Hip Flexor And Lower Back Pain Caused By Sitting (The New Smoking)
Sitting is something we all do. Have you thought about wow much time you normally sit and read? Do you read before flights? For example, on any given day, you could be reading in an Uber, or waiting at a table working on your laptop. It’s highly likely you do sit for too many hours. In fact, according to the CDC, One in Four Americans sit more than 8 hours a day!
When you are traveling in planes, trains, and automobiles, you usually have no choice but to stay put for extended periods of time. However, to prevent hip flexor and lower back pain, if you get up every now and then, it at least helps to keep your joints loose and blood flowing.
But these are all temporary fixes. So many people are struggling in lower back pain. As a result, they have to walk down stairs sideways because they are losing hip flexion and extension… due to… guess what… excessive sitting.
Yes, sitting is the new smoking. To state it further, sitting is an ugly habit we’ve accumulated since the invention of chairs. Believe it or not, we didn’t always do this disservice to ourselves (at least not do it and think it was normal). Nowadays, it’s more important than ever to understand ALL the muscles in our body. Fitness is not just about our biceps, pecs, abs, and legs. Fitness is truly the harmony of our whole body movement. Our patterns create our lives. Once your body is in alignment, you will totally eliminate hip flexor and lower back pain.
The muscles we don’t see can cause a lot more pain, discomfort, and ugliness at times than the muscles we do see. Similarly, many habits that go unnoticed cause as much problems as the bad habits we are aware of.
A Brief History of Sitting… In A Healthy Way
Many ancient cultures in the East did not predominantly use chairs. Much to the contrary, their Western counterparts did. Yet in history, there is a record that chairs were accepted a some point. The question is, what was the goal? Status? Luxury? Comfort? Health? Nowadays, if we are thinking about freeing ourselves of hip flexor and lower back pain we need to think differently about sitting. From a human potential or movement perspective, it’s time to re-evaluate how often we sit and how long.
In this classic study of human posture around the world [in the 1950s], the anthropologist Gordon W. Hewes identified about one hundred common sitting positions:
“At least a fourth of mankind habitually takes the load off its feet by crouching in a deep squat, both at rest and at work,” he observed. Deep squatting is favored by people in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but sitting cross-legged on the floor is almost as common. Many South Asians cook, dine, work, and relax in that position. Sedentary kneeling, that is, sitting on the heels with the knees on the floor, is practiced by Japanese, Koreans, and Eurasians, and also used by Muslims at prayer.”
So yes… the idea of what is natural for us as far as our anatomy is not the same as what we’ve learn, particularly in American and European culture. Likewise, what comes natural to us, as a result of our social conditioning is completely different than how we should be moving.
More importantly, if your hip flexors are tight, and you have lower back pain, you at least need to know what’s going on under the hood and how to fix it. While you may have heard this from your personal trainer fitness coach, are you aware of it enough to prevent it limiting your movement.
What Are Hip Flexors And How Do They Cause Back Pain?
You can’t see these muscles protruding externally. Gym mirrors and tight clothes won’t show them off. It’s important to understand your anatomy, and how these critical muscles function in your body.
Did you ever play with G-I Joes when you were growing up? Do you remember the little hook and piece of rubber that connected the top portion of the figurine to the wobbly legs and allowed and that human like movement. Do you remember what happened if that rubber broke? Well… you have the same type of muscle in your body that is as important and as delicate. Where do you think they got the design? Human Anatomy!
The hip flexor muscles are a group of interior muscles (psoas major, psoas minor and iliacus) that originate on the front of the spine and pelvis, cross the front of the hip and attach to the inside of the upper leg. Let’s take a look at the trusty diagram:
Your Hip Flexor Muscles Sit In Front And To The Sides of Your Lower Back And Connect Your Lower Back To Your Hip
Most importantly, they lift the knee and bring the thigh towards the abdomen. When your hip flexors are tight and shortened they pull on your pelvic girdle causing both hip flexor and lower back pain.
