Muscle imbalance and back pain. In all my years of training, I’ve heard a lot of complaints with regards to back pain. Persistent pain can be very serious, so I always recommended that my clients see a doctor, but once they were cleared, I knew that there was a lot I could do to help.
MUSCLE IMBALANCE AND BACK PAIN
Assuming that your back pain isn’t due to any internal issues or slipped disks or even weak abdominals (for the best ab workout read this) then likely it’s because of your hips. As a Pilates instructor I used to see it all the time. There are a couple of possibilities of what might be happening. One hip might be higher than the other or your hips might be rotated forward.
SOLUTIONS IF ONE HIP IS HIGHER THAN THE OTHER
Glutes/Piriformis (supine pigeon prep). Lying on your back, place your right foot on the floor and cross your left ankle over your right thigh. With your left hand reaching between your legs, pull them toward you. If you don’t have the flexibility to hold this pose, simply place your right foot on a wall at a 90 degree angle to the floor. For the second part of this stretch, place one hand on your knee and press it gently away from you as you pull your ankle toward you. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Clam. This is a hip stabilizer exercise, so you will need to focus on keeping those stomach muscles engaged and your hips steady. Resist the temptation to rotate your upper body to achieve a bigger movement and let your hips dictate how far your leg can open. Lying on your side, legs stacked, keep your knees in line with your body but bend your feet so that they are directly behind you. Open your top knee toward the ceiling without letting your feet separate or your hips move. I like placing my hand on my top hip, just to help keep it still. If this feels easy, wrap a band around your legs, just above your knees. Repeat 20x on each leg.
It’s also possible that you might have an anterior tilt (aka your hips are tilted forward). If this is your underlying cause then you’ll notice that your glutes might stick out and that you have a pronounced arch in your lower back. The focus for these stretches and exercises needs to be on releasing your hip flexors and quads while strengthening your glutes, hamstrings and abs.
SOLUTIONS FOR AN ANTERIOR TILT
Deep lunge. Start in a deep lunge with your right foot flat on the floor directly below the knee. Stretch your left leg out behind you. Now slowly lift your torso to a vertical position while pressing your pelvis forward. You should feel a deep stretch in your hip flexors (front of the hip). Tip, if you are having problems balancing, do this stretch next to a wall. Place a towel beneath your knee if it hurts to have it on the floor. Hold for 20-30 seconds, more if you can.
Hip lift or bridge. Lying on your back, bend your knees so that your feet are on the floor, hip distance apart, toes pointing forward. Take a deep breath and gently lift your hips toward the ceiling, keeping your body in a straight line. Hold for about 15-20 seconds and repeat.
Tips. If you have any issues with your back you should absolutely be focusing on strengthening your abdominal muscles. They will be your best protection against injury. Read this for the 5 Best Abdominal Exercises.
One of the most powerful things you can do to help correct unbalanced hips is to walk. I know this might sound strange, but you will need to think of a few things. First, focus on keeping your toes pointed forward (don’t let your feet turn out even though they may naturally want to). Then, as you step forward, let your heel strike first and think about rolling through your foot, until you push off with your toes. Lastly, as your back foot pushes off, you should feel your hamstrings engage just below your glutes. You’ll feel a little strange walking like this at first but you’ll get comfortable in no time!
Have you ever suffered from back pain?