Written by Mathilde Opsvik
As a chiropractor, the painful condition I see most often in practise is lower back pain. Sometimes this back pain has come as a result of a one-time trauma such as being involved in a road traffic accident or lifting something ridiculously heavy, however most of the time low back pain seems to appear out of nowhere. A severe episode of back pain is more common after picking up a sock one morning, than after experiencing severe trauma. Typically, these painful episodes do not occur out of the blue, but rather is the end result of a muscle imbalance or a faulty movement pattern that has been going on for some time.
This text is about one common muscle imbalance that can be a contributing factor in low back pain. Inhibited and/or weak glutes (your bum muscles) and tight lumbar extensor muscles (the muscles in your low back).
These two large muscle groups drive similar movements such getting you back up from a bent over position or seated position, keeping you upright, bringing the leg behind you when you’re out walking or running. You might have heard of posterior chain movements, both of these muscle groups are part of that chain. The glutes (your bum) should be the prime mover of these movements and your back muscles should be helpers, or synergists. When the glutes become lazy the muscles in your low back can start to work harder to compensate, and this leads to the muscular imbalance.
So there is a muscular imbalance, so what? It would be great if the lumbar extensors could just continue to compensate and get stronger and better and just take over the job of the glutes, unfortunately, when a synergist tries to do the job of a prime mover things go wrong. The added stress over time through the lower back can lead to pain problems such as muscular strains or joint dysfunction.
So why do the glutes become weak? I believe that one of the biggest contributing factors is the large amount of sitting most of us do every day. When we sit the activity level in the glutes is very low. There is also reduced blood flow and reduced nerve activity. When you think about it, it totally makes sense that these muscles will become weak when we spend prolonged time sitting on them. After some time, the glutes will look flat and even sag.
So what can be done? It is of course possible to have chiropractic or physio treatment to the damaged tissue, however you are not truly dealing with the issue until you address the underlying imbalance. How do you do that? You guessed it. Exercising them stronger!
Which exercises are the best? Knowing exactly which exercise is appropriate for you depends on several factors such as how much pain you are in, your usual activity level, and how severe the imbalance is. The best thing to do if you are serious about strengthening your glutes is to have the situation assessed by a chiropractor or a physio who will be able to give you specific advice and exercises suitable to your level. If you are not ready to seek help, then simply getting out of your chair more is the obvious thing to do.
I hope this has given you some insight into this common problem, if you have any further questions or think you might be suffering from weak glutes and would like to be assessed we are at your service at The Chiro & Physio Clinic to help you out!
All the best,
Rehabilitation of the spine. A practitioners Manual. Craig Liebenson
Anatomy Trains. Myofascial Meridians for manual and movement therapists. Thomas W. Myers.
Advances in Functional Training. Michael Boyle
Written by Mathilde Opsvik