By Justine Calderwood, PT, MSPT
When it comes to low back pain, many people falsely believe that it stems solely from tight back muscles and/or tight hamstrings. I have seen many people suffering from low back pain come into the clinic, and after checking their motion, find that they can bend forward and place their hands on the floor and their hamstring flexibility is normal. These are people that have tried back stretches (such as hugging their knees to their chest, and/or stretching their hamstrings) without relief from their pain.
What is often over-looked is the role that the hips play in contributing to low back pain. Tightness and soft-tissue restrictions in the front of the hips and lower abdomen can cause pain in the low back, and pain can even start to migrate up the back or down into the legs. How does this happen? Tightness in the hips or lower abdomen causes a strong pull from the front of the pelvis, creating an excessive curve of the low back, which in turn pinches the lumbar joints, nerves and discs together. Abdominal scars, such as those from C-sections, appendectomies, hernia repair, etc, no matter how small the incision, can also contribute to restrictions from the front of the body, in turn affecting the lumbar spine.
You can use the inflatable ball for self-releases while lying in bed or on the floor, if you’re able to safely get on and off the floor. The softer surface of the bed won’t press the ball into your body as firmly as if you lie on the floor, so choose what works best for you. Also, experiment by lying on different surfaces, using different size/texture/firmness of treatment balls (inflatable ball, tennis or pinky ball, plastic ball or a knobby ball), and different positions (lying face down, partially side-lying with a pillow for support, or even leaning over a padded chair or countertop). It all depends on your comfort level, how well you move around, and what your body prefers….so learn to listen to your body’s clues. Keep in mind, however, that if something just doesn’t “feel right” or you’re having more pain by trying these techniques, it’s OK to listen to your body and STOP at any point.