Tips for Correcting Lower Back Posture
Correct posture is essential in order to prevent chronic injuries of the lower back, as well as the upper back and neck, and even other areas of the body like the legs. So many muscles attach to our spine, and when you factor in the upper back where you incorporate the scapulae, clavicles, and shoulder joints, there is so much going on that it's really easy to predispose yourself to these sorts of long term conditions through bad posture.
This is becoming increasingly important as our lifestyles change. When desktop computers were first introduced into the workplace, there was a big increase in posture related injuries. As we began to address these issues, the next problem arrived, which was the mass production of laptop computers. Now already in a slumped position, laptops also force us to bend our necks downwards, amplifying the already common posture problems.
Presently, we are beginning to see the effects of smart phones, which cause us to bend our necks even further and rotate our shoulder inwards to hold the phone. This is a huge problem in kids and adolescents who are currently growing, as all of these devices have become part of their daily lives, and they are experiencing lots of neck and back issues from growing into a poor posture.
Therefore, in this article, we would like to share some tips to how you can correct your posture at home, with a focus on the lower back. We will save the upper back and neck for another article, as there can be quite a bit of information to take in. Moreover, these aren't cure-all solutions, rather, general exercises and stretches that have shown a high level of success in lots of different scenarios.
If you are trying to develop your own personal plan for improving posture, we would suggest visiting a physiotherapist so they can assess you and your individual anatomy, ultimately tailoring a posture correction program to your unique requirements. Nevertheless, please feel free to consider our tips below.
Lower Back Posture
We won't go into too much detail about lower back posture, but there are a multitude of factors that can play into this. First, let's consider flexibility. The lower back muscles are often very tight, and this can be a result of overuse without stretching, imbalances in core strength, and even low flexibility in the leg muscles, especially the hamstrings.
Strengthening the abdominal muscles is one of the first methods to decrease low back pain, assuming your level of pain is low enough that you can exercise. When performing abdominal exercises, try and isolate the muscle you are targeting, while keeping the rest of your body relaxed. This dissociation will ensure you strengthen your core, but without tensing up at the neck or other posture-sensitive areas. You don't need to be "crushing it", but simple exercises like the bridge (see image below) are great ways to improve core strength, ultimately helping to support your spine.
Stretches like simple trunk rotations can be helpful, but in our experience, one of the best stretches to perform on a regular basis is the "mad cat". This is a really easy and common stretch for the core muscles, whereby you go on all fours and arch your back in the lower back region (not to the point of pain. Holding this pose for 15-30 seconds, gradually sink back down into a position where you are now stretching your abdominal muscles. Repeat a few times and this stretch can really go a long way. For a very detailed demonstration, check out the great video below, courtesy of registered osteopath, Jonathan Boxall.
The trunk rotation is a really easy way to improve your flexibility and get you moving. It won't be as effective as holding a static stretch for a long period of time, but I personally enjoy doing this one each morning to limber up. I can't definitively say it has improved my posture, but it certainly feels good, especially before and after doing any core exercises. Check out the demonstration below courtesy of Hybrid Athlete.
Many people don't realize that proper leg flexibility and strength, especially in terms of symmetry, is highly valuable in order to maintain proper posture of the lower back. In fact, professions that are well known for inducing problems with lower back pain or often ones that don't involve lots of moving around. For example, bus drivers are at way higher risk of developing poor posture and lower back pain due to the nature of their work combined with long shifts. Much of this is thought to be due to tightening of the leg muscles and back, as well as weakening of the core muscles.
Not all leg stretches will have a significant effect on the lower back. In order to prioritize improving lower back posture or relieving lower back pain, you should target the muscles that cross the hip joint to connect the back with the hips or legs. There are three muscles in particular that I have found very beneficial to stretch. They are:
1. Hamstrings - These cross both the hip and the knee joint. They don't go far up the back, but attach to the pelvis, which still affects your lower back. These muscles are often strained in a running position when a flexed back stretches the muscle while it's trying to contract.
2. Quadriceps - One of the four quadriceps crosses over the front of the hip joint. This muscle is the rectus femoris, which starts at the top of the pelvis, crosses the hip joint to run down the front of your leg, and inserts onto the tibia just below your knee. It actually blends into the patellar tendon, which was discussed in a previous article.
3. Piriformis - Crosses from the lowest part of your spine (sacrum), through the greater sciatic notch, and attaches to the top part of the femur (thigh bone). This can be a tricky one to target at first, as it's a small muscle among many others. It can compress the sciatic nerve, leading to nerve pain, and also reduce mobility at the hip joint and lower back.
Video Demonstrations of Leg Stretches
The following videos are resources that you can use to learn more about stretching these muscles. Some of them are fairly comprehensive, which can be a good educational tool, but for beginners, it can also be quite overwhelming. One thing to keep in mind when it comes to stretches, you don't want to be overly aggressive at first. Gently test your range of motion, and gradually, you should be able to identify when you have a good stretch that you can definitely feel, but is NOT painful.
For example, this video about stretching hamstrings, courtesy of GuerillaZen Fitness, is quite comprehensive, but packed full of good information. We would suggest taking caution with the more advanced stretches, such as the proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretch he shows at the end, until you have tried one with a partner who is knowledgeable in this area.
The next video is a demonstration on how to stretch your quadriceps, courtesy of Livestrong. These stretches can be quite simple, but it's important to pay attention to the little details about proper alignment. After all, if you're trying to improve your posture, proper alignment is what it's all about!
Finally, we'll briefly look at stretching the piriformis. I find this a very difficult muscle to isolate, more so when trying to strengthen it, but it can also be a little difficult to find during a stretch. For this reason, I have found using a wall to be highly beneficial. It allows for maximum relaxation while you stretch, which is a good thing, and it's easier to maintain the proper position overall. You can stretch your hamstrings on the wall as well, but I find this often targets the groin more than the hamstrings themselves. Check out the nice demonstration below, courtesy of Lauren Rudick.
There are many different ways you can address lower back pain and poor lumbar posture, but these are some of the more common and easy-to-do exercises and stretches that can really go a long way. Try not to overdo it at first. Fixing posture can take a long time, but fortunately, pain relief usually comes a little faster. Gentle work your way into stretching, and as long as you stick with it, you should notice some positive effects sooner rather than later. Good luck!