It’s well established that about eight in 10 people in the U.S. will experience back pain at some point in their lives. And while the causes of such pain often vary, Seattle physical therapist Erik Norwood says increasingly, in a world that accommodates a more sedentary lifestyle, the blame for low-back pain can often be traced to an area a little lower in the kinetic chain: the hips.
“We tend to look at hip pain and problems and think they come from long-term wear and tear – from overuse,” said Norwood, owner of Renew Physical Therapy in Seattle. “But so often these days, we find that discomfort, tightness and pain in the hips could be just as easily due to underuse.”
According to Norwood, mobility and exercise (e.g., walking, running, stretching, etc.) help to more evenly distribute the forces of impact and weight through this ball-and-socket joint. As people age or find themselves living a more sedentary lifestyle from (e.g., sitting a lot at work), the wear and tear of the hip joint is less distributed, taking place in a smaller area within the socket.
This results in the loss of flexibility in and around the hip joint, which affects the hip’s ability to properly bend and twist throughout one’s normal walking or running gait. This loss of flexibility and motion in the hips area, Norwood says, means more of the natural pelvic rotation gets transferred to the lower spine.
“Your ability to run and walk has everything to do with the ability of your entire kinetic chain – from the foot, ankle, calf and hammy to the hips and spine – the work and move together,” Norwood said. “When one part of the chain weakens or tightens up, the impact of movement gets transferred to other areas, such as the back.”
Hence, tightness and inflexibility in the hips can manifest as lower back pain, Norwood said.
Underuse is sometimes difficult to avoid with long-term sitting at work or issues related to aging. However, Norwood says that walking regularly whether in your neighborhood, around the block at work, or in a local park will do wonders to keep both your hips and spine loose and moving.
Other stretches recommended for preventing tight hips and related back pain, Norwood says, include:
Lunges: Take a few minutes every day to lunge forward with one leg while letting your other knee drop to the floor. Keep your back straight, shoulders high, and hold. Switch to the other side.
Figure-4: Lying on your back, cross your right ankle over top of your left knee. The reach around under your left hamstring and pull your knee toward your chest, stretching out your right hip. Hold for several seconds, then switch.
Hurdle Stretch: Sitting on the ground or floor, stick your left leg straight out in front of you. At the same time, bend your right leg back behind you so your foot is tucked in back of you. Keeping your left leg straight, lean back over your right hip and hold. Switch legs and repeat.
For more information about pain and inflexibility in the back and hips, or if you have difficulty or pain when walking or jogging, physical therapist like those on the Renew Physical Therapy team provide movement assessments and gait analyses for those looking to reduce discomfort and get moving again.