Quarantine is hurting my low back!

Recently, many people have been complaining about aches and pains, more than usual. Most of us are not moving as much as we usually do, are sitting for longer, and hunched over technology more hours of the day. Since we are at home, there’s no stop time, and we may be working and slouching more than ever. Unfortunately, we are moving even less than before at a time when our bodies need to stretch and move to counteract the hunch.

Moving is a great way to bring blood to a muscle, warm it up, lengthen and stretch it. We need to do this to keep our muscles healthy and functional. There’s a nursing guideline, for patients in a hospital who cannot move themselves, to reposition them every 2 hours two prevent breakdown of the soft tissues being compressed under their own body weight. How long are you compressing your tissues??

Below is content provided from a portion of a stretch workshop I offered a few years ago. This couldn’t be any more relevant as we are sitting more, shortening hip flexors, overstretching the gluts, a combination that over time, prevents your gluts from doing their job usually resulting in achy low back muscles, or muscles in complete seize mode. One important note here about a locked up lower back. The most common recommendation for this is to take over the counter pain meds for the pain and rest. In my experience, this injury take no less than a week to feel better with best case scenario, and heals best with gentle range of motion that may be a little painful. The pain is an excellent guide as to what the muscles can handle and masking that information with NSAIDS may hamper your ability to know what a healthy range of motion is, be able to work within it, and not push beyond it. Pushing beyond, or that sharp pain that stops you in you tracks sometimes correctly and incorrectly referred to as sciatica, will typically further the injury. In addition to masking pain, the NSAIDs can cause GI issues over time. In most cases, I recommend people avoid pain meds, move through the uncomfortability in a range of motion that does not send the muscles further into seizing, and take care of the area very gently with small amounts of movement.


Check out this Youtube video of Paul demonstrating a standing Hip Flexor Stretch. Subscribe to the channel for more instructional videos on foam rolling, stretching, classes and more! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYtP05Hm3qs&t=0s

Hip Flexors and Piriformis Syndrome

Tight hip flexors can be the root cause of chronic pain and injuries in the hip, knees, ankles, low back, shoulders and neck – that’s almost everywhere!  Many people come into the studio complaining of age related aches and pains, and I tell them I don’t accept that it’s age related.  Maybe time related, but not specific to age.  If you have been sitting at a desk working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, not stretching or exercising those muscles, you probably experience aches and pains when you get to your 40’s (and maybe even in your 30’s with our pervasive technology posture).  The aches are not typically because you are in your 40’s, but rather because your body has held up as long as it could without stretching or strengthening or both.  For as much achiness and pain as you have had, for as long as you have had, you may be just a few stretches away from feeling better.

Now, years of poor posture and lack of stretching/strengthening are not fixed in minutes with stretching, but this certainly sends your body in the right direction.  Think about how often you sit at a desk, in the car, on a couch and the posture that your spine and neck are in during those times.  In the age of technology, not many people get away from the tech slouch (head down, spine rounded, shoulders shrugged up). Imagine if you had to stretch for as many hours as you slumped to make yourself feel better?  That would be tons of stretching!  Fortunately, our bodies are responsive and so offsetting the slouch with some stretching goes a long way.  

Now about those flexors…

Those two big “cables” that attach your legs to your torso are called hip flexors, iliopsoas or psoas muscles.  These power muscles and attachments on the front of your leg are responsible for pulling your knees toward your chest and sometimes chest to knees, or more broadly bending forward and straightening up tall at the hip. Being responsible for more than half of the body, these muscles and ligaments are powerful and strong.  Unfortunately, sometimes this works against us.  These powerhouse muscles get tight and overstretch the opposing muscles in the back, the glut and hip girdle, sometimes resulting in low back or hip pain.  The pain often doesn’t show up in the flexor, and so we go on trying to fix the pain in our back, hip, knee, ankle or shoulders that continually returns when we sit and slouch.  Frustrated, we give in and say we are getting old.

Don’t give in. Stretch and breathe.

If you find yourself seated for hours in front of a computer or driving, try a few of these to minimize the muscles fatigue:

  1. Scoot to the edge of your seat, and hold on to the chair.  Start with both feet flat on the floor.  Move your right foot so that you place the tops of your toes on the floor.  Continue to move the toes behind you and under your seat.  See how far back you can go to stretch out the front part of your hip.  Repeat on the other side.
  2. While driving, place a pillow, foam block or rolled up towel between your left leg and the door.  Focus on keeping your left knee facing forward and under the dashboard instead of angle to the door.  Use even pressure through your right foot on the gas pedal instead of allowing your foot to roll open.  At every traffic light, sit up as tall as you can and take a deep breath.  (Make sure this does not distract you from the road. Always be safe while driving!)

When you stretch, take some deep breaths.  Breathing can help us in many ways, but one is relaxation.  Sometimes stress can cause us to hold tension in our muscles, and we don’t even realize how contracted our muscles get.  A few deep breaths can help the muscles to relax as we stretch.

While stretching during the day can be beneficial, creating a 1-2 minute daily stretch routine may help you get a handle on the long-term, chronic aches and pains that have set up shop in your muscles.  When time permits, a hot shower or warm bath can limber up and prepare the body for a few minutes of stretching maximizing your efforts, as well as just feeling good!

How to address Piriformis Syndrome:

The piriformis muscle is a small muscle that in short originates on the pelvis, weaves through a crowded area and attaches to the top of the thigh.  Dysfunction here causes aches and pains throughout the lower back, hips and sometimes compresses the sciatic nerve sending shooting pain down the back of the leg.  Stretching the muscles around the piriformis in addition to the actual prirformis can be helpful in decreasing aches and pain, as well as increasing strength, flexibility and range of motion in the same area.

Our Recommended Protocol for Piriformis Syndrome:

We may use all of some of these depending onthe severity of the injury and fitness level of the indivisual.

  1. Heat low back with heating pad, hot shower or hot bath
  2. Foam Roll Glutes
  3. Foam Roll Hamstring Belly
  4. Foam Roll Quads
  5. Foam Roll IT Bands and Hips
  6. Hip Flexor – Runners Lunge Stretch
  7. Hamstring Stretch – legs up the wall
  8. Single Knee to Chest w rotation
  9. Figure Four or Pigeon
  10. IT Band/Supine Twist Stretch
  11. Ragdoll w leg extension
  12. Roll Softball in Glut
  13. Core work
  14. Deadlifts
  15. Squats
  16. Lateral Steps w Band

Find a local stretch class to learn how to do the stretches properly, mix and match the ones best geared toward your particular needs. 

embodyFitness offers Stretch and Core several times a week and The Stretch Workshop monthly to help people learn proper stretching techniques and design a routine that is best for them.

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