If you’re suffering from lower back pain or sciatic nerve pain, you’re not alone. Globally, 1 out of 10 people suffers from either of these conditions, which also makes over-the-counter pain relief meds a popular purchase.
A combination of excessive sitting, poor posture, and not enough stretching has created a conundrum that’s left people hopeless and addicted to pain killers.
Common Triggers For Back Pain
Although most people remember specific incidents in which their back pain occurred, it can actually be triggered days or weeks before the discomfort starts to show itself. It could be a life-long postural imbalance that finally decided one day to trigger a pain response (because the body could no longer hold itself in that position), or it could be certain traumas we hold, or simply a build-up of inflammation in the body.
Poor posture, obesity, inactivity (like chronic sitting), and stress can also increase your risk (not to mention accidents and sports injuries, which tend to be the most common form of back pain). Chronic sitting can irritate the sciatic nerve, which results in referred pain in the lower back, as well as the side of the leg that the nerve is irritated.
Addressing The Pain
Instead of reaching for pain killers when pain strikes, give your body some time. In 70-80% of back pain cases, the pain will resolve on its own in 2-4 weeks. However, if your pain is more chronic, or if you simply want a speedy recovery, these options will help.
1. Apply ice and heat simultaneously (5 minutes cold, then 5 minutes heat) for about 30 minutes.
2. Be patient with yourself. Do some deep breathing techniques like pranayama to allow your body and mind to relax. The body has the capability to heal when provided the right environment.
3. Consume a low-acid, high-alkaline forming diet to remove any inflammation from forming in the body (this will reduce the pain response).
4. Instead of pain-killers, consider some anti-inflammatory herbs like turmeric and ginger.
5. Address your emotions and the pain you’re experiencing. We all have trauma, and trauma gets stored in the muscle fascia, which can create tightness, and therefore, pain. Emotional freedom techniques, journalling, yoga, and meditation can all help with this.
6. Perform stretching exercises custom to wherever you may feel pain in the body. For this article, we’ll be focusing on lower back pain, and sciatic nerve pain, both of which are tightly linked.
As with all stretching, I recommend taking your time to get into the poses, while not rushing anything. Make sure you do deep breathing going into and coming out of a stretch. If a stretch is too painful and feels “sharp,” pull back a bit and perform a modified version of the stretch by not going as deep.
1. Figure Four Stretch
1. Lie on the floor with the affected leg crossed over the other leg at the knees, both legs bent.
2. Gently pull the lower knee up toward the shoulder on the same side of the body until you feel a stretch in the affected leg.
3. Hold for 30 seconds, and then slowly return to starting position. Repeat on the other side.
2. Lying Spinal Twist
1. Lie on your back and bring your right knee to your chest, interlacing your fingers just below your knee.
2. Keeping your hips on the floor, cross your right knee to the left, pressing your right hand into the floor. Gaze over your right hand.
3. Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
3. Rabbit Pose
1. Begin by sitting on your heels. Exhale all the air out of your body and grab your heels with the back of the hands facing out (thumbs outside, fingers inside).
2. Round down, placing the TOP of your head on the ground towards your knees so that your forehead is close to, or touching your knees.
3. Lift your hips high, rolling forward like a wheel until your elbows are locked.
4. Inhale, and pull on your heels with a firm grip of your hands and exhale. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, and then slowly come up the way you came. Roll up one vertebrae at a time, with the chin and head coming up last.
4. Cobra Stretch
1. Lie on your stomach with the tops of your feet against the mat. Your palms should be face down and next to your chest, fingertips aligned with the top of your shoulders. Your elbows should be bent and tucked close to your sides.
2. Use your back muscles to lift your chest up and off the ground, keeping the back of your neck relaxed and drawing your shoulder blades and elbows back.
3. As your chest starts lifting, start to look up. Press the hands into the ground to lift a little higher, but only lift as high as feels okay for your body.
4. Hold for 5-10 deep breaths, and then release by slowly lowering your body down.
5. Seated Torso Twist
1. In a seated position, have both legs extended out in front of you.
2. Cross one leg over the other and place the foot of that leg on the ground.
3. With the hand of the side of the straight leg, pull the bent knee 45-degrees towards your back pocket. You will feel a major stretch in the leg and gluteal muscles.
4. Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
6. Tabletop Hip Stretch
1. Stand infant of a table or other platform the height of your pelvis.
2. Lift your left leg onto the platform and place it so that the outer thigh and calf touch the top of the table of platform. Your upper body should be upright and the right leg should stand straight.
3. Hold for 30 seconds – if you want a deeper stretch, lean forward a little bit with each exhale.
7. Standing Toe Touch
1. With your feet hip-width apart, bend your knees and touch your toes with your hands. This will help you find the proper hip hinge, as your back starts all the way down in your hips.
2. Arch your lower back, while keeping your spine long and start to lift the back of your hips up (this will prevent rounding of the back and locking out of the knees).
3. Keep the length in your lower back as you continue lifting. If it is too painful, stay where you are and breath for 30-60 seconds. Eventually, you’ll be able to get into the stretch with your legs completely straight (it may take a couple weeks to get to this point if done consistently!).
8. Cat and Cow Stretch
1. Start with your hands and knees on the floor, palms directly under the shoulder rand knees directly below the hips.
2. Breathe in and pull your abdominal muscles in as you arch your back up like a stretching cat. Let your head and tailbone drop down toward the floor.
3. Return to the initial position, and then extend the upper part of the spine upwards, supporting it with your abdominal muscles and not letting your neck sink into your shoulders, or your shoulders crunch up into your neck. Make sure your neck is a long extension of your spine, and don’t let the head fall back.
4. Return to starting position and repeat 5 times.
9. Bird Dog Exercise
1. Remain on all fours and tighten your abdominal muscles, keeping your spine and neck in neutral position (you should be looking at the floor).
2. Extend your left leg behind you while reaching your right arm forward.
3. Keep your hips square, and make sure you don’t arch your lower back.
4. Hold for 10 seconds, and slowly return to starting position. Now do the move on the opposite side.
5. Complete 5-10 repetitions on each side.