Say Goodbye to Low Back Pain: 5 Simple Strategies To Relieve A Sore Back

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Reducing muscle stiffness in the lower back and hips is always a helpful tool for those with lower back pain or sciatica. However, all too often people resort to stretching these muscles and actions that actually make the back stiffness worse in the long run. Stretching in ways that round the lower back undermines the recovery process and sets you back, this is why we’ve put together 5 strategies to help reduce the muscle stiffness you’re experiencing using strategies other than stretching! All of these simple strategies can be done from home and will help you relieve back pain for good, and relieve the muscles stiffness in the process.

Targeting the source of the back pain and muscle stiffness

These first three strategies are designed to target the source of the problem and stop making it worse. All cases of lower back pain will involve some stiffness in the muscles as back pain is caused by an injury and injuries to joints involve muscle spasm, and frequently muscle stiffness can be an “early warning sign” therefore we want to act sooner rather than later to implement these strategies. 

Reduce local inflammation in the lower back

While we can look at dietary choices to affect inflammation as well, targeted inflammation reduction without drugs can be a very effective choice. Regularly applying contrast bathing to the lower part of your spine can help with reducing the pain, stiffness and inflammation in the lower back with almost immediate results.

Action you can take:

Apply heat and ice to the lower back, alternating every 3 to 5 minutes. Begin with heat and end in ice. We typically recommend a cycle of 2 or 3 repeats which will take around 30 minutes. You can use a heat pack and an ice pack, or there are other devices you can use to help reduce mess and increase ease of application. Try to practice this short routine 2 or 3 times per day, spread out over the course of the day.

Resources to help you:

We’ve created a number of resources on contrast bathing to help you successfully use it to reduce symptoms of back pain and sciatica and we’ve linked to these below:

Why it works to reduce back pain and muscle stiffness

Using a tool like contrast therapy is a natural way to reduce inflammation which has no side effects. It works by managing the inflammation in the spine more effectively. Because your spine has a limited amount of space, uncontrolled inflammation can irritate the nerves around the area that is injured. This build up of pressure can lead to stiffness, soreness and muscle spasm. By managing the inflammation better, we can manage these symptoms. 

Take pressure off your spine & muscles

The next strategy addresses the simple fact the back injury at the root cause of back pain and sciatica, is a compression injury. The spine has failed to deal with load on itself, which is why so many with back pain and muscle stiffness find lifting and carrying extra weight terribly painful, some struggle to carry their own bodyweight! Having a safe way of reducing the compression in the lower back is a vital strategy to take pressure off the injury at the source of the problem. Regularly decompressing your lower back can help allow the injury in your spine to heal more effectively and reduce the inflammation, pain and muscle stiffness as a result. 

Action you can take:

You can start by using a simple rolled up towel to support your lower back whilst lying down with your knees bent. This is a staple part of the Back In Shape Program and probably one of the best stretches you can do for your lower back health short, medium and long term. Another option is the bed decompression stretch which involves lying over your bed and gently stretching your lower back in a safe way. Finally if you happen to have an inversion table in the house, then you’re in luck as these are a great tool to take pressure off your lower back gently at home – provided you use them correctly!

Resources to help you:

We’ve created a number of resources on decompressing your lower back to help you successfully use it to reduce symptoms of back pain and sciatica and we’ve linked to these below:

Why it works to reduce back pain and muscle stiffness

In short these strategies work because they provide an opportunity to take pressure off the very structure that is injured. Too many of us spend too long sitting all day. This compresses your lower back discs, it stretches the muscles and ligaments of your spine for too long, and as a result changes the curve in your spine flattening your low back. These stretches for your low back do the exact opposite, they take pressure off the squashed discs, they relax the muscles and ligaments that spend all day being pulled apart, and they restore and support your natural lordosis. The lordosis is the backward curve or arc we should all have in our lower spine.

Stop flattening your lower back immediately

Too many people get caught into the trap of flattening their lower back. Following on from the last strategy which involved supporting the natural position of your lower spine and taking pressure off, this next strategy is essential. 

Exercises or stretches that flatten your lower spine are commonly prescribed for lower back muscle stiffness. They are taught as stretches that relieve back pain, but they are more accurately stretches that are like a drug you get hooked on. They feel nice at the time, but make the problem worse, meaning you need to do them again sooner and more vigorously, in order to get a fix for relief. Exercises like child’s pose, knee hugs and the like are prime candidates here and in our experience, the many thousands of members that have come through the Back In Shap[pe Program have more or less all been prescribed these stretches. It took them varying amounts of time to realise that they’re not the solution at all. 

Resources to help you:

In order for us to reduce the back pain and muscle stiffness, you must stop doing things that make the issue worse, so we’ve covered a couple of activities that are flattening the lower back, compressing your spine and adding more strain to the muscles instead of taking pressure off them.

  • Knee hugs and child’s pose stretches
  • Pelvic tilts commonly instructed as part of exercises in Yoga & Pilates classes
  • Sitting for extended periods
  • Lifting and bending with a rounded lower back (incorrect form)

Evaluate the presence of these activities in your daily life and work immediately to eliminate them or adjust them where possible, this will help reduce the back pain and muscle stiffness you experience tremendously

Why it works to reduce muscle stiffness and back pain

Fundamentally this reinforces the first two points by decreasing the aggravation causing excessive inflammation and decreasing the compression on the spine. Stretches that round the lower back emulate the forces that were at the root cause of the original injury that set off all this back pain and muscle spasm. Therefore repeating such forces – compression and flattening the lower back, is quite the act of accidental self harm. It is completely understandable that you’d do these exercises when prescribed, because the explanation of the real cause of back pain is so frequently not given, or even understood by your practitioner. However, now you understand things a little better you can act in the right way and remove these actions. Your back will thank you!

