One of the most common reasons clients come to our studio is to find relief from lower back pain. We see this in clients who sit at desks all day, as well as clients who are very active either training for a race or maintaining a rigorous workout schedule. The origin of this pain often stems from the IT Band and the glutes. The IT Band, also known as the iliotibial band, runs lateral to the quads (the outside of the thigh). This band runs from the iliac crest, which is part of the pelvic-hip complex (as shown below) and around the outside of the knee. The knee is the most common place people think of when they hear the words “tight IT Band” – but the low back is just as common an area to be affected.
If you take a look at the study of movement, muscles work in conjunction in order to facilitate movement by pulling on the bone; everything within the body is somehow connected. Therefore, anything that is misaligned or tight may cause an improper movement pattern somewhere else in the body, altering proper function.
If there is tension in the IT Band or gluteus, they begin to pull on adjacent muscles within the complex of the hips, notably the Quadratus Lumborum (QL’s). The QL muscle is technically an abdominal muscle but it has tremendous impact on the lumbar region of your lower back.
The IT band provides stability at the hip during lateral movements. Other muscles that stabilize the hip includes the gluteus medius and the quadratus lumborum (QL). As the IT Band tightens due to injury or overuse, friction will cause a downwards pull of the gluteus medius and the QL, causing the upper body to laterally bend a few degrees to the right. Even a slight pull on the lumbar spine could potentially compress the nerves and lead to pain and even greater neuromuscular problems later in life.
How do we approach this in the studio? We begin with an assessment by performing various stretches on the client. First, we test the hip flexors and the muscles of the quads to determine whether these muscles contribute to the lower back pain. From this point on, we turn to the IT Band and test its range of motion. Often times the IT Band contributes to tightness in the gluteus medius. Tightness in this muscle creates tension within the rest of the gluteus muscles. After stretching the gluteus muscles, we make sure to check in with the client to see how they are feeling after the series of stretches. The last piece within this series is to target the Quadratus Lumborum. Since the QL has several attachments into the spine, we make sure to perform a light and smooth stretch in order to allow the client to relax on the table and prevent the nervous system from protecting the muscle. Once the nervous system has relaxed, we see incredible results from the stretch,relieving a great amount of tension within our client’s lower back. We then re-asses by testing the range of motion of the IT Band and see how the client feels when they get off the table. As they start walking around the studio, they experience notable relief in their lower back and improvement in their gait.
Lower back pain affects so many people – yet every body is different. Treating the whole body is key to finding the source of the pain and finding the path to relief and recovery.
Your posture affects everything you do in life, work and sport. The way we move, or don’t move, through our day has lasting effects on our body. Here are the 5 main areas of which you should be mindful, to minimize the chances of poor posture impeding your day and your ability to be active.
Rounded shoulders are usually one of the first indications of poor posture and some muscular imbalance in that area. Oftentimes, this will suggest that the chest, or pectoral muscles, and the biceps are tight. Shoulders that are rounded forward towards the front of the body shorten these muscles, causing tightness. Daily activities that may cause this include typing at a computer while sitting at a desk or carrying a backpack heavier than it should be. Great stretches to help lengthen these muscles include the doorway stretch pictured below, and child’s pose.
Most people are surprised to learn that their hip flexor muscles play a vital role in posture, as they connect the torso to the legs, aiding in spine stabilization. Tight hip flexors often reveal an anterior pelvic tilt, meaning the pelvis is rotated forward and the spine exhibits added curvature. The shortening of these muscles, as well as an excessively curved spine, will cause the upper body to be shifted forward. A sedentary lifestyle or sitting for prolonged amounts of time may cause this tightness. To help decrease tension in the hip flexors, make sure to get up and walk around if you find yourself sitting for an extended period of time.
Quadratus Lumborum (QL)
A tight quadratus lumborum, or QL, is often the source of low back pain and an anterior pelvic tilt. The Q Lis located in your lower back on either side of the lumbar spine. It starts at your lowest rib and ends at the top of your pelvis. Much like the hip flexors, a tight QL can be the result of sitting for long periods of time, sedentary behavior, and weak core muscles. Strengthening the core muscles and stretching the QL through back rotations will help correct this imbalance by bringing the pelvis and spine back to a more neutral position.
Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
Are tight lats affecting your posture? Tight latissimus dorsi, or “lats”, can be easily observed during a postural assessment. Look at yourself in the mirror: Is one shoulder higher than the other? If one side of the torso appears shorter than the other, the side that appears shorter is tighter. This imbalance can be caused by carrying a bag on only one side of the body. By carrying a bag on one side, the lats on the other side will start to compensate and shorten for the unilateral added weight. Favoring leaning to one side more when sitting will also cause tension on that side’s lats. Make sure to properly stretch both side lats during the day. If a shoulder bag is being used, make a conscious effort to not overstuff it so that the spine can stay aligned, and alternate carrying on your left and right side. The stretch pictured below is one of many to target this area, and is a fan favorite amongst our clients.
Stiffness in the neck muscles will also cause a shift in posture. In today’s technology-based society, it is easy to find ourselves looking down at some sort of screen, whether it be at a monitor in the office, or a phone on the commute home. This repetitive stance of looking down causes the muscles in the front of the neck to tighten and the head to protrude forward, placing it out of line with the spine. Bringing any electronics in use to eye level, as well as making a conscious effort to sit up straight, will aim to prevent this imbalance.
Good posture takes practice and mindfulness of how you carry yourself throughout your day. Better posture leads to a better, more comfortable life.
SUBSCRIBE TO LYMBR ON DEMAND to get access to self-stretches you can do anytime, anywhere to supplement the work you do in the studio and keep your posture in check! Members get this free, non-members get the first month free.