The lower back is formed from the five lumbar vertebrae that sit between your pelvis and your ribcage, together with all the associated muscles, ligaments, intervertebral discs, and other assorted bits and bobs in the area.
There are numerous possible causes of lower back pain, but one stands out from all the others both because of how common it is in everyday life, and also for the amount of trouble it can cause.
Yup, that’s it. Obviously, that needs clarifying. We all bend forwards all the time, and mostly we don’t injure ourselves. The problem comes from repeated or prolonged forward bending (or flexion, to give it its technical term), especially under load. Over time, this can cause ligaments to elongate and provide less support, and damage to accumulate in your intervertebral discs. In severe cases this can lead to a prolapsed or “slipped” disc, which can be exceptionally painful and disabling.
So, what does repeated or prolonged forward flexion look like in the real world? Examples could be lifting boxes (badly), digging in the garden, or sitting slumped on a sofa, at a desk or in a car. Often, there’s no pain at first and then all of a sudden a tiny additional stress will cause the back to “go” in dramatic and painful fashion. I hear people tell me all the time how they injured their back getting out of bed, picking up a pencil or tying their shoelaces.
In MMA, an obvious example would be attempting to shift someone with poor posture when wrestling, but the most common cause of chronic lower back problems amongst grapplers in my experience is the “guard” position in jiu jitsu.
Over the next few weeks, this series will consider:
- How to tell the difference between bending from the hips and bending your back.
- Where does flexibility come in to all this? Answers to questions about stretching to help your back.
- Why your work and home life could be messing with your training, and how to stop it.
- Exercises to develop lower back stability.