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Back pain tips

For those with sciatica or general lower back pain, there are a few methods that are usually effective at relieving the pain by re-balancing the muscles involved.

First, let’s briefly examine some of the underlying reasons the pain is there. In the case of sciatica (or piriformis syndrome), the pain in the lower back, buttocks, or leg and foot is generally caused by compression and/or irritation of the sciatic nerve (or a few others that lead to it). Often, a tight piriformis muscle in the hip which compresses the sciatic nerve is the culprit. Other muscles in the hip and upper leg may also impinge nerves and lead to pain.

Most people have a few common muscle imbalances that will lead to back pain or sciatica. The following are a few exercises aimed at resolving these popular imbalances and hopefully relieving some of the pain associated with sciatica.

1. Stretch the Hips and Piriformis

2. Foam Roll the Hips and Upper Legs

Foam rolling is a way of doing soft tissue work yourself without having to go to a specialist. Concentrate on foam rolling the hip flexors and IT band.

Here’s a general foam rolling routine that is done for the whole body. Do this as often as possible and remember to concentrate on the hip flexors, IT band, piriformis .

3. Strengthen your Abs

There’s a pretty high correlation between lower back pain and weak abs. This makes sense since your abdominals, among other things, play an important role in keeping your hips in line and stabilizing your lumbar region. Start by trying to hold the standard plank position for 60 seconds.

Perform hanging leg raises as often as possible along with the plank. Start by lifting with the knees bent and in towards the chest and adjust the difficulty by extending the legs out – eventually ending with a dumbbell between your feet with your legs completely extended. Perform between 8-20 reps for as many sets as you can manage.

Once you’ve managed to hold the plank position for an easy 60 seconds, progress to the ab wheel roll out from the knees. It is very important that you are able to keep your lower back in a neutral position throughout the movement. If your back extends and your stomach sags to the floor, you are not ready for this exercise and should keep working on planks (with added weight – such as a weight vest). If you are able to perform them well, start with low reps (2-5) for more sets (3-6) and progress by increasing the reps while decreasing the sets. When 3 sets of 10 can be comfortable performed from the knees, start over from the feet.

4. Pay Attention to your Feet

One thing that is often overlooked in physical therapy, and treatment for lower back pain in particular, is the role the feet play. Get your feet evaluated and see if you have proper stepping mechanics. Do you over pronate? Do you have flat feet? These are some things for which to look out.

Oftentimes, a good remedy for problematic feet is to eliminate cushioned footwear and ideally shoes altogether. This will have the effect of activating important yet weak or dormant muscles in the feet. The feet will become stronger and your entire body’s mechanics will improve. If you can’t walk around barefoot, get a pair of oversized Chuck Taylors or a similar shoe.

Don’t forget to perform self-myofascial release underneath your foot. This will not only loosen up your foot, it will loosen up your entire fascia and other muscles will have a bit more breathing room. Simply take a hard ball, step on it, adjust the pressure to your pain threshold, and roll it around giving extra attention to the more tender or tight spots.