We’ve already gone over what to do if your back hurts from sitting all day, but what if your back hurts because you stand all day? For those of you in retail, food service, factory work, or the like, you might notice low back pain at the end of your day. Unlike your office-dwelling contemporaries, however, your back pain probably isn’t caused by an overly stretched lumbar spine. If you don’t have the core strength to support good posture (your posture comes from the core, not the upper back), more often than not you probably find yourself sporting a spine like a ski jump: Instead of having a normal S-curve, your spine is straight from the top until right above your hips, when it extends backward in an exaggerated arch. This means that your low back pain is probably caused by shortened hip flexors and low-to-mid back muscles and lengthened core and glute muscles.
So how do we avoid low back pain from standing all day? Work to correct your muscular imbalances: Lengthen your shortened hip flexors and low-to-mid back muscles through stretching and/or foam rolling and shorten your lengthened abs and glutes through strength training.
We covered releasing and lengthening your hip flexors in the last article, so I won’t repeat that here. Instead, we’ll move on to your low-to-mid back muscles.
1. Release Tight Low-to-Mid Back Muscles
SMR (Self-Myofascial Release) and Trigger Point Therapy are great ways to release tight, shortened muscles.
Low Back Trigger Point Release
Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place two acumobility balls or a peanut (made for that purpose or two tennis/lacrosse balls duct taped together) on either side of your spine right above your hip bones. Exhale and tighten your abs as your pull you tuck your hips, raising your glutes slightly off the floor. Breathe in and relax back to the start position. Do 3-5 reps, then move the balls about an inch up your spine. Continue, inch by inch, until the balls are just below your rib cage.
Foam Roll Lats
Lie sideways with a foam roller directly below your armpit, arm outstretched and thumb pointing toward the ceiling. Roll down your side until about the middle of your rib cage, stopping every few inches and rocking slightly forward and back. Wherever you feel tenderness, hold that position and breathe into it for 30-90 seconds or until the tenderness dissipates.
2. Lengthen Your Low-to-Mid Back Muscles
In addition to foam rolling, you can increase length in your low-to-mid back muscles through stretching. Here are two dynamic stretches that can be done before a workout or after you’ve been standing all day.
Start on your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Without moving forward or backward, press your tailbone toward the floor. Then, vertebra by vertebra, slowly press your spine up toward the ceiling, dropping your head last. Reverse the movement, starting again at the tailbone, pressing your tailbone toward the ceiling. Vertebra by vertebra, slowly press your spine toward the floor, raising your head last. Breathe normally as you move.
Side-to-Side Child’s Pose
Start on your hands and knees with your knees wider than hip-width apart, then push your hips back toward your heels. Reach your arms past your ears and straight out in front of you. As you breathe in through the nose, reach both arms to one side of your mat, stretching from your hips. As you breathe slowly out through your mouth, reach your hips further back toward your heels and press your chest toward the floor. As you breathe in, reach both arms to the opposite side of the mat, slightly curving your torso on the other side. Breathe out, reaching your hips back and pushing your chest toward the floor. Continue to move with your breath.
3. Strengthen Your Abs and Glutes
I went over a few glute activation exercises in my article on sitting too much and I went over a few plank variations at the beginning of this series. Those are all great exercises to include. Here are a few more exercises that really focus on stabilizing a neutral spine.
Pelvic Tilt Marches & Neutral Spine Marches
PELVIC TILT MARCHES: Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Bring your spine into pelvic tilt by engaging your core. There should be no space between your back and the floor. Maintaining your tension, raise one foot an inch or two off the floor. Bring your foot back to the ground and switch sides. As you move, try to keep your hips as still as possible. Placing your hands gently on your hip bones will allow you to feel if your hips shift during this movement.
NEUTRAL SPINE MARCHES: To make this movement more challenging, leave your spine in its neutral position. You can find neutral by putting your fingers on your pubic bone and the heels of your hands on your hips. Rock your hips back and forth until your pubic bone and hips are in the same plane and your hands are parallel to the ground. You should be able to just fit your hand between your low back and the floor. Perform the exercise as directed above.
Bridge with Marches
Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Using your abs to maintain a neutral spine, engage your glutes and hamstrings to drive your hips off the floor. Without letting your hips rock, raise one foot a few inches off the floor. Bring your foot back to the ground and switch sides. As you move, keep your hips as still as possible. Placing your hands gently on your hip bones will allow you to feel if your hips shift during this movement.
Get onto your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Without letting your hips shift, simultaneously reach one arm out past your ear and the opposite leg out straight from the hip. Return to the start position before switching sides.
Lie on your back with your arms reaching to the ceiling above your shoulders and your legs off the floor, knees bent at a 90 degree angle above your hips. Breathe out as you reach one arm to the wall beyond your head and press the opposite heel toward the opposite wall. Breathe in as you return to the starting position. Switch sides. Use your breathing to create tension in your core. Keep tension throughout your body by keeping your fingers splayed and your feet flexed. You want to feel your abs, rather than your hip flexors.
This is the third installment in a series about preventing low back pain. The first article was all about creating core stability through planks. The second article described how to prevent low back pain if you sit all day.
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