Pain and injury are signs of imbalance in your body, and in my practice, I’ve found the site of the injury is very rarely the source. Your muscles, bones, and connective tissues are all designed to work together. If a certain area hurts, that means it’s absorbing too much force because another part of your body isn’t working the way it should. Here are three common examples, and simple tips and exercises you can do to fix them.
People with chronic low back pain know how difficult it is to find relief. Even sitting down can be painful. If your back aches, it means another part of your body is slacking off and forcing your back to take on more than its fair share of work. In most cases, weak abdominals are to blame. Your innermost abdominals function like a girdle. The muscles wrap around your torso, and ideally should take pressure off your back. The problem? Our poor postural habits stretch them out to a point that they shut off.
Try this tip: A little push can turn your abs back on: Every time you sit, pretend you are bracing your stomach for a punch. This simple trick will activate your abdominals, and give your back a much-needed break.
A dull pain in your knees when you walk up or down stairs is likely because your glutes aren’t working efficiently. One of the jobs of your glutes is to externally rotate and abduct your femur, preventing your knee from collapsing in when you step down. But weak glutes force your knees to absorb all that force.
Try this tip: Next time you climb a flight of stairs, squeeze your glutes before taking a step. Engaging your glutes will help take the pressure of your knees and relieve some pain.
Here, hiked shoulder blades and rounded shoulders shorten your neck musculature and force you to extend your neck to keep your head upright. This causes neck muscles to become overworked.
Try this tip: A chin tuck coupled with drawing your shoulder blades down will put your body in a position that helps take the pressure off.
While these tips are conscience actions you can take to find relief in the moment, there are exercises you can do to train your muscles to work automatically for a longer-term solution to pain. After all, the end goal should be to get your body working the way it is designed to, without having to think about it.
For Low-Back Pain: Kegel Ball Squeezes Three Ways
- Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on ground. Place a small medicine ball in between knees. Your back should remain flat throughout this exercise.
- Contract your pelvic floor muscles (a kegel), and squeeze the ball, holding for three seconds. Repeat for 12 reps.
- Now push through heels to raise your hips as high as you can, squeezing the ball. Hold for three seconds and repeat for 12 reps.
- Finally, bring knees to chest slow and controlled so feet are off ground. Hold for three seconds and repeat for 12 reps.
- Perform up to three sets of each squeeze, and work up to squeezing for seven seconds.
For Knee Pain: Inner-Thigh Squats
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle, weight in heels.
- Squat, pushing hips back like you are sitting in a chair that is too far behind you.
- While squatting, try to push your knees out. Go as low as you can, then stand back up by pressing through your heels; do 12 reps.
- Now repeat the exercise with your weight in the balls of your feet; do 12 reps.
For Neck Pain: Scapular Mobilization
- Anchor a looped band at shoulder height. Stand facing away from the anchor, and loop the band around the front of your shoulder (like where a backpack strap would lay). Walk forward so there is tension on the band.
- Start with your arm straight out in front of you at shoulder height, thumb up toward the ceiling. Pull your shoulder down and back, holding it in place during this move.
- Bring your arm backward in a reverse fly motion while attempting to squeeze your shoulder blade back and down; return to start.
- Repeat this sequence for 3 sets of 15 reps on each side.
David Reavy, founder of Chicago-based React Physical Therapy, is the creator of the Reavy Method, a whole body approach to physical therapy and exercise. Reavy works with numerous pro athletes from the NFL, NBA, MLS, and the WNBA.