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Why Does My Low Back Hurt?

Top 5 Tips and Tricks for Low Back Pain: Insights from a Medical Massage Therapist


Low back pain is a common pain point that affects millions of people worldwide, often hindering daily activities and reducing quality of life. As a medical massage therapist, I have seen firsthand the significant impact that effective treatment and self-care practices can have on alleviating this discomfort and extending that "feels like new" feeling between massage sessions. Here are my top five tips and tricks to help manage and reduce low back pain!


1. Regular Stretching and Strengthening Exercises

Why It Works: Stretching and strengthening exercises are essential for maintaining flexibility and building muscle strength in the lower back and hips, which can help prevent pain and injury. Regular exercise in these areas promotes better posture and reduces the strain on the back. Also, when the hip flexors are chronically tight or weak, we get "stuck"- which often leads to not being able to straighten the back right away after bending over or sitting for too long.


Recommended Exercises:

  • Cat-Cow Stretch: This yoga pose helps to loosen up the spine and relieve tension.

  • Pelvic Tilts: These are great for strengthening the lower abdominal muscles and stabilizing the spine.

  • Bridge Exercise: Strengthens the glutes and lower back muscles, providing better support for the spine.

  • Hip Flexor Stretch: Stretches the front of the hips, which are often tight and contribute to back pain.

  • Clamshells: Strengthen the glutes and outer hip muscles, supporting hip stability and reducing strain on the lower back.

Tip: Incorporate these exercises into your daily routine. Aim for at least 10-15 minutes of stretching and strengthening exercises, preferably right before bed and first thing in the morning to get things moving!


2. Mind Your Posture

Why It Works: Poor posture puts additional stress on the lower back muscles and spine, leading to pain and discomfort. Maintaining good posture helps distribute your body weight evenly and reduces the risk of back problems.


Posture Tips:

  • Sitting: Keep your feet flat on the floor, knees at a 90-degree angle, and avoid slouching. Use a chair that supports your lower back or add a lumbar cushion.

  • Standing: Stand tall with your shoulders back, and avoid locking your knees. Wear supportive shoes to help maintain proper alignment.

Tip: Set reminders on your phone or computer to check and correct your posture throughout the day.


3. Heat and Cold Therapy

Why It Works: Heat and cold therapies are effective for relieving muscle tension and reducing inflammation, respectively. I'm often asked which one is better, and the answer is: It depends. If it's painful, use ice! If it's tight, use heat. If it's a little of both, heat THEN ice! The key thing to remember is that heat brings an increase of circulation and healthy inflammation to the area, but if that area is already inflamed, the heat might feel good initially but the muscles will seize up once the heat wears off (e.g. the next morning) if you don't use ice to bring the inflammation (healthy or otherwise) back out. Alternating between the two can provide significant pain relief for this or any area of the body! See also: I'm adding water intake in here as well since dehydration often causes the soft tissue surrounding your muscle to shrivel and cause everything to get stuck much quicker!


How to Use:

  • Cold Therapy: Apply an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to the painful area for 15-20 minutes, especially during the first 48 hours after the pain starts. Alternatively, commercially available topical cooling analgesics (Stopain, BioFreeze, Tigerbalm, etc) work in a pinch!

  • Heat Therapy: Use a heating pad or warm bath to relax the muscles and improve blood flow. Apply for 20-30 minutes.

Tip: Always place a cloth between your skin and the ice or heat source to prevent burns or frostbite.


4. Massage Therapy

Why It Works: Massage therapy can help reduce muscle tension, improve circulation, and promote relaxation. It can also address specific muscle imbalances that contribute to lower back and hip pain.


Types of Massage:

  • Swedish Massage: Uses long, gentle strokes to relax the entire body and improve circulation.

  • Deep Tissue Massage: Focuses on the deeper layers of muscle tissue to release chronic tension and knots.

  • Trigger Point Therapy: Targets specific points of tension to relieve pain and improve mobility.

  • Sound Therapy: Uses the gentle vibration from sound at specific frequencies to trigger the release of tight muscles, tendons, and knots.

  • Neuromuscular Cupping Therapy: Uses "negative pressure" (aka "Zero Gravity") through suction to release areas of adhesion where muscle and fascia have gotten stuck together. Highly effective alternative to Deep Tissue techniques.

  • Hot Stone Therapy: Uses the heat from the stones to soothe and relax tired/tight areas while calming the mind to promote holistic levels of healing through stress reduction.

  • Usui Reiki: While technically not a form of bodywork, Reiki is a highly effective tool for relaxation, rejuvenation, improved circulation, and promoting the body's innate ability to heal. I have several clients who add 15-30min of Reiki to the end of their massage sessions for maximum effectiveness!

Tip: You can schedule any of these modalities with Abby at Work of Heart- Healing Touch since she's a licensed medical massage therapist specializing in pain management! Getting a medical massage at regular intervals is crucial for developing a treatment plan to better manage and/or alleviate chronic pain.


5. Caring for Weak or Chronically Tight Hips

Why It Matters: Weak or tight hips can contribute significantly to low back pain by altering your gait and putting extra strain on your lower back muscles. When the hips tighten up, it over stretches the muscles in the low-back, which contributes to weakness, and therefore pain, in both areas.


Additional Tips:

  • Foam Rolling: Regularly use a foam roller on your hip flexors, glutes, and IT band to release tension and improve flexibility.

  • Hip Flexor Stretches: Incorporate stretches like the kneeling hip flexor stretch and pigeon pose into your routine to lengthen tight hip muscles.

  • Strengthening Exercises: Focus on exercises that target the gluteus medius and minimus, such as side-lying leg lifts and monster walks with a resistance band.

  • Active Movement: Avoid sitting for prolonged periods. Take breaks to stand, stretch, and walk around to keep your hips mobile.


Conclusion

Managing low back pain often requires a multi-faceted approach, and in the case of muscle weakness or improper use of your muscles (due to chronic fatigue, lifestyle, or even job duties), the help of a trusted physical therapist for long-term relief. Remember, consistency is key, and listening to your body will help you find the best combination of treatments that work for you. When it doubt- STRETCH IT OUT and drink a few bottles of water!









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