Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Back Pain

Around the holidays my brother Joe returned home from Montana. I hadn't seen him in a few months and it was nice to catch up, at the same time its kind of like he was never gone. I actually got him to workout with some kettlebells for the first time.

From left to right: Julia, Maggie, Joe, and Mom. Yep my mother is not only rough enough to have kids like us, but also throws around some pretty respectable weights as well. 

It was good but what concerned me was that he had back pain that I did not know about. At some point out in Montana he'd developed some problems with his back, which many of you out there can empathize with. I'm his brother and doing what I do I should be able to help him out but I had no idea. So now this blog is kind of devoted to him. 

Now Joe's problem is multifaceted, like most back pain really is and it is fairly rare to see this but Joe actually has posterior pelvic tilt. And yes I did say pelvic which would mean that I'm saying there is absolutely nothing wrong with his back muscles or spine. It is all due to his hip alignment. The pelvis should be sitting level instead it is being pulled downward on the posterior (or back side) by some ridiculously tight hamstrings, which is misaligning the natural curve of the lumbar spine making it too flat and causing some big problems. 

Joe is also out in Montana where everyone seems to wear cowboy boots all day. Now I'm with him, if I were out there I'd probably wear cowboy boots too but in this case Joe's GastroSoleus region (or the large muscles that make up your calves) is also really really tight, and this is causing problems up the chain as well. Take this even further, he has some pretty tight hip flexors as well. Sorry Joe your getting it from every angle.

So big problems because Joe's hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors are so tight that even if he wanted to he couldn't get close to getting into a good squat position without some major compensations. On top of that he cannot recruit his glutes to do any work for him because they are being inhibited by the tightness. That means every time he sits in or gets up from a chair, ties his shows, takes out the trash he's creating new poor movement patterns. Okay check that he is in Montana, so every time he rides a horse, puts on his cowboy boots, and brands a calf. 

What does Joe need to do? I wish I had some good pictures for you, I will work on that in the future. 
First, Joe needs to get some soft tissue with a foam roller or tennis ball work in on his calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, and quads, but it would be beneficial to work on the upper back, lats, and chest also. 

Second, Do some glute activation stuff, or even just some simple hip mobility drills. shoulder bridge would be great, but a few lunges every morning would work wonders as well. 

Third, Stretch. Lengthen out those muscles, especially if each of these are done consecutively. When stretching the hamstrings keep the back as straight as possible. I like to use a belt and lay on the floor pulling my toes back towards my face with my leg straight doing one leg at a time and then go out to the left and the right hold each position for about 30-60 seconds. In my humble opinion this is the best hamstring and hip stretch for this type of scenario as it works on dorsiflexion and the hamstrings and calves are in a relaxed position while the spine remains neutral (see perfect). 

Now I dont know how much Joe works out in Lewistown, Montana, but even if not he could really help himself with about 10 minutes of this a day. Actually most people could get about the same. Now most people don't need to and many should not stretch out their hamstrings constantly, most of the time back pain is a matter of tight hip flexors and weak glutes. So I'd work on that first.  

"Life is 10% what happens to you, 90% how you respond to it."

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