You can use a foam roller to help with back pain but I guarantee it’s not the way you think. A lot of people say stick to stretching the lower back to bring relief but I say different. Foam rolling is not rocket science. It does take some technique and attention to detail but with practice, I can promise a simple way to get back pain relief right away. I want to show you exactly the way I have used and abused my foam roller to get the back pain relief I want. Check it out!
Let’s go over my top 4 foam roller exercises for back pain
When it comes to foam rolling and back pain you have to think differently. The fitness industry has drilled it into our heads since I can remember. If your back hurts or feels tight, just stretch it out! This isn’t necessarily the case. As a matter of fact, this is one of the biggest mistakes I made early in my pain management journey. I was constantly stretching my “tight back” which always left me in more pain than I started with. Now, I am a firm believer in stretching less and just smashing out what is there now. That may sound painful but just keep with me, it will all make sense here soon.
The biggest mistake most people make when it comes to back pain relief.
I think the biggest, most ground breaking discovery in the “drug-free” “pain management” industry is that the treatment of the pain typically doesn’t start with the actual source. Sure, my L5-S1 joint/junction is where my inflammation is but what’s causing the inflammation? For me, It’s unnecessary movement in the area. On top of that, it’s poor mechanics over years and years that has caused mechanical abnormalities that continue to cause irritation. So, I can’t just look at the source and say HEY seems like you have some inflammation lets shoot some steroids in there to see if we can clean it up. Wrong. Once these steroids wear off guess what I am stuck with. Pain that is caused by factors OUTSIDE of the actual source.
If this hasn’t made sense to you yet then think about it this way. If you are experiencing knee pain, the obvious none educated response would be to say hmm seems like something in there needs to be fixed. This may be true with a torn ligament but what about other factors both upstream (quads and hammies) and down stream (calves, shins, and feet) In what ways do these affect the way the knee works? They affect EVERY way the knee works. So if your quad is locked up and your patella is facing laterally (out to the side) and your arches are collapsed, guess what joint is going to take on all that junk you got going on. Your knee!
You have to look at your back pain the same way. When it comes to foam rolling your back to relieve pain, you’re NOT just going to foam roll your lower back. Even if you “think” it feels good to apply the pressure to the area. It’s probably not a good idea. Instead, you’re going to focus that attention on muscle groups like those found in the trunk, glutes, legs and even mid to upper back. All of these could play a roll in the pain you’re experiencing in your back.
So now that you have gotten your mind blown on that let’s move on to the good stuff!
Foam rolling for back pain is an interesting treatment. It looks funny and pointless and actually kinda hurts when you do it. Most people just lay over the foam roller and roll up and down a few times until they can’t hold their breath any more and just hop off. I would say that 90% of people who are told that foam rolling really can help with their back pain, don’t have a fat clue where to even begin. I really want to change that!!
Below is a no BS, lets just cut the slack, steak and potatoes kinda list. I’m sure you can google “Best foam rolling exercises for back pain” but it hurts to watch some of the things these people suggest.
I want to give you my top 4 muscle groups and the specific foam roller exercises to do to achieve the back pain relief you want. For an added bonus we are also going to nerd out from time to time to learn exactly why a tight ..fill in the blank… would cause back pain to begin with.
If you want to pick up the exact tool I use in these videos. You can check it out for yourself below (affiliate links included)
Let’s get started!!
1. IT Band Smash
The goal of this exercises is to smash out and loosen what a lot of people suffer from and thats a tight Iliotibial Band aka the IT band. There are a few studies out there such as Arab and Nourbakhsh that support the effect of a tight or bound IT Band on the hips ability to move and stabilize the joints it effects such as the hip and knee. The study does not show that a tight IT band directly causes back pain but the findings do support an indirect possibility. The way I process the functionality and use of the IT Band is this. It has a big responsibility controlling the forces between both the quads and hamstrings. It attaches to the hip and runs down to the lateral side of the knee. Due to its multi functional responsibility, you need the IT Band to be mobile. In other words, a bound up IT Band will only cause stress and strain on both the hip and knee.
I also look at it as ground zero. If there is a piece of tissue or fascia that connects two of the biggest muscle grounds on your body then that’s where I want to start first with my treatment. I want to make sure it’s as malleable as possible without any pain or stiffness.
So here is what you do.
