Is a Lack of Hip Mobility Causing Your Ongoing Low Back Dysfunction?


Are you dealing with ongoing low back dysfunction? If so, it might be worthwