine, levators, traps, quadriceps, and IT band. Below is a link to Prevail’s Self Myofascial Release YouTube playlist.
Stuart McGill’s Big 3
Stuart McGill is one of the leading lower back pain researchers. If you would like more information on lower back pain, his articles are very highly regarded in the strength and conditioning community (Here is a great summary article on his system). McGill’s Big 3 movements are core exercises that increase core stability without risking your spinal health. They aren’t the movements you’ll see in the latest YouTube video on getting 6 six-pack abs or a slimmer waist, but they have the potential to build a healthier, more resilient torso.
Curl to Neutral (curl up)
The curl to neutral is similar to a sit up except the lower back stays on the ground. The purpose of the movement is to train the abs without straining the lower back like sit ups.
The core is never really a massive generator of force. For most functional movements, it just transfers force generated by the lower body to the upper body. Thus, the core should be trained to remain rigid against extension and rotation. The side plank trains the core to remain rigid when a lateral force is applied. During the movement, everything should be flexed especially the hips, core, and lat of the bottom arm. For this movement, it is important that the entire body remains straight (including the neck) and that the top shoulder stays back.
Quadruped Position (Bird Dog)
The quadruped position is an anti-extension and anti-rotation movement. The user has to keep themselves from letting their back arch and stay balanced as their leg moves.
There are many progressions for each of McGill’s Big 3 movements depending on factors including goals, training history, injuries, and mobility limitations. Check out Prevail’s Torso Training playlist for a run through the different variations!
Alright! That sums up this series on lower back pain. If you read all 4 parts I am very thankful you stuck with it. I hope this information has been informative and useful. I’ve got your back! Get it?