Remedy For A Stiff Lower Back post image

Remedy For A Stiff Lower Back

Our series of Desk Jockey mobility and flexibility posts has been extremely popular. And has inspired some great questions from the community. One of the recurring themes is back pain, so we set to work… Our go to guy for fixing your back is Eric Wong, author of Bulletproof Back. We asked Eric your question: “What can be done about lower back pain.” Here’s what he had to say…

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What can I do for a stiff lower back?

I’ve gotten this question dozens of times over the years and with good reason.

But the answer is completely counter-intuitive, so if you’re looking to loosen up a lumbar area that feels more like a brick than a back, pay close attention…

I’ve been training clients since 2000, when I started working as a trainer part-time while studying for my Kinesiology degree.

Now, I work with high level athletes who beat other people up for a living, but that’s another story for another day…

Over the years, I’ve trained hundreds of people and encountered many different aches and pains, some ranging from the extra-ordinary, like the lady who felt cold behind her left eye when she raised her right arm (she was later to be outed as a malingerer), to the common “My back is stiff. What can I do?”

To the latter question, I’ve learned a lot, not only through my years of study, but also through years of personal, painful experience.

Luckily, now, I’ve been free of a painful low back, for over 5 years and can do whatever the heck I please, whether it be rocketing down the side of a mountain on a thin little board or trying to tap out my buddy’s in the dojo.

And here’s one thing that I’ve discovered personally and helped others discover to DRASTICALLY improve how their back feels and almost ‘magically’ loosen up their lower bricks backs:

A tight lower back more often than not needs STABILITY, not stretching.

Notice I used the disclaimer ‘more often’ – this isn’t the case for everyone, but more often than not, meaning 70% + of the people I’ve encountered, need stability over stretching.

Here’s why…

For most of us, the majority of our day is spent sitting in chairs.

There are 2 problems with all this sitting: one, it makes us into slumpy cavemen and two, it makes our core stabilizer muscles sleepy.

Now, picture the spine, which is basically made up of vertebrae (bones) and discs that go in between each vertebrae for shock absorption and support.

The most common cause for stiffness in the lower back is damage to the posterior aspect of the disc.

For those of you who aren’t anatomy geniuses, here’s an analogy that will help you picture what I’m talking about.

The vertebrae are hockey pucks and the discs are (Tim Horton’s) jelly donuts.

Yes, I am Canadian.

Now, in good posture, everything sits on top of everything nicely.

But when you slump forward constantly or you go to tie your shoelaces and the core muscles don’t stabilize your spine, one end of the jelly donut gets pinched, and the jelly can get shot out of the back of the donut!

This event is often referred to as a disc bulge or worse, a disc herniation.

When this happens, your brain goes into panic mode and signals all of the muscles to tense up so you can’t move.

When you can’t move, you can’t cause any more damage to the area.

This is a primitive response that is designed to keep our body’s most important areas safe.

But when this happens, what’s the first thing that most people do?

If you said ‘stretch’, congratulations, you win the red corvette and dream vacation.

Basically, when we stretch a tight low back, we’re fighting the body’s defense mechanism, so what will the body do?

Fight back!

It doesn’t want you to move because the disc is bulging and/or the core muscles aren’t doing their job.

So instead, what I learned to do for myself when I had low back pain and taught my clients to do is perform 4 key exercises that I call the ‘Damage Control’ routine.

When you perform the Damage Control routine, you’re basically telling your brain that there’s nothing to worry about, all of the stabilizer muscles are working properly, so you can stop tensing up the muscles and let everything relax.

Exercise technique is very important here, so make sure you follow the details described in the video and be on your way to quickly recovering from a stiff lower back:

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Thanks Eric!!

If you guys have any questions for Mr Bulletproof Back, leave them in the comments. We’ll see if we can get Eric over here to answer them!

And if you’d like more info about Eric’s program, just use the link below. We’ve had countless clients thank us for referring them to Bulletproof Back since it first came out. So if you’re suffering from back pain, make sure you check it out.

Bulletproof Back <— Click here for more info…

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{ 32 comments… add one }

  • Simon November 19, 2010, 2:11 pm

    I’ve just started a work from home job and can feel my back stiffening up and getting sore.
    What’s the best / worst way I can sit while I’m tapping away at the keyboard?

    Reply
    • Eric Wong November 20, 2010, 12:20 pm

      Hey Simon,

      Here are a couple of pointers:

      1) Do your best to get up at least every 45 minutes to walk around. This does wonders for a stiff back. Just walk to the bathroom, march on the spot while you’re peeing, and you’ll be good to go! :) Seriously, you need at least 5 minutes of standing/walking around to make this effective – add a couple reaches to the sky and you’ll be golden

      2) There is no single good position – there are some bad ones to avoid, like slouching, but the best advice is to change positions frequently. Sit back in your chair, lean forward, kick your feet up on your desk – mix it up and the back won’t get ‘stuck’ in one position too long and stiffen up

      Try those 2 things and they’ll help tremendously.

