We don’t get much physical activity, we don’t use our bodies the way that we are meant to, we live too sedentary a lifestyle. But you already know that, right! But did you know that one of the many side-effects of this is that persistent back pain that never quite goes away permanently! Let’s try and understand why this is. Sure, there could be lots of reasons but one of the primary reasons is loss of hip mobility. Well, what does that mean? It means we don’t use our hips enough. Our body has a bunch of joints, each with a purpose, and each designed to do something. And we simply do not do enough of this ‘something’. Kinda like how machines rust when you don’t grease them, our body loses functionality. Our joints lose mobility, our muscles lose flexibility, and so on.
The Overarching Idea
Today, we will revisit an interesting theory that I’ve mentioned earlier — the Joint by Joint Approach — by Coach Boyle and Gray Cook. Why would the hip not doing what it should do lead to back pain?
… the body is a just a stack of joints. Each joint or series of joints has a specific function and is prone to specific, predictable levels of dysfunction. As a result, each joint has specific training needs.
Let’s go from the bottom up, starting with the ankle. The ankle joint needs mobility. The joint above that, the knee, is concerned with providing stability. Going above that, the hip, mobility. The lumbar spine on top of that, should be stable. The t-spine above that — mobile. You get the idea. When one joint is ‘rusted’, it causes problems to surface in the joint above it, or below it.
An interesting example that drove this point home for me was looking at the incidence of knee injuries in basketball vs football (soccer). Think basketball shoes — they have a high ankle support. Basketball players are concerned about twisting their ankle, and so use shoes + tape to prevent the ankle from rolling over. But what this does is it limits ankle mobility. And causes problem up the chain — coz it forces the knee to be more mobile than it should be. This act of compensation by the knee results in a lot of serious knee injuries in basketball — a big price to pay for reducing ankle injuries! In football, the cleats allow the ankle to maintain it’s high range of motion — sure it could mean more ankle injuries. But hey, tearing your ACL is a lot less fun than twisting your ankle!
The same principle applies to the fundamental question in this post. A loss of hip mobility can result in either the knee trying to compensate, or in most cases, the lower back trying to compensate. Now, the lower back is built for stability i.e. it shouldn’t try to move too much. Its purpose is to keep the trunk stable. But it ends up moving more than it should (coz the hips dont move!) and that causes back pain that afflicts a whole lot of us. What do you do when your back hurts? Get a massage, or put some special spray on it and get some temporary relief. But the problem always comes back. That’s coz you are treating the symptom.
The long-term fix is to get your hip mobile. And one of the surest ways to get your hip mobility back is to learn to hinge!
How do you hinge
We need to learn to hinge with our hips. How do you start — simple. Stand in front of a wall, and try to reach back and touch it with your butt. Keep your knees soft, and you should feel it in your hamstrings. For a more detailed look at the hinge, check out Dan John talking about the hinge and assessing it.
Once you learn to hinge, you can move on to bigger and brighter things like the deadlift and the KB swing. They are built on using the hips to do the work — so if you feel your lower back when you do this, stop! You are doing it wrong, and you need to spend some time with a coach who knows what they are doing.
And the KB swing is just another expression of learning to hinge, and using the hips to generate the power. You can check out Raj demoing the swing. Watch as he hinges nice and deep, snaps his hip into full extension (and does not hyper-extend), and the KB ‘magically’ flies.
So, what can you do to kick things off?
If you aren’t training at a good gym, forget about the KB swing and the deadlift. Try and replicate two things — keep a straight back, and try and move your butt back while not bending the knees more. And work on your plank as well — coz the key to keeping your back stable is learning to keep your back stable, in addition to getting your hips mobile. Let’s get rid of that back pain!
While the hinge is not the only movement to get your hips mobile, it certainly is one of the most important. So, learn it! If you guys are interested, we will look at other methods of improving hip mobility and cracking the back pain problem. Let me know in the comments section!