Example of impaired movement causing lower back pain

Posted on January 19, 2012

(Last Updated On: December 22, 2017)

I’ve written about how impaired movement can cause shoulder pain here and here. Time for an example of poor movement causing lower back pain.

When Michelle started with me she had been out of work for a year due to her debilitating lower back pain. She could barely stand.

In just about every case of lower back pain I see it’s a matter of people using their lower back to do eeevvvverrrryyyytttthhhiiinnnggg. While some activities necessitate using the lower back, people like Michelle will not only use their lower back to pick things up, they use it to lift their legs, they use it whenever they rotate, they’ll even use it to lift their arms. 

These are the people who say, “I think I need to strengthen my lower back.” Unfortunately, their lower back is plenty strong enough already. In fact, it’s so strong the body wants to use it to do everything! The last thing they need is extra lower back strengthening.

Here is Michelle performing a Birddog with only the leg movement. Watch her lower back closely when she extends her leg backwards. Particularly at the 30 second mark when I zoom in. You’ll see when she lifts her right leg her lower back arches A LOT, and when she lifts her left leg her lower back rotates, A LOT:


By arching and twisting the lower back Michelle is actually trying to achieve lifting the leg by arching her lower back. She is trying to substitute work by the legs for work with the lower back. This is analogous to trying to build a house with 10 workers, 5 get sick, and the remaining 5 trying to do the work for all 10. Those remaining 5 are going to get burnt out and pissed off. Michelle’s lower back is tired of doing the work of the legs; it is tired, burnt out, and pissed off.

Michelle is by far one of the worser cases I’ve seen, and has one of the most flexible lower backs I’ve seen. That much flexibility in the lower back = bad news.

Before Michelle started with me she had already scheduled a procedure to burn a nerve in her lower back. She had this done a few weeks after I started with her. Without me going on a 2000 word rant, suffice to say that procedure didn’t work. Burning the nerve wasn’t treating the cause of her pain. The cause can be seen in the video above.

After a couple of months here is Michelle’s back now:

Not great, but much better. Notice how much more aware she is of when she is arching or rotating too much, and how she is able to correct it reasonably well. Her abdominal control is much better.

I’m not quite sure if Michelle will ever be perfect at her lower back. Lord knows how long she’s had this dysfunction. She also has a job that is very hard on the lower back. So far though she keeps improving and if she can keep losing weight (25 pounds already! (losing weight helps everything)), she may get it to be damn close.

Due to the improvement in how her lower back moves she can now work for about 4 hours a day without issues. Compared to not being able to stand for 5 minutes before. And just this past week she will be attempting to work full days for the first time in a year.

Fix the movement, fix the pain!

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Posted in: Lower Back Pain