      Eric

      Reply
  • Deb November 21, 2010, 4:33 am

    Hey Eric, thanks for the great video! I wanted to ask if these exercises would help with sciatic pain? I have intermittent problems with sciatica and am always on the lookout for new ideas.

    Currently I have a group of 4 Qi Gong exercises I use when I have an attack of sciatica including Leg Raises, Scissors Kicks, Bow Pose and Prone Leg Raises. I think these work on the same principle of telling your body that everything is OK and not to make the muscles tense up and spasm. What are your thoughts?

    Reply
    • Eric Wong November 23, 2010, 1:17 pm

      Hi Deb,

      It all depends on the cause of your sciatic pain. There are a few different causes, mainly:

      1) Disc herniation/bulge where it presses on the sciatic nerve root
      2) Nerve impingement due to a muscle
      3) Some type of degeneration in the disc or foramen (opening where the nerves leave the spine)

      If it’s #1 – yes, these exercises will help.

      For #2 and #3 – no, they will not help too much.

      #1 generally happens with people younger than 50.

      #3 generally happens in people older than 55.

      #2 can happen to anyone…

      Hope that helps you out Deb!

      Eric

      Reply
      • Deb November 24, 2010, 3:25 am

        Thanks Eric! So for me it could be #1 since it seems to respond well to the Qi Gong stuff I do. Generally I feel my back “give” or I’m bending forward a lot before I get an attack, so herniated/slipped disc makes sense. Glad I can add some more exercises to the repertoire. Hopefully I won’t need to use them anytime soon :)

        Reply
  • Nancy November 21, 2010, 5:50 am

    My back is always stiff and sore when I get up in the morning. I did this series of exercises today, and it was amazing; I immediately felt better and walked around at the end 99% pain-free. THANK YOU for the excellent advice and the video which explained it all very well.

    Reply
    • Eric Wong November 23, 2010, 1:18 pm

      You’re welcome! Thanks for using it. :)

      Reply
  • Ken November 21, 2010, 7:30 am

    Guys, I absolutely vouch for Bulletproof Back – I bought it a few months ago and it is great.

    Eric, are you going to hold another BPB Webinar? And I have a question:

    I probably have to make a looooong plane trip (trans-continental & trans-Pacific, maybe 12+ hours) fairly soon (and of course the return). That seems like it will be tough on my back. Any advice?

    Reply
    • Eric Wong November 23, 2010, 1:21 pm

      Hey Ken,

      Thanks for the props. :)

      As for the webinar, I don’t have one planned.

      As for the long plane trip, try these things:

      1) Get an aisle seat and get up as often as possible just to stand up and walk around.
      2) Bring a lumbar roll, towel, small pillow or a friendly and quiet cat that you can place in your lumbar area to give you support and help you maintain the neutral spine.
      3) Change your sitting position around as you sit: recline, stick your elbows on the little table, sit up really tall, just move around so the back doesn’t get ‘stuck’

      Hopefully with these tips you’ll land and be as mobile as when you walked on the plane.

      Have a fun trip!

      Eric

      Reply
  • Toni November 21, 2010, 11:15 am

    It’s great to see these really sound low back movements put together in a simple routine.

    I would like to point out that Stuart McGill, who’s where I learned Bird Dogs, is very specific about keeping a little lumbar curve and not allowing what he calls “breaks” or flexion in the lumbar spine when doing this movement. They’re much tougher to do properly than they look!

    Thanks for the great information, Eric!

    Reply
  • Olan November 21, 2010, 11:27 am

    How many reps for the bird dog? And I assume I should do both sides?

    Reply
    • Eric Wong November 23, 2010, 1:23 pm

      Olan Olan, Olan Olan…

      Sorry, that ‘Ole’ tune popped in my head when I read your name. :)

      The ultimate goal for the Birddog is to build up to being able to do 10 reps per side (2o total) with a 10 second hold on each, all while maintaining perfect form.

      Once form breaks down, stop, rest, then do another set. Or two.

      As part of the Damage Control routine – do as I’ve got outlined. You just want activation, not fatigue or a training effect.

      Reply
  • Alexandre Brazil November 21, 2010, 6:31 pm

    Hi Eric,

    In the last exercise, why you put one foot in front of the other, not above?
    And, doing the way you do, should I put all my weight in the front leg or balance between the two?

    I’ll try them soon!
    Thanx!

    Reply
    • Craig November 21, 2010, 8:27 pm

      Hi Eric,

      Just wondering when you teach the Bird Dog, why the arm goes to 45 degrees instead of straight ahead?

      Reply
    • Eric Wong November 23, 2010, 1:24 pm

      Hey Alexandre,

      A couple of reasons…

      Doing so allows you to focus more on activation of the proper muscles and maintaining good form and posture, versus having to balance.

      For those whose balance is no problemo, it also helps to prepare one for more advanced exercises, like rolling to a front plank, or changing the angle of the body relative to the ground to emphasize abdominals/obliques more or less.

