Lower-back pain? Check the hips

Posted by on Jun 1, 2018 in Back Pain | 0 comments

Lower-back pain? Check the hips

It’s well established that about eight in 10 people in the U.S. will experience back pain at some point in their lives. And while the causes of such pain often vary, Madras physical therapist Brock Monger says increasingly, in a world that accommodates a more sedentary lifestyle, the blame for low-back pain can often be traced to an area a little lower in the kinetic chain: the hips.

“We tend to look at hip pain and problems and think they come from long-term wear and tear – from overuse,” said Monger, co-owner of Apex Physical Therapy in Madras. “But so often these days, we find that discomfort, tightness and pain in the hips could be just as easily due to underuse.”

According to Monger, mobility and exercise (e.g., walking, running, stretching, etc.) help to more evenly distribute the forces of impact and weight through this ball-and-socket joint. As people age or find themselves living a more sedentary lifestyle from (e.g., sitting a lot at work), the wear and tear of the hip joint is less distributed, taking place in a smaller area within the socket.

This results in the loss of flexibility in and around the hip joint, which affects the hip’s ability to properly bend and twist throughout one’s normal walking or running gait. This loss of flexibility and motion in the hips area, Monger says, means more of the natural pelvic rotation gets transferred to the lower spine.

“Your ability to run and walk has everything to do with the ability of your entire kinetic chain – from the foot, ankle, calf and hammy to the hips and spine – the work and move together,” Monger said. “When one part of the chain weakens or tightens up, the impact of movement gets transferred to other areas, such as the back.”

Hence, tightness and inflexibility in the hips can manifest as lower back pain, Monger said.

Underuse is sometimes difficult to avoid with long-term sitting at work or issues related to aging. However, Monger says that walking regularly whether in your neighborhood, around the block at work, or in a local park will do wonders to keep both your hips and spine loose and moving.

Other stretches recommended for preventing tight hips and related back pain, Monger says, include:

Lunges: Take a few minutes every day to lunge forward with one leg while letting your other knee drop to the floor. Keep your back straight, shoulders high, and hold. Switch to the other side.

Figure-4: Lying on your back, cross your right ankle over top of your left knee. The reach around under your left hamstring and pull your knee toward your chest, stretching out your right hip. Hold for several seconds, then switch.

Standing/Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch: Begin in a staggered stance position with your hands resting on your hips and the leg you are going to stretch positioned behind your body. Keeping your back straight and upright, squeeze your buttock muscles and slowly shift your weight forward until you feel a gentle stretch in the front of your hip with the foot staggered behind you. Make sure to keep your hips and shoulders facing forward, and do not arch your low back during the stretch. Kneeling version: If your knee allows, this can be done with one knee down on a soft surface with the front foot flat on the floor.

According to Monger, hold each of the stretches for 15 to 30 seconds, or at least three full breaths, before switching.

For more information about pain and inflexibility in the back and hips, or if you have difficulty or pain when walking or jogging, physical therapist like those on the Apex Physical Therapy team provide movement assessments and gait analyses for those looking to reduce discomfort and get moving again.