Tingling, sharp, or dull, low back pain is simply the worst. For me, it can strike when I’m walking slowly around a museum, when I’m charging up a hill, when I’m lifting weights that are too heavy (and with improper form), or even when I’m simply standing or sitting.
The solution in the moment is usually to call upon that core. Engaging our abs, back, and glutes encourages us to bring our pelvis more in line with our spine, so we’re not overly swaying our lower back. This posture also helps distribute forces more evenly throughout the body, rather than dumping the work into our low back.
But sometimes, no matter which muscles you’re trying to engage, it’s frustratingly difficult to find that sweet relief. There might be more to your ache than bad alignment: Tightness in multiple muscles beyond the lower back itself can contribute to lower back issues. And to address the pain, you have to address the problem.
“The lower back is one of the most common areas where people experience consistent chronic pain,” Brad Walker, chief stretch adviser at StretchLab, previously told Well+Good. “More often than not, a tight or sore muscle is caused by a problem elsewhere.”
Walker points to the hip flexors, which are the group of muscles that wrap around the front of your hips, as a common cause.
“When the muscles in the front of your body, around your hips and quads, become tight and restrictive, they pull your hips out of alignment, which puts a lot of strain on your lower back,” Walker says. So stretching your hips, quads, and hamstrings can actually help relieve lower back pain.
In this new stretch routine from Pilates teacher Brian Spencer of East River Pilates, he also points to other muscles that could be throwing your back out of whack: the muscles on your sides that can get compressed from sitting, and back muscles that connect the bottom of your ribs to your hips.
In less than 20 minutes, Spencer’s goal here is to hit all of the possible “culprits” to get you the relief you’re looking for. “There’s a lot of reasons why our low back might not feel very great, and we’re going to try to hit all those points today,” he says.
Spencer will lead you in stretches like roll down, runner’s lunges, twists, side bends, and more, to help get at the source of your lower back tension. He also emphasizes dynamic stretching over static movement in order to find the edge of your stretch and get deeper into the muscles. This stretch series is all about finding your boundaries, staying in tune with what feels good, and sinking into your body. It’s all for the goal, as Spencer says, of living “your best life.”