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Lower back pain? Check the hips!

It’s well established that about eight in 10 people in the U.S. will experience back pain at some point in their lives. And while the causes of such pain often vary, Central Oregon physical therapist Barrett Ford says increasingly, in a world that accommodates a more sedentary lifestyle, the blame for low-back pain can often be traced to an area a little lower in the kinetic chain: the hips.

“We often think that hip problems come as the result of overuse, but that’s often not the case,” said Ford, co-owner of Step & Spine Physical Therapy in Bend, Redmond and Sisters. “Oftentimes, hip problems can actually be traced to underuse.

According to Ford, mobility and exercise (e.g., walking, running, stretching, etc.) work to more evenly distribute the forces of impact and weight through this ball-and-socket joint. As people age or find themselves living a more sedentary lifestyle from, say, sitting a lot at work, the wear and tear of the hip joint is less distributed, taking place in a smaller area within the socket.

This results in the loss of flexibility in and around the joint, which affects the hip’s backward bend – the ability of it to properly bend and twist throughout one’s normal walking or running gait.

“Your ability to run and walk has everything to do with your ability to backward bend in the foot, ankle, calf, hammy and hips,” Ford said. “When you lose that bend and motion in the hips, that natural rotation around the pelvis gets transferred to the spine.”

Hence, tightness and inflexibility in the hips can manifest as lower back pain, Ford said.

Knowing full well, however, that underuse is sometimes difficult to avoid with long-term sitting at work or issues related to aging. However, Ford points out the walking regularly whether in your neighborhood, around the block at work, or in a local park will do wonders to keep both your hips and spine loose and moving.

Other stretches he recommends for preventing tight hips and related back pain include:

Lunges: Take a few minutes every day to lunge forward with one leg while letting your other knee drop to the floor. Keep your back straight, shoulders high, and hold. Switch to the other side.

Figure-4: Lying on your back, cross your right ankle over top of your left knee. The reach around under your left hamstring and pull your knee toward your chest, stretching out your right hip. Hold for several seconds, then switch.

Hurdle Stretch: Sitting on the ground or floor, stick your left leg straight out in front of you. At the same time, bend your right leg back behind you so your foot is tucked in back of you. Keeping your left leg straight, lean back over your right hip and hold. Switch legs and repeat.

For more information about pain and inflexibility in the back and hips, or if you have difficulty or pain when walking or jogging, contact the team at Step & Spine Physical Therapy for a movement assessment and gait analysis.

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