One of the main reasons that working on the back, neck and shoulders interests me so much is that those have been painful areas for me since many years. As a child the doctor ascribed my lower back pain to a sudden growth spurt in my early teens. My core muscles were weak, I started to slouch a lot and that threw my spinal alignment out. I was in a back brace for a few months, which was very uncomfortable, and I don’t know if it helped but it certainly made me very aware of the need to work on my posture.
A lot of people have some degree of scoliosis in their spine. The way we hold ourselves, the unconscious habits we form favoring one side over another, any of a million small things affect our body alignment.
My lower back pain followed me for many many years. And it was only when I started studying massage that I really understood how I was continuing to enforce the patterns that caused my back pain in the first place. The deep underlying Quadratus Lumborum muscle is the main culprit in most postural back aches like mine. Slouching, slumping, standing with your weight on one leg, all of this leads to a QL that is weakened, over-extended and out-of-balance. Unlearning a decades old habit might take decades in itself. And what I have learned is that while exercise, posture correction and taking a close look at lifestyle and habits put me on the right track to strengthening my back the immediate relief for back pain is still massage. And an experienced body worker who can find the QL and give it a good work out is priceless. Somehow that wasn’t easy to find. Most massage therapists would work on my lower back a little bit and then move on to the hips or upper back. Now it’s true that the glutes are a primary cause of lower back pain too but ignoring the QL made for a dissatisfying session where I felt the core of the pain had not been touched. And the effects of massage stayed longer when I threw other modalities in the mix like stretching, strengthening and body awareness exercises (like Feldenkrais or the Alexander method).
Side bends are a really good stretch for the Quadratus Lumborum. And a side bend while also rotating the torso slightly in the direction of the bend is even more effective to alleviate lower back pain. Here are some other ways to go about it.
As always, I work within my comfort zone during these stretches and don’t push myself more than I can take. And I breathe! If I can’t take slow, deep breaths while holding a stretch then I know I am overdoing it.
Read Massage Therapy magazine’s take on back pain