Low back or hip pain?

Some thoughts on low back pain from Andrew Bouchier, RMT, ART:

Not long after last week’s snowfall I was reminded of a problem I frequently encounter at work. 
The weekend brought several inches of snow to be cleared from my driveway and I took my shovel to it as soon as it stopped falling. Removing the powder snow was no problem. I’ve done it all before and felt fine when I was done.

The next morning, after the city plow cleared my street, I promptly shovelled away the ridge at the foot of the driveway. The slush and ice was heavier so the task was harder but I thought that everything went well. I was wrong.

Late that evening, just as I was getting up from the couch, I felt a stabbing in my low back. It was surprising but not alarming. As a massage therapist I often treat clients who suffer a sudden onset of back pain. Sometimes they’ve been doing heavy yard work. Sometimes they’ve been packing and moving. Sometimes they’ve been shovelling snow..

After some quick self-examination (after all, I am a massage therapist) my suspicions were confirmed: My problem wasn’t back pain. It was hip pain. I had managed to overwork my gluteus maximus muscle, a.k.a. my “glute max”.

Muscles are engines within the body which enable us to produce movement. Every movement that we do is the result of the work of one or more muscles. The gluteus maximus is a large (i.e. powerful) muscle whose main task is hip extension. Extending our hips is how we lift, and that’s what I was doing – and overdoing – when I was shovelling my driveway.

Is your low back painful? Is it really low back or hip pain? To shed some light on the problem, try this:

  • Press firmly into your side and then downward to the top of your hip. This is the iliac crest. It’s the upper edge of your pelvis.
  • From there, trace the iliac crest back towards your lumbar spine and when you’re halfway there, press downward. This will be the upper edge of your gluteus maximus.
  • From there, press in (it may be uncomfortable but the muscle won’t be harmed). How does it feel?
  • Now, move your contact upward above the iliac crest and press into the muscles of your low back. How do they feel? 
Which is more tender? Generally, if the glute max is the most – or only – tender muscle, you’re probably suffering from the same problem I had. While it may be painful, it’s also fairly benign and not hard to remedy. On the other hand, there are other sources of real low back pain that may require more elaborate treatment.
Next time you’re having pain, try to figure out if it is low back or hip pain so that you know how to best help your body. To help your low back or hip pain, book an appointment with us at Back to Health! 

For more information on low back pain, click here!

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