Rebuilding the body to reduce back pain and muscle stiffness

The final two strategies are ones which you can take going forwards for the long term. Real actions you can take to increase the resilience in your lower back improve healing and recovery and decrease vulnerability for the long term. A lasting result!

Weakness is never a strength

Too many have real weakness in the muscles that support the lower back. When muscles are weak the last thing they want is to be put under strain and move! So they get tight. Have you ever lifted a weight that’s too heavy for you, or been roller skating for the first time and found you stiffen up and even got a little shaky? This is in part because your muscles are being asked to do too much, more than they’re happy to do, either in generating power, or in generating control and stability. For many with lower back pain and muscle stiffness, these muscles have stiffened up and normal, healthy movement has been lost. This needs to be rebuilt.

Working to strengthen the muscles and body in general as well as teaching a degree of movement skill again through basic resistance training exercises done correctly is vital to your success. 

Resources to help you:

We know from experience, over 10,000 patients clinically over the years and even more in members that have come through the program, 99.9% of people with back pain are still up and doing things each day. Even if they are housebound they’re still nearly always doing these 3 movements:

  • Sitting in a chair
  • Going up or down the stairs
  • Brushing their teeth/washing their face 

Another name for these three activities could be:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Hip hinges

You see, these three movements are done by everyone, even the individual on the way to have spinal surgery or injections. Start with immediate effect learning to do these movements safely within a pain free range for reps of 10 and don’t worry if you cannot do 10 reps right away. Get your phone camera out or do them in front of a mirror and get some critical feedback on your form. Start as soon as you finish this article!

Why this works to reduce muscle stiffness and back pain

Resistance training with these 3 movements works in two ways which you cannot do without if you’re to get your back better. Firstly, your technical improvements can be made in a matter of days. This immediately makes your daily activities safer, when you’re getting out of chairs or washing your face in the morning, you’re moving in a way that is better for your lower back health and so not causing as much aggravation of your lower back. Secondly, as you build with these exercises and add resistance, with good technique, you’ll build strength in your back and leg muscles. 

The strength improvements in your leg and back muscles will mean that they can more effortlessly move your body around. The key word here is “effortlessly”. The result here is that they do not get tired and stiff all the time as the movements of daily life are a breeze. Now granted this does take time, but all great things come to those who give time and apply themselves correctly in that time.

Use a massage gun to reduce stiffness & help your back and muscles recover

Massage guns are great tools and these allow you to directly work on the muscles increasing blood flow and supporting good muscle health. Used in conjunction with the other strategies mentioned here you’ll find they help you no end. Again they are in keeping with the theme of a natural remedy for relieving back pain and muscle stiffness rather than trying to use medications. There are two main mechanisms of action here which we will discuss in the last section, but know that these devices have really come down in price a long way and are very affordable these days, they make for a great investment in your long term musculoskeletal health. 

Resources to help you:

We recently shot two videos that will help you. These are live routines that you can follow along with using your massage gun on your legs and lower back in a safe manner. So if you’ve got one of these devices but you’ve been unsure about how to use it, check out the videos below and follow along regularly. Typically you can use the massage guns before or after a workout, you can use them before stretching or even massaging the target muscle while stretching it. 

Just be sure not to “over-do it” either with too much pressure or spending hours a day on it. 5 to 15 minutes, maybe a fraction more on special occasions, is all that’s required in one go, especially if you have a good quality device. These are very effective and “over-doing it” can sometimes result in muscle soreness which will be temporary. While an athlete would benefit from this “deeper muscle work” if you have back pain this can be a temporary aggravating factor.

Why massage guns help reduce muscle stiffness and back pain

As mentioned there are two main mechanisms here that help you reduce muscle stiffness and back pain. The first is short term. Using them will often feel nice at the time, and if you have some referral pain, like sciatica, it can provide immediate relief. This is helpful as it reduces your moment to moment suffering. And provides a “side-effect free pain killer” while you are doing your other rehabilitative work to make lasting improvement. 

The second mechanism of action is as follows. As you progress with your resistance training and building strength and flexibility into the muscles you will find that these massage guns are a great tool to help optimize your recovery from workouts. Using them as a means of helping get rid of waste that accumulates from a harder workout, helps speed up recovery times and makes the journey to being “Back In Shape” a smoother one. Some of you will also find it helps you “wake up” regions or muscle groups effectively before a workout too.

Reduce your muscle stiffness and back pain for good

Hopefully you’ve got a good idea now of how you can incorporate these 5 strategies to help eliminate your lower back pain and improve the quality and health of your muscles for the long term. You must always have an interplay between short term strategies that have a limited duration in their effectiveness, and long term strategies that build day after day, week after week. Too many get caught in the worst kind of loops, strategies that provide momentary relief, at the expense of the long term resolution. But now you know better.

Start implementing these tips immediately and you will see the results speak for themselves, you’ll also find that you feel much better mentally, more in control of your recovery and optimistic about the future! 

If you want a little more help with with your back health, stretching your back or just getting your Back In Shape again, and free from back pain or sciatica then there are 3 ways we can help you:

  • The Podcast and Youtube channel as a great source of free information on all things back & spine health. 
  • The membership to Back In Shape which gives you access to the full program and everything you need to rehabilitate your lower back from home.
  • Book in with us for a virtual or “in-person” consultation & treatment at the Back In Shape Studio
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