Back pain: “Adding these 4 hip mobility exercises to my workout routine reduced my lower back pain”

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After an old running injury started causing me lower back pain, I found relief in hip-opening mobility stretches. Experts explain why my go-to exercises have been so effective at alleviating my lower back pain.

If you ask me, running is one of the easier sports to get into – you basically lace up and leg it. But if you’re not diligently taking deceptively minor precautions such as wearing the right trainers, pacing yourself and warming up, it can cost your body big time in the long run.

I know this from firsthand experience because despite starting my running journey beginning around thirteen years ago, my early, neglectful approach to stretching still affects me today. An early case of bursitis in my left hip has left me with a hip joint that – despite no longer being inflamed – is still prone to tightness when I’m inactive for long periods of time. Today, this tightness manifests itself as lower back pain.

What’s the connection between my old hip injury and lower back pain? Rachele Gilman, stretchologist and director at Stretch inc explains: “The hip flexors consist of several muscles, one of which (the iliopsoas) contains the psoas – the part that connects to the lumbar spine (the lower back). When the psoas is tight, it can increase compression and pain in the back.” 

Workouts aimed at reducing tension and aches in the (predominantly back and neck) muscles from sitting down all day became all the rage at the beginning of the pandemic. I realised that every time I did one of these said workouts, I felt almost immediate release and decompression in my lower back at the same time I was performing a hip opening exercise.

Despite spending the past year being more idle than I’ve ever been, consistently practising hip mobility routines has reduced my lower back pain dramatically.

Because of this, I’ve curated a four-step stretching routine that releases any lingering tension in my hips and lower back, and can be done from the comfort of my bed. I spoke to some experts to find out whether my four favourite hip opening exercises were really the reason for relief from my lower back pain.

4 mobility exercises to reduce lower back pain

HAPPY BABY

Why does Happy Baby ease lower back pain?

This playful pose is quite the powerhouse. Pilates instructor and founder of Pilates PT Hollie Grant says the posture “puts the lower back into lumbar flexion”. This relieves lower back pain by “encouraging your lower back to stretch out.”

Although it is beginner-friendly, “someone with tight hips or a tight lower back might find it difficult to get into that position.” If that sounds like you, half baby pose – raising one leg at a time – is a gentler way to reap the relieving benefits.

How to do the Happy Baby pose:

  1. Lie flat on your back and draw your knees up to your chest at a 90 degree angle. Your feet should be facing the ceiling.
  2. Grasp the insides or outsides of your feet and spread your knees apart – shifting them towards your underarms. If you can’t grab your feet, try grabbing your ankles or shins instead.
  3. Rock your body gently from side to side.
  4. Remember to keep your head and shoulders on the mat throughout the stretch. For extra support you can place a rolled-up towel under your neck.
  5. Stay in this position for as many breaths as you’d like, and allow the rocking to slowly knead your lower back.
woman doing pigeon pose on mat
Back pain: pigeon pose is one of the best stretches for the hip flexor muscles and lower back

PIGEON POSE

Why does Pigeon Pose ease lower back pain?

If you’re familiar with yoga, then you’ve probably come across pigeon pose before. According to Deanna Hammond-Blackburn, nutrition coach at OriGym Centre of Excellence, “it’s one of the best for stretching the hip flexor muscles and the lower back.” She explains, “the stretching and rotation of the leg and hip work to alleviate tightness.”

How to do the Pigeon Pose:

  1. Start by getting down onto all fours, then straighten your legs and raise your hips so that you’re in a downward dog.
  2. Bend your right knee and draw your leg forward as though you intend to step into a lunge. 
  3. Rest the knee on the outside of your right hand and extend your shin so that your right foot is resting somewhere between the left hand and the left hip. Keep your right foot flexed.
  4. The aim is to have your shin parallel to the front of the mat, but this will depend on your current mobility.
  5. Releasing your left leg to the mat, extend it outwards with your toes pointing down.
  6. Square your hips and find a comfortable place within the posture – you shouldn’t be feeling any pain or discomfort.
  7. Walk your hands forward. Folding your upper body towards the floor, rest your forehead on the mat and hold the posture for a few deep breaths.
  8. Slowly draw yourself back up, return to downward dog and repeat on the left leg.

FIGURE FOUR

Why does Figure four ease lower back pain?

The figure four stretch and the pigeon pose might be different levels of difficulty, but stretchologist Rachele Gilman says they’re “variations of the same movement that target the psoas, piriformis, hip flexors, hamstrings and quads and increase hip mobility.” The figure four can be done sitting, standing or on your back for a gentler stretch. Can’t find the time for a dedicated mobility practice? You can do this move from bed when you first wake up or before going to sleep. 

How to do the Figure four:

  1. Lie on your back, bend the knees and plant your feet hip-width apart, bringing the heels close in towards your body.
  2. Cross your right ankle over the left knee and lift your left knee to your chest.
  3. Reach the hands through the thighs and clasp them behind the left thigh. Use your elbow to press the right knee away from the chest.
  4. Keep your head and shoulders down.
  5. Hold for five breaths and switch to the other leg.

MALASANA

Why does the Malasana ease lower back pain?

Malasana, aka the functional squat, is “more than a stretch. This squat utilises almost a full range of motion in the legs and helps to counter the loss of flexibility that sitting has on our bodies”, says Gilman. She adds that “in the case of low back pain, Malasana is working the combined movement of the lower back and the pelvis, as well as the mobility of the hip.”

I try to incorporate this stretch into everything I do. Whenever I have the impulse to crouch down I drop into a deep Malasana instead, whether I’m checking something in the oven or plugging my phone into the charger.

How to do Malasana:

  1. Start with your legs just wider than shoulder-width apart. If you’re on a mat, they should be mat-width apart.
  2. Lower down into a deep squat with your feet flat and back extended.
  3. Your torso should be upright and resting between your thighs. 
  4. Keep your spine straight and avoid rounding your shoulders.
  5. Bring your palms together and push your elbows into the insides of your knees to help extend the back.
  6. Hold for five breaths and repeat as desired. 

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IMAGE: Getty 

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