Long hours at the office, aching lower backs… we’ve got you.
Sitting & Lower Back Pain – What do you do?
What are hip flexors?
The hip flexors are a group of 7 muscles that produce flexion at the hip joint. Think about raising the leg up to take the next step up the stairs, or bringing the knee up to the chest in a jump.
Of the many muscles involved, we will talk more about one that’s commonly ignored, or lesser known about – the ‘iliopsoas’ (iliacus & psoas), or simply, the ‘Psoas’.
‘Psoas’ – What is this? How does it cause back pain?
Photo By: Somatic Movement Center
The Psoas, one word that you’ll hear being thrown about in a Yoga and Pilates class whenever you come into a lunge, is a major muscle that connects your lumbar spine to the pelvis. It crosses from the back to the front (from T12 and L1-4 to the iliac crest), and is the only muscle that connects our torso to the lower trunk!
When we sit for a long time (e.g. in front of the computer for hours), the psoas is kept at a shortened length for a long time. As a result, when we stand up to take a walk, the psoas stays ‘short’ and does not return to its original length if no targeted stretch is done. Consequently, this tight psoas pulls onto the lumbar spine that it’s attached to, causing tightness in the lower back that shows up as pain.
This dull nagging soreness at the lower back that comes in after long hours at the office might seem like unidentified back pain. However, now that we know that long hours of sitting can cause lower back pain through a tight psoas, we can therefore do specific stretches and strengthening exercises for the psoas to relieve one’s lower back pain.
Release, Stretch, Strengthen – 3 prong approach
Step I: Myofascial Ball Release
To maximize the effects of a stretch, it is recommended that myofascial release be done before that. Think of it as pounding the pizza dough to tenderize it (kneading/ ball release work) before stretching the dough (tight muscle) to make your pizza (soft supple muscles!) It makes the job of stretching it after so much easier!
For myofascial release of the psoas, you can use a massage ball for it. Lay on your belly with the massage ball on the inside of the iliac crest, about halfway between the belly button and the hip bone. You’ll find the right spot when the ball presses on a really sore spot right in the middle of the body (yes, the psoas is located allll the way in!) A good alternative is also to consult a professional licensed bodyworker (physiotherapist, osteopath, etc) to get it worked on. The link below includes an amazing, easy-to-follow home tutorial that you can follow. 🙂
Step II: Hip Flexor Stretch
To stretch it, holding your lunge for 1 minute does the work. However, pay close attention that your body and thighs are in one straight line, with your hips in a slight posterior pelvic tuck in order to stretch the psoas, and not the quadriceps (rectus femoris)! You’ll know you’ve hit the right spot when you feel the stretch deep at the front of your hips, rather than just in your thighs. Take deep breaths, mentally focusing on unclenching the front of the hips with each long exhale. You should be able to feel more ease and space in you lower back after this.
Step III: Hip Flexor & Glute Strengthening
In order to keep your back pain at bay, stretching isn't enough! Take some time to also strengthen the hip flexors with Knee to Chest Presses, Mountain Climbers and V-sits. This will ensure that your hip flexors are supple and strong. In addition, you should also strengthen the antagonistic muscles of the hips, like your glutes with Glute Bridge and Reformer Scooter and Standing Hip Stretch. You can hold the Glute Bridge (with a pillow in between the knees) for 1 minute, 3 sets. Over time, you’ll see AND feel the difference with a more relaxed lower back and stronger core and glutes that keep your hips happy and open!
Wait! How do I know what I need?
If you’d like to have a more detailed and personalized assessment of your body and what causes your persistent lower back pain after long hours at the office, come book into a private 1-1 session with our Pilates Instructors to find out more!
*This does not constitute professional medical advice and if you encounter persistent lower back pain, especially one that tingles, consult your medical professional for a thorough diagnosis.