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Understanding the Connection: Tight Hips and Achey Low Backs

Updated: Feb 29

Hi everyone and welcome. 

Is there a connection between tight hips and achey lower back pain or discomfort?  The answer is definitely YES! 

We're going to dive into the most effective ways to improve the flexibility in your hips to prevent achiness and pain in the lower back, along with things you should consider avoiding, plus some other tips and tricks to help you find lasting relief.

Thanks for joining me!  My name is Linnea. I'm the owner and founder of Limber Arts Pilates and Personal Training here in Olympia, Washington. Also, a lot of stuff is done virtually, so you can participate from anywhere in the world. I've come into this line of work in order to help people get stronger. I'm helping people live an active life, but it's also really through the lens of a corrective, restorative healing movement practice. Helping you get out of pain, helping you feel like you can trust your body again after maybe feeling like you've tried everything. Feeling like maybe you have a laundry list of old injuries and chronic aches and pains because I've been there myself. 

So I am a retired circus performer. I've had more surgeries than I care to mention, spinal disc issues, and just a lot of bumps and bruises along the way from being a semi-professional athlete. So it kind of comes with the territory unfortunately for a lot of us, but there is hope and there are things that you can do.

Enhancing Mobility and Flexibility for Pain Prevention

Let's jump into this topic today specifically around tight hips and also when tight hips can even lead to something like achiness and pain in your lower back. The reason why tight hips can contribute to low back pain is because they basically prevent movement at your hips. If your hips are tight, it means they're not moving a lot. And our lower back is this area that's not very supported. Our mid back has ribs on it, so it's structurally a little bit more sound. And our lower spine is fairly vulnerable, which means it can take the brunt of the work if other things aren't doing their job. 

For example, if we don't have the mobility in our hips to move well and easily there, then that movement can start to be forced into the lower spine, which will just lead to more wear and tear on the lower back. So that's the main thing that I see for folks that have tight hips, is that instead of their hips moving, all of a sudden it's the lower back that's moving a lot more and often in kind of these compromised ways where there's like a little more force, a little more pressure, a little more compression going into the low back.

Let’s talk about the best way to stretch if you are somebody who has tight hips. Because there definitely are better ways to stretch and ways that, you know, I don't want to scare anybody, but there are ways that might not be as effective. It's pretty simple, I don't want to make this overly complicated.

I'm going to share a couple of exercises. I've got some props and some things here that I want to show you guys so we will get to that soon. Essentially, you can think of a few basic rules of thumb. The first one is a gentle, dynamic movement. 

Dynamic Stretching: The Key to Improved Flexibility

Dynamic basically means the same thing as movement.  That's going to be different than just holding a stretch. This would not be a dynamic stretch. This would be a static stretch, so you might be used to doing stretches like this, for example, in yoga. Now, I'm not here to criticize yoga at all, but depending on the different schools of thought within the yoga world, you will find a lot of static stretching in yoga. So let's say you're even doing a static stretch, you might ask yourself, how could I make this slightly dynamic?

Essentially what this does is it allows your neuromuscular pathway to adapt, (which is simply the way that your brain perceives useful movement patterns). Dynamic Stretching creates a more inviting situation where your body agrees to and understands the value of moving in and out of this new degree of flexibility.  With a static stretch, there can often be a feeling of harsh, forceful, pushness… and besides that, it’s hard for our brain-body connection to translate that into subconscious movement

So that's actually a pretty easy rule of thumb to incorporate into your current stretching routine.  You want to have gentle dynamic movement within your stretches. 

Goldilocks Principle in Terms of Temperature

The next rule of thumb is to make sure your body temperature is just right.  Not too hot, not too cold. Things to consider here are things like the temperature outside, how much you've warmed up, or how many layers you're wearing. You don't want to stretch super deep or super intensively while you're still cold at the very beginning of your workout. You definitely want to be a little bit warm. On the other end of the spectrum, you might avoid intense deep stretching when you are hot.

You might find this in some flexibility-focused classes where they pump the heat super, super high. And I would just maybe not necessarily totally encourage you to rely on that for your flexibility gains. So definitely be warm, not cold, and not too hot. 

A little bit of a Goldilocks principle there. The deeper you're gonna stretch and push your muscles to really stretch, the warmer you wanna be, but you can go too far with that. If you're cold and you haven't even moved or warmed up yet, then you might wanna do some gentle dynamic stretching just to help get you warmed up, while at the same time focusing more on warming up than stretching deeply. 

Once you're really nice and warm, you can add in some deeper, more flexibility-focused movements and you might be able to do them a little bit more intensively, go a little deeper.

Consistent and Frequent: The Impact of Timing on Flexibility Gains

The third rule of thumb is all about consistency and frequency. I have a story for you related to this one.  Back in the day when I was a circus performer and, really at the beginning of my whole career as a circus performer, I decided I really needed to work on my ability to do the splits. I'd been doing yoga for a long time already. I was somewhat flexible, but I couldn’t do the full splits. 

So what I did is what I decided to do. I decided to stretch my splits every 12 hours. That meant that my muscles never got the chance to stiffen back up.  I went from being flexible and stretched out. to a little bit more flexible, and a little bit more flexible, and a little bit more. It’s so easy to get stiff and tight, and then stretch, and then wait until you are stiff and tight again to stretch a little more, but it means you never really get over the hump. 

Within about 3 months I could easily and comfortably do the full splits! So if you're really, really tight, we have to not only stretch, but we have to play with the frequency, and the consistency, and the amount of stretching that you're doing, so that you can get a little more flexible, and then get a little more flexible, and a little more flexible.

You're going to have to play with your schedule. You're going to have to play around with how much this is really a goal and an intention.  So that you can find a cadence to how frequently you do this. The more frequently you do some kind of stretching, the more you're going to see those steady, consistent improvements.

If we go too hard too fast, if you go into a super hot, sweaty room and push ourselves too far, our muscles are going to fight against that and resist. If you push too hard, too fast then you might find that a day or two after that, you actually feel really stiff again.

Let’s Review the Key Takeaways

Tip #1: Yes to Gentle Dynamic Stretching.  Consider reducing the time you spend just holding a static stretch without any gentle movement involved. 

Tip #2: Goldilocks Principle in terms of Temperature.  You don’t want to be too cold, or too hot.  Consider things like the outside temperature, how much you’ve warmed your body up through movement, and the number of warm layers you are wearing. 

Tip #3: Consistency and Frequency Matter. If you stretch frequently enough then your muscles will not return fully to their previous degree of stiffness.  Therefore you will more easily build upon the work of your previous stretching session and more successfully gain true lasting mobility one day after the next. 

Looking for targeted relief for your lower back discomfort? Check out our blog post on The Best Exercise for Low Back Pain to discover a highly effective exercise that can alleviate tightness and discomfort in your lower back.

Monthly Movement Lab: An Affordable Online Opportunity

The Monthly Movement Lab is a monthly movement class designed specifically to help you understand what your body truly needs in order to move and perform at your best.  The format is affordable and accessible and allows you time to learn and implement the things you learn over the following weeks, before introducing a new topic. 

The other exciting piece to the Monthly Movement Lab is that it is also an online hub for community and connection within the entire Limber Arts Community.  If you are craving a space to build friendship and connection with like-minded people on a similar journey then this is the spot for you.  If you want to ask a question about an exercise, a stretch, or ponder something that you’ve been learning from my content, then this is the spot for you. 

We’re just getting started, so it’s also a fun time to be at the cutting edge and help shape the future of this group. The monthly movement lab will take place within this group, so you will want to join in order to participate in this monthly class. 

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