Foam Rollers and Lower Back Pain
Foam rolling is generally seen as quite an easy thing to do, which it is as generally not a lot can go wrong. There are however a few things you should be focusing on and avoiding to ensure you get the most out of the time you spend foam rolling.
Let’s build the scenario. You completed a heavy session over the last few days and your lower back is quite tight as a result. You’d rather not have lower back tightness throughout the day or you’re about to do a session and you want to feel mobile before starting. You get out your Foam Roller and start off with your normal rolling routine. Then you lay on your back and start rolling out the tight lower back. All the way down to the pelvis and back up to mid-back. You feel the muscles beside your spine getting slight relief so you keep going. The next day it gets worse and you repeat the same routine with your lower back rolling to provide that temporary relief.
Many people do this and it isn't necessarily the right way to roll out the lower back. When you roll down through the lower lumbar spine, you risk putting pressure on the lumbar vertebrae and potentially throwing off the alignment of the small joints in the spine. When a joint is out of alignment it is less stable. This is where you find the muscles around the joint tightening up to provide stability to the spine (or any joint that is unstable).
Even though it is uncomfortable the body has natural mechanisms to protect itself from a more serious nerve or disk injury. More than likely it is actually better off to allow these muscles to be somewhat tight and stabilise the joint long enough so while the body finds an aligned position of the spine again.
The following picture illustrates where the lumbar spine is located:
You could potentially be causing consistent back issues by rolling out the lumbar spine region especially if you are putting a lot of pressure on that area. A better way to release the erector muscles is to use a Trigger Ball, in particular a Peanut Trigger Ball. The great thing about the peanut is that there is a groove of space that ensures there is no pressure placed on the spine and you should be able to reduce muscular tension without putting pressure on the spinal vertebrae.
Keeping in mind you do want some tightness of the lower back muscles so that your spine is provided with stability, so only release enough to provide the relief you need for the day or to gain mobility for your session.
Keeping in mind it may not be the tight lower back that is causing you to have lower back pain. The following areas may be causing some irritation at the lower back and you may find some relief from releasing the following areas:
Gluteus medius (glute med) - When this is tight it can sometimes be misdiagnosed with lower back pain. Also, try and ensure these are activated properly before exercise to ensure the hip is in a good position when training.
Rectus Femoris (Rec Fem) - Sometimes tight hip flexors cause issues with pelvis rotation. Sitting down all day? Release these.
Hamstrings - If these are tight it can make training quite difficult and generally you will find your lower back is having to work a lot harder due to you holding inefficient positions while lifting.
Adductors - If these are tight you will generally find it hard to hit depth while squatting and forcing back flexion or pelvic rotation in order to get lower through the squat.
The Foam Roller is great for releasing most muscle groups and is also great for releasing the back. Just ensure you are only using it for your thoracic region and try your best to steer clear from the lumbar region as you may risk putting pressure on the spine and causing misalignment. There are many other ways and items you can use to release the lower back without risking further injury.