In locomotion, your hip flexors and extensors work together. They both propel your body forward allowing you to press foot force into the ground. Your legs maintain traction with the ground. The end result: Balance, speed, and power.
Sitting for prolonged hours, the Psoas and Iliac Crest get extremely tight. In addition to this in an overly sedentary lifestyle, they also become weak. This tightness creates an anterior pelvic tilt that ends up protruding your belly forward. You start clenching and tightening your lower back. This all creates imbalance, tension, pain, and discomfort. The longer the habit continues, the worse it gets.
The end result… even the most honorable of men end up looking… well… pregnant. Not a good look. If you’re wondering why you have “Done Lap” syndrome… “Your belly done lapped over your belt!”
An anterior pelvic tilt gets gets worse when you don’t stretch. When you eat poorly and when you don’t exercise it’s catastrophic. In some cases, exercises like leg lifts, crunches, and cycling, only make the condition worse. Imagine a popsticle stick with a rubber band around it top to bottom. That popsicle stick is your spine. If your back (posterior) muscles are weak you will slouch over. If your front (anterior) muscles are weak you will jut your belly out. It’s a delicate balance of re-alignment, as well as stretching and strengthening the right muscle groups.
Here’s How To Prevent Hip Flexor And Lower Back Pain And Fix This Problem For Good!
There are a number of ways to resolve tight hip flexor and lower back pain while you are on the road. I will cover them below with some references so you can see how to implement these movements in your daily and weekly routine.
1. Stand As Much As Possible
We’ve already established that you probably already sit too much. Standing is the best thing you can do to delay the onset of tight hip flexors. If you know you are going to be on a 3 hour flight stand up before you board the plane. For those embarking on an 8 hour car ride, stop every couple of hours to walk around and stretch. When sitting in the office all day, or in conferences, take 5 min breaks to stand up and stretch.
2. Drink Plenty Of Water
Drinking plenty of water helps your body stay efficient and hydrated. Your body is 65-70% water. The flexibility of your muscles is absolutely dependent on water. You need to keep all your muscles hydrated. If you drink coffee, sugary drinks, and alcohol more than water, you are in for self-destruction. Your intake of water should always exceed all other forms of beverage. This is not a debatable preference of taste or pleasure. This is your fuel for having life on this planet. It will solve much of your pain and dis-ease.
3. Stretch Your Hip Flexors
Stretching elongates your muscles and allows them to be flexible for movement. There are many hip flexor stretches you can do in the morning, throughout your day, or at night. The most common is the standing hip flexor stretch. Another help stretch is the kneeling hip flexor stretch. One stretch I always made a priority with clients who always had tight hip flexors was the lying hip flexor stretch. (This can be partner or trainer assisted to put pressure on the raised leg knee toward chest and the lowered leg knee toward the ground).
4. Activate & Strengthen Your Glutes
Strengthening your Glutes (Butt) takes the pressure off your back and rebalances the posterior chain (back of your body). When your glutes are not strong, it’s very easy for your psoas to contract the wrong way, and your illiac crest to be extremely tight to support your back and lower body. Take this load off by doing lying hip bridges. You can also do basic body weight squats as well as hip thrusts or two arm kettle bell swings, to re-establish the strength of your posterior chain and alleviate your hip flexor and lower back pain.
5. Do Daily Mobility For Your Hips
Mobility is the range of motion you can naturally put your body in without any other outside assistance. Normally, some of the key issues limiting your mobility are tight fascial tissue, non-use, and weakness. To have better mobility, you simply need to move your joints through all their ranges of motion on a daily basis. Here are some hip mobility exercises you can do on a daily basis.
If you want a more detailed step-by-step guide on unlocking your Hip Flexors to relieve back pain, I highly recommend Unlock Your Hip Flexors by my colleagues at Critical Bench. Top notch material.