I have always had an exceptional range in my spine. As I child, I taught myself to do backwards walkovers and was still whipping them out as a party trick into my 20’s 😉 What I didn’t know at that time was that I was bending my spine backwards and forwards with very little core awareness.
I’ll use a piece of wire as an analogy: you can bend it back and forwards many times but eventually, it will… snap.
Now I didn’t snap thankfully, but I did damage one or two discs in my lumbar vertebrae. I also overstretched my sacroiliac joints (SI) which causes them to slip out of place and cause full-body discomfort (this was exacerbated by two pregnancies with the increase of the hormone relaxin in my body I just felt like a stack of bones ie. a sloth and took a long time to recover!)
I started having acupuncture in my early 20’s as my lower back pain started to creep in. I also suffered from anxiety at that time and found the acupuncture to boost my kidney qi incredibly effective. It was around this time I started yoga, which did wonders for my anxiety and also completely transformed my body. It was great for a while but I could see my ‘bendy mc bendy’ issues creeping back in. As I learnt more about anatomy in my yoga teachers training I learnt that I needed to approach my yoga practice from a place of stability. That was a game-changer. From there I created my barre classes which ignited my core pelvis and glute strength and awareness to new levels. It is an ongoing balancing act for me but most days I’ve got it dialled, or at least know what I need now!
Some things I’ve learnt through my journey of lower back damage and pain:
- Celebrate your natural ability but build strength to support it (consider this if you have bendy adolescent kids!). If I had been taught core stability as a teenager I may not have the same issues now
- Many people view a yoga practice as a stretching session. And while yoga is a great way to stretch the muscles, it also can be used to mobilise, strengthen and invigorate the fascia, tissues and muscles before or after a workout, or on its own.
- Lower back pain can be managed and movement is key. I have a wonderful Osteopath that gently aligns my SI area and I move a lot. For every Yoga practice I do/demonstrate, I spend 10 minutes on my back doing some tedious but therapeutic exercises, which I have shared with you in the past. Even just lying down doing pelvic tilts will nourish the lower back, it loves movement, and as soon as you stop you become stagnant and disempowered.
- A balance of strength and suppleness in the 4 pillars of the spine is key. The extensors at the back, the flexors at the front, and we mustn’t forget about the obliques at the side.
- Once I learned what I needed in my body it gave me the tools to manage it, (with a little help from my friends, cue my Yoga teachers, Osteopath, Acupuncturist, and physio) which is so empowering, and for me deepened my anatomical knowledge which added more depth to my teaching. For you, be sure to ask your physical therapist to explain to you what is happening in your body so you’ve got some knowledge and understand what you need
Here are some other scenarios:
- A tight back from overuse and repetitive movement. If you do a lot of lifting for work (or play) you might be suffering in this department. Try to counter whatever movements dominate your day with some time doing the opposite at the end of the day. For example, if you bend over a lot you could probably do with laying back on a bolster or blocks in a supported backend.
- If you do a lot of physical activity but have the occasional flare-up try doing some side bending. It seems to be the action that we do the least, and our spine needs balance. The obliques rule side bending and also play a roll in twisting. There are some fun variations you can do in side plank with the bottom knee down, reaching the top arm and leg away from each other than shortening them in, and also thread the needle to get some good rotation in.
- You have pain around the lower back but can’t put your finger on where exactly. If it’s acute, go and see a medical professional, but if it’s ongoing/lingering but not really stopping you from doing anything keep moving! I would recommend my classes this week for this type of complaint (and everyone actually!) because they not only look at the lower back but also at the pelvis and hips. These areas are so interconnected and getting a healthy range of motion along with some strength and stability can make such a huge difference, and empower you!
- Lastly, I hear so often people saying they have been given some stretches for their lower backs… it’s not all about stretching friends! If you are tight on one side of your spine, you are most likely weak on the other. If you are tight when opening your hips, you are most likely weak in your internal rotators. That’s why it’s so important for you to do a variety of different movement patterns. Lucky you’ve got me huh! 😉
Thanks for reading. Let me know if you have any questions or if something rang true for you. Maybe I missed a scenario that affects you? I’m very happy to help with individual needs if I can or refer you to another professional if needed.