Wellness

Ending Lower Back Pain

Anyone who has felt occasional back pain will tell you: It’s the f$cking worst. We talked to structural integration and alignment specialist Lauren Roxburgh—author of Taller, Slimmer, Younger and our go-to on all matters of foam rolling and body work.

Here, Roxburgh addresses issues of the lower back and the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back into your legs, and is where pain often stems from. Her tips for avoiding a back problems in the first place are a good idea for just about everyone—her restorative routine has benefits beyond soothing your back, e.g., strengthening your core and butt, promoting healthy circulation, and relaxing the body. (Check out another new Roxburgh rolling routine—designed to make you glow—in our GOOP CLEAN BEAUTY book, available here.) At the same time, her techniques for treating back pain once it happens can be life-changing.

The Lower Back/Sciatica Rx

If you’re one of the many who suffer from back pain, you know how debilitating and frustrating it can be.

The back is a truly complicated, fragile, and miraculous structure made up of ligaments, muscles, fascia, joints, bones. Injuries or accidents can cause back problems, but lower back pain can also result from simple movements like bending over to pick something up or twisting too abruptly. Other common causes of back pain include bad posture, obesity, stress, and arthritis. Back problems can also be exacerbated by “situational” circumstances like stress, sitting too much, wearing high heels, or sleeping on a bed that is too soft.

Then there is sciatica. The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the body. It runs from the lower back, through the buttocks, and down the back of both legs where portions of the sciatic nerve branch out to innervate the thigh, calf, foot, and toes. Sciatica symptoms occur when the large sciatic nerve is injured, irritated, compressed, or glued down by scar tissue or damaged fascia at or near its point of origin—which can be caused by poor posture, a pelvis that is out of alignment, or clenched pelvic floor muscles due to stress, trauma, or fear. Sciatica can also result from degenerative disc disease (which breaks down the discs that act as cushions between the vertebrae), lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back), or spondylolisthesis (where one vertebra slips forward over another one).

Pain resulting from sciatica usually begins in the low back or buttocks and continues along the path of the sciatic nerve—down the back of the thigh and into the lower leg and foot. It can be searing and sharp, or numbing, and often feels better when patients lie down or are walking, but worsens when standing or sitting.

Treating back pain can be tricky since there are so many things that influence the pain and discomfort. Options range from physical therapy to acupuncture, massage, Pilates, structural integration, medication, and as a last resort, surgery. If you’re suffering intense lower back pain or sciatica, seeing a doctor is the best place to start in order to figure out exactly what’s going on so you can decide what the next best step is. I always recommend getting to the root of the problem and figuring out the cause, which could be some sort of emotional stress, poor posture/alignment, sitting too much, over working-out, an injury or accident, etc. Understanding how the problem was caused in the first place is key, because the compensations a patient makes in reaction to the cause can create an additional set of issues or pain.

If you’re lucky enough to not suffer from extreme back problems, the best thing you can do is look after your back. Treat it with the respect that it deserves—it’s the very foundation that holds your body upright—by giving it a little love every day. The investment in prevention will pay huge dividends when it helps you avoid back problems altogether.

10 Easy Ways to Take Care of Your Back

  1. Take a few minutes every morning to stretch from head to toe. I recommend the cat/cow yoga stretch to wake up and decompress your spine.

  2. Walk and bounce on a rebounder.

  3. Take magnesium to support nerves and muscles.

  4. Take evening baths with magnesium chloride salt flakes to chill out.

  5. Check in with, or get to know, your pelvic floor. This area has a huge impact on the alignment of the pelvis and pain in the lower back. We tend to process stress and hold tension in this area.

  6. Stay hydrated and add collagen to your diet with bone broth to support connective tissue.

  7. When bending down to pick something up, bend your knees and squat down using your booty muscles, hamstrings, and core, and press though your heels.

  8. Roll your feet out with a tennis ball to maintain healthy plantar fascia.

  9. Build and maintain a strong and flexible core and hip rotators—especially your glute medius. (The foam rolling sequence below will help you do this!)

  10. Go upside down every day: Inversions can be amazing for decompressing the discs of your spine.

How to Help Your Back With Foam Rolling

When clients do come to me with low back or sciatica issues, I take them through this series of specific moves on my signature foam roller, which is designed to be a little softer than other rollers, so that using it is less painful, and more like bodywork. Keep in mind that the body is an interconnected matrix, so be present, go slow, breathe deep, and focus on your entire body while doing the moves below.

1: ROLLING SPINAL DECOMPRESSION

  1. Lay on the roller the long way, so your entire spine is supported from head to tailbone.

  2. Reach your arms up over your head and inhale as you lean your upper body to the right and your knees and hips to the left.

  3. Exhale as you feel the deep stretch in your spine.

Repeat this movement eight times on each side.

