By Dr. Jessica Warnecke, PT, DPT, OCS
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night due to aching pain in your low back? Or felt increased stiffness after sitting for a few hours at work or during a movie? Did you know that in 2017, 54% of adults in the U.S. stated they had been suffering from neck or low back pain for the past five years!
Overall, this becomes a very costly burden for the individual with recent estimates saying $200 billion/year is spent in the U.S alone due to chronic back pain and arthritis issues. These costs include healthcare visits, physical and medicinal treatment, and wages lost due to time off work. Studies have shown that those with chronic low back pain can average 10+ medical visits each year, deal with unemployment, rely on income from disability, develop depression and struggle with sleep disturbances.
When we feel pain, a very common reaction is to stop moving altogether and prevent anything from feeding into our discomfort. Over the course of days, weeks, and months this can turn into increased stiffness, loss of strength, and less mobility throughout our bone and muscle structures. This feeds into a domino effect of pain becoming more irritable with less of a stimulus.
In order to defeat this cycle, we must learn how to move safely and comfortably in order to allow our brain to trust our body again. Introducing gradual movements in varying directions allows the brain to see that there is no harmful action present and regain trust with movement.
I’ve provided a set of instructions below that will enable you to perform a mobility self-assessment that focuses on the lower back:
1. While standing, slowly bend forward at the waist as far as is possible like you are trying to touch your toes- do not bend your knees. When you reach your endpoint, what do you feel? A normal motion should be to touch your feet. Did you make it? If not, what limits you? You may feel stiffness or aching in your low back, tightness in the back of your legs, or dull pain in your hips. Take note of how you feel and then slowly return to standing upright. Any discomfort with this motion?
2. Next, you will place your hands on your hips and slowly lean back as far as you can comfortably without bending your knees. Do you feel any stiffness or sharp pain with this motion? If so, write down where you feel it (in the middle of your low back, on one side, in one hip, etc).
3. The third motion you will check is side bending. From upright stance, gently slide your right arm down the side of your right leg in a pain free range without leaning forward/backward or bending your knees. Repeat to the left side. Any limitations? A normal motion should be for your fingertips to reach the side of your knee.
4. The last movement you will check is rotation. Sit off the side of your bed or in a firm chair and twist your upper body as if you’re trying to look backwards. Compare looking to the right versus the left. You should be able to turn so each shoulder points behind you at a 45-degree angle without any restrictions.
Now you are ready to analyze your movement. Was one side more limited than another? Was bending forward or backward uncomfortable? If you wrote down any restrictions, I want you to try this movement assessment at different times of the day and compare results. Do it in the morning, afternoon, and before bed and see if your movement gets any better or worse. This will be a good indicator to cue you in if your mobility is limited and needs to be addressed.
Even if you don’t have significant pain or a severe injury, do not ignore the minor aches and discomforts that keep popping up after working a full day at your desk, driving to/from work, or trying to get daily exercise. Seek help from a PT early on so that you don’t risk dealing with greater limitations down the road. So much can be done to prevent pain and injury while allowing your body to take full advantage of its ability to move!
Want to learn 10 simple tips to help alleviate back pain? Request a copy of our FREE e-book 10 Quick Tips To End Back Pain And Stiffness-Without Needing Pills Or Surgery.
Meet Your Therapist
Jessica has been in Austin, TX for the past four years. She grew up in Idaho and attended PT school at Idaho State University. She completed an Orthopaedic Residency and became a Board Certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist in 2016.