2. Glute Smash
Ah, the ol’ gluteus maximus. The most under used muscle in all the land. I actually like to talk about the glutes as a “complex”. There are three parts to this complex. The glute max, glute medius, and glute minimus. Within that complex, there is another smaller muscle called the Piriformis. When it comes to these major muscles, their responsibility in maintaining a healthy and stable spine is huge. The complex as a whole more specifically are in control of extension, abduction, external rotation and internal rotation of the hip joint.
Get to know your butt. While standing slowly lift your straight leg back behind you until you can any more. That is extension. From a standing position take your right leg and raise it straight out to your side as high as you can. That is Abduction. From a standing position trust from your but all the ay to your toes clock wise so your toes are facing out to the right. Thats external rotation. Do the same but with your toes facing your other foot or out to the left and thats internal rotation.
There are really two main issues most people run into when it comes to their glutes.
- Your butt don’t work. You sit too much and have literally lost the normal function of the glutes and have forced other surrounding muscles and joints to take the forces your butt normally does.
- Your butt is bound up. Due to “sleepy butt syndrome” other glutes muscles are forced to work over time or take the load of another surrounding muscle. This causes over use and the bodies natural tendency to protect itself from injury which is to tighten.
Over time, a sleepy butt mixed with muscles that are now bound up from over use and you have a seriously dysfunctional glute complex. What this issue does is cause disfunction in other areas of your body such as your spine. The knotted glutes could be adding a stress to the lower back that is now presenting itself as “lower back pain” or “lower back tightness“.
With a foam roller, I want to show you a very simple way to start breaking up some of this laminated tissue in your glutes. As these tissues begin to release you will notice more and more muscle activation by doing a simple standing butt squeeze test.
3) Quad Smash
I know first hand the effects of over tight quads. It can be pretty brutal. Especially if you pair tight quads with tight hip flexors (which usually go hand in hand). The quads attach to what is known as the ASIS which is just a fancy, shortened way of saying the front part of your hip. One of the common issues people have is overly tight quads pulling down on the hip. This causes an anterior pelvic tilt which often leads to the feeling of “tight” lower back muscles. Again, I always relate everything I talk about to myself simply because I personally utilize everything I talk about. This is still something I am working on myself. The degenerative disc I have takes away some of that much-needed cushion between the vertebra. When I used to do a lot of quad dominant work in the gym my back would be trashed afterwords. If my quads were even the smallest bit tight I would feel it in my back. Today I have learned that under-developed hamstrings and over developed quads added to my chronic back pain.
I came across this pretty cool article by Anne Asher. She goes into detail about tight quads, how to test them, diagnose them and treat them. She owns and writes for her blog www.posturally.com. You can click the link to the article here!
So how do we fix this problem with a foam roller?
Just like the IT band and your glutes, foaming rolling for back pain relief has to be targeted to the areas that you notice have the biggest issues. Check out the video below to see exactly how I do it.
4) Inner Thigh Smash
You can’t have a foam rolling for back pain write up without hitting the inner thighs!!
This sweet meat is brutal when it comes to stretching and any kind of mobility. The muscles here are super sensitive but need the same amount of attention as any place else. The inner thighs tie in what I call the power house of the body. This power house is basically all the muscles that our spine and pelvis sit on. Just like the quads, glutes, and hammies, in order to brace the pelvis and keep not only the hips aligned but the spine stable, you need each muscle group in the upper legs to fire. The muscles found in the inner thigh typically are only used for adduction and some extension. Adduction is basically keeping or bringing the legs towards the midline of the body. For example, when squatting there are muscles/forces pushing the legs out as you decline but there are similar forces pulling back to keep the legs, hip and spine stable. That’s why it’s so important to have these muscle activating the way they should.
Foam rolling the inner thighs to help stabilize the hip and spine to prevent back pain is not rocket science. Just like any other muscle, you just have to jump in and find out what works best for you.
Check out exactly what I do here.
The key to really getting back pain relief from foam rolling is to take the time every day to work on something. Set a clock for 2 minutes and only spend that much time on one muscle group, one one leg. So technically if all you did was 2 minutes to hit all the groups we talked about today it would be less than 20 minutes of time. That’s basically your whole bottom half in less than 20 minutes!
When foam rolling remember to think of the roller as an Ice Plow. You’re not just trying to slide over the ice you want to break all the way down to the bottom and push it all out of the way. The biggest mistake I have made and I see so many people making today that they move too fast and think as long as they are applying pressure than progress will happen. NO. I encourage a little soreness after a good foam rolling session. That means you got in deep to break some stuff up!
Keep truckin and be sure to keep me updated on how this treatment helps!
If you have another foam roller technique you use for your lower back let me know!
Talk to you soon,