      Reply
      • Eric Wong November 23, 2010, 1:27 pm

        The arm out at 45 deg allows you to activate the lower trapezius muscle, which is an important muscle for overall shoulder health.

        The arm straight out tends to overwork the upper trapezius and/or levator scapulae, two muscles that in our over-seated and poor-postured society, we likely don’t need any more work for.

        So it’s just multi-purposing a really good exercise into an even better one through a slight modification that doesn’t take away from the original intent.

        Hope that makes sense. :)

        Reply
      • Alexandre November 23, 2010, 3:17 pm

        Thanx Eric!

        I’m looking foward for these advanced moves! Chance the angle of the body? This one I would like to see…

        Reply
  • Ryan Murdock November 22, 2010, 10:22 am

    Great stuff Eric, as always. Thanks! :))

    Reply
    • Eric Wong November 23, 2010, 1:28 pm

      Mr. Murdock, might I say that you look rather sexy in your avatar? :)

      Reply
  • Erik November 22, 2010, 9:30 pm

    While looking at the video I feel that I should say that low back pain is still a mystery of sorts and that no one routine can “fix” it. As someone with a spondy, I can do a mckenzie (sp?) extensions, glute extensions (great for spondy), HORSTANCE (aka, bird dogs, again, GREAT for spondy) and side bridges. These are good for those presenting any kind of low back structural condition (hyper-lordosis, sway-back and flat back). Simply find your “neutral” and work the exercises within that range. Get out of pain by manual therapy, stretching the appropriate muscles and WALK! Miles if you have to. Some spondy grade 1 have lots of pain while a grade 3 has none. Why is that? The million dollar question!

    Reply
  • Pwest November 25, 2010, 9:47 am

    I have Eric’s Bullet Proof Back and it has helped me a ton. Lots of information and a solid program. Thanks Eric!

    Reply
  • Candice December 21, 2010, 5:20 pm

    This is nearly identical to the routine my physiotherapist gave me. Works well.

    Do you recommend this routine as a preventative measure as well, or just for damage control?

    Reply
    • Eric Wong December 22, 2010, 1:09 am

      Yes, it can be used as a preventative measure for sure.

      If you’re not in pain when you do it – challenge yourself and build up to 60 second holds on the side bridge – achieving this level has been shown to result in much lower incidences of back pain. Just make sure you’re in good form!

      Reply
      • Candice December 22, 2010, 9:18 am

        Thanks!

        Reply
  • John February 5, 2012, 2:02 pm

    Thank you so much for that! I rapidly went from being extremely active with my lifestyle to doing nothing and the last few months the lower back stiffness/pain has been torturing me a lot! To the point where I couldn’t sit comfortably on the subway. Since there was no injury or anything I thought it could be resolved if I increase my cardio/stretching routines. But these exercises work like magic from day 1.

    Reply
  • natalie September 11, 2012, 3:07 pm

    i am amazed at the improvement of my stiff back since doing the excersises in your
    video, i have been suffering with it for over a year.
    i do a manual job so i need to be fit.
    it is such a relief to be pain free .
    thankyou so much.

    Reply
  • Kelsey October 28, 2012, 6:25 pm

    Eric,
    First I would like to thank you so much for these amazing, AMAZING “moves.” I’ve been suffering from low back pain for about a year and a half now (chronic low back pain and I’m only 21). I’ve always wondered though….I’m a housekeeper and rarely get time to sit. I bend all day, up and down stairs, carry heavy baskets and do all the normal housekeeping duties. When I first started working there my back pain was actually relieved but in the last 4/5 months it’s gotten worse and I’m wondering why this is.

    Reply
  • Daniel March 19, 2013, 8:22 pm

    Thank you for the exercises. I’ve had a stiff and painful lower back for a couple of years. I tried the exercises in an abbreviated session as I was just trying to learn them, and my back already feels better! Excellent.

    Reply
  • Jessica Cortez May 13, 2013, 10:31 pm

    Eric ,
    I injured my back doing donkey kicks with ankle weights every day . I didn’t do these exercises with a well balanced workout routine and threw my back out . I have had muscle spams , sciatica , and back stiffness . Do you think your exercises are right for me ? Ive been dealing with this now for two months and I want my life back .
    LOve ,Jess

    Reply
  • Dan June 18, 2013, 8:08 am

    Howdy,
    I told myself I would respond if your suggested exercises helped. They do work for me, I am religiously doing these exercises each morning, followed by a treadmill walk. Thank you sooo much!

    Dan

    Reply
  • Janet March 29, 2014, 6:50 pm

    I have lower back pain at night. I go to bed with no pain and wake up 2 hours later with a constant ache in my lower back. Getting up and moving around makes it go away. Back to bed, 2 or 3 hours later……….the same thing. Hot showers help too. Will these exercises help with that? I did these four exercises today and feel better. My daytime pain went away.
    Thanks.

    Reply

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