2: ROLLING FIGURE FOUR

  1. Sit on the roller and reach your right arm behind you, placing your right palm on the mat for stability. Cross your right ankle over your left knee in a figure four position.

  2. Shift your weight slightly over to the right hip/glute area and roll back and forth a few inches in each direction.

  3. Roll in circles to help increase circulation and blood flow, and to reduce congestion.

Repeat this movement on each side for about 30-45 seconds.

3: QL ROLL

  1. Place the roller behind you. Come to a figure-four position with your left knee bent, right ankle crossed over your left thigh, right above the knee. Place your right forearm on the mat and press your right palms into the roller, thumb facing up. Place your left hand on your right knee to deepen the pressure and create more space.

  2. Lean your body to the right while feeling a subtle pressure on the right quadratus lumborum (QL), a lower back muscle between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips.

  3. Keeping the roller stable, press down into your left foot while you inhale and round your tailbone up, raising your right hip off the ground.

  4. Exhale—come back down and feel the lower back release and your core connect.

Repeat this movement eight times on each side.

4: PSOAS ROLL

  1. Come down to your forearms with the roller placed perpendicular under your left hip and right inner thigh, by turning your right knee out to the side, which helps expose the deeper muscles of the hip and core.

  2. Twist your body slightly to the right and inhale as you roll up towards your pelvis and to the attachment of your hip and psoas (the deepest core and hip flexor muscle in the body).

  3. Exhale as you roll back down the left thigh.

Repeat 8 times on each side.

5: GODDESS ROLL

  1. Come down to your forearms with your belly facing the mat. Place the roller under your hips, with your feet together and knees wide. Keep your belly engaged to prevent overarching your lower back.

  2. Exhale as you roll all the way down to your inner knees.

  3. Inhale as you roll back up to your pubic bone attachment.

Repeat this movement eight times.

6: THIGH DE-BUNCH

  1. Lay on the mat and place the roller under your sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of your spine). Bend one knee and draw it into your chest. Keep the other leg extended down on the mat in front of you, flexing and reaching through the heel.

  2. As you inhale, lift the extended leg two inches off of the mat. Hold here for three slow, full breaths, allowing your hips to fully extend and elongate.

  3. After your third round of breaths, exhale as you release your extended leg down to the mat, reaching through the flexed heel.

  4. Repeat eight to ten times on each leg.

7: INVERTED LATERAL SPLIT

  1. Lie down on the mat with the roller placed just above your sacrum, so that your hips are on the roller. Place your hands on either end of the roller, with legs extended to a 90-degree angle toward the ceiling.

  2. Inhale as you open your legs out to the side, stretching your inner thighs and hamstrings, and decompressing your lower back.

  3. Exhale as you squeeze the legs back together.

Repeat this movement eight to ten times.

8: INVERTED DOUBLE LEG LOWER LIFT

  1. Lie down on the mat with the roller placed just above your sacrum so that your hips are on the roller.

  2. Place your hands on each end of the roller, bring your knees over your hips, and slowly extend your legs up to a 90-degree angle while engaging your deep abdominal and inner thigh muscles.

  3. Inhale as you lower your legs down to a 45-degree angle, keeping your core and inner thighs connected to avoid arching your lower back. (This helps to build a stronger deep core.)

  4. Exhale as you lift your legs back up to your start position.

Repeat this movement eight to ten times.

9: ROLLING MERMAID WITH TWIST

  1. Sit with the roller close to your left side and bend your left shin in front of you, your right shin to the right side of you. Twist your upper body to the left and place both sets of fingertips on the roller.

  2. With your chest open, sit up as tall as you can, open your chest, look up, and roll your shoulders down and back.

  3. Take a big breath in as you look up and twist your spine to the left.

  4. Exhale as you start to roll the roller up your forearms to just below your elbows, reaching your body parallel to the floor, twisting even more to decompress your spine.

  5. Inhale, then exhale as you come back up.

Repeat this motion eight times on each side.

10: CORE STABILITY FOOTWORK

  1. Lie on the roller from head to tailbone with a slight curve in the lower back—otherwise known as neutral spine. Place your forearms on either side of the roller to stabilize.

  2. Inhale as you lift your left arm and right leg, and reach long.

  3. Exhale as you engage your deep abdominals to curl your head and upper spine up off the roller. Reach your left hand toward your right leg, maintaining stability.

  4. Exhale as you return to your start position.

Repeat this movement eight to ten times.

11: ROLLER SIDE KICKS

  1. Bring your right hip down to the mat and place the roller under your right side at your waistline, making space between your hips and ribs. Place your right elbow directly under your right shoulder joint. Bend your bottom knee and extend your top leg long.

  2. Maintain stable, square hips and shoulders; engage your core, and inhale as you reach your left leg forward with a slight external rotation.

  3. Exhale as you reach back, opening the front of the hip. The roller will massage your waist while you work your core and thighs.

Repeat this motion eight times on each side.

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