Unsure what is causing the chronic pain in your low back? Well, there is a very strong possibility that it’s simply an issue of imbalance in the musculature system. We often forget that our backs are not the only part of the body that hold us upright. The abdominal muscles, hip flexors, and gluteals all play a huge role in maintaining an erect spine, and imbalance in any of these areas may result in low back pain. Today I’m going to focus on the impact of tension in the hip flexors because I have found that this is most often the source of imbalance. However, know that strong abdominals are also crucial. If the stretch outlined below does not help, you may want to go see a massage or physical therapist to assess exactly what is going on in your particular situation and if the stretch below actually worsens your pain, I strongly advise you to visit your primary doctor or physician.
Iliopsoas is the prime mover in hip flexion. Technically this is two muscles, but as you can see they are closely related and join together at the insertion. Psoas originates at the transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae and iliacus originates along the iliac crest, both insert on the lesser trochantor of the femur. When iliopsoas contracts, the femur is pulled up towards the spine to flex the hip. When psoas is hypertonic and unable to fully relax, the lumbar vertebrae will be drawn forward and down, out of alignment whenever the leg is straightened. Because we spend so much time sitting in modern times, the muscle will actually adjust its default setting to be contracted like it is when we sit. Then, when we stand, the psoas is unable to extend to its full length, the low spine is pulled forward, the pelvis too may tilt forward from tension in iliacus, resulting in pressure and pain in the low back.
If you are someone who spends a lot of time sitting, I cannot stress enough how important it is to stretch this muscle every day.
First, stand tall with the hips squared forward and the feet firmly rooted. Step the left foot forward into a lunge, bend deeply into the left knee, and then lower the right knee to the earth. Sink the hips as low as you can, but make sure to keep them squared forward. This means that you may need to draw the left hip back and the right hip forward. You can reach back for your right foot if accessible to deepen the stretch in your quadriceps (which aid in hip flexion), but know that this is not necessary.
Squeeze the inner thighs in towards the midline and energetically draw the left heel and right knee in towards each other. This action engages the psoas and other hip flexors while in a stretched position, this is eccentric contraction.
Keep the legs strongly engaged for about 8 seconds and then fully relax your effort. Soften the legs and melt the hips down towards the floor. Breath deeply into the hips, inviting space to the areas that feel tense or congested as you relax all effort for 10-12 seconds.
Again, engage the legs, squeezing them in towards the midline for 8 seconds. Then relax again for 10-12.
Repeat this cycle of contraction and relaxation three times total and the switch sides. Lift the back knee, step forward, take a moment to notice any changes in your body, and then step the right foot forward into a lunge, drop the left knee and focus your efforts on the left hip flexors.