It creaks when you first wake up and walking up or down the stairs is fraught with danger, but the cause of your back pain may be more of a secret than you think.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, approximately four million Australians report having back pain each year, and it’s estimated that 70 to 90 per cent of people suffer from some form of lower back pain at some point in their lives.
There’s a whole host of reasons why your lower back may be feeling a bit tight, but the main ones all revolve around the way you live (or don’t live) your day-to-day life.
An important note – if you’re suffering from debilitating, chronic back pain, it’s best to get checked out by a professional, as you likely have something deeper than the muscular level.
READ MORE: Seven of the biggest back pain myths
Your legs and bum might be really tight
“It is true that tight hamstrings and the posterior chain of muscles in the legs, buttocks and lower back are large contributors to lower back pain,” says a spokesperson from the Chiropractor’s Association of Australia.
“Activity, movement and function are the keys to a healthier lower back.”
A lot of us forget that when we move our bodies, we’re actually moving as one unit, with every muscle and ligament in the body pulling and pushing on each other. If one area of your body is super tight, it’s likely that it’ll begin affecting the muscles directly around it.
A key example of this is to look at your posterior chain. That’s a fancy way of describing all of your large, powerful hind muscles, including your bum, the back of your legs and all of your back.
If your hamstrings are so tight that you can’t touch your toes, they’ll very likely shift that tightness up and down into your bum and calves for relief. If one part of the chain is tight, it’s likely that others will be slack.
Lower back pain stems from a variety of factors
Hamstring tightness causing back pain is a theory that Kristin Lewis, personal trainer and founder of Life Personal Trainers, says could be a problem — but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Tight hamstrings could contribute to poor movement patterns and posture and therefore lower back pain, but generally there are other factors as well,” Lewis tells 9Coach.
“It’s really typical to hear someone who has experienced a significant back issue state ‘I just bent over to pick up a piece of paper and my back just went and I was in immense pain…’
“This is typically the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ and is a result of prolonged exposure to excessive sitting, poor posture and physical inactivity.”
A starting point: reduce your amount of sitting
As Lewis explains, when we sit down at our desks for long periods of time our body effectively reverts back to using as little energy as possible. This is based off the idea of “move it or lose it,” whereby our body actually adapts to sit for longer.
“If our spines are constantly supported by external sources, like chairs, beds, and so on, they lose the capacity to stabilise themselves using our ‘core,'” says Lewis.
“Providing there are no significant structural issues — if there are, a physio review is recommended — doing some regular spinal mobility exercises, core-strengthening exercise and increasing your awareness of correct spinal posture are some things that you can easily and simply incorporate.”
If you find yourself simply stuck at the desk for hours on end, Lewis recommends incorporating small breaks of exercise into your day.
“View movement as an opportunity, not an inconvenience,” recommends Lewis.
“Try taking phone call standing up, consider holding stand-up meetings, stand up during your lunch break and consider sit-to-stand desk options.”
Don’t rush in — see a professional
For Lewis, the spine is such an important part of our daily lives that he heavily recommends seeking professional help before beginning your rehabilitation program.
“See a qualified exercise professional to show you what good posture looks and feels like, teach you how to active and use your core correctly and to assist you to incorporate regular exercise into your life,” recommends Lewis.
“Even a few sessions to get you started should provide you with the tools needed to manage your back more effectively.”
“You’ve only got one spine and it needs to last your whole life, so look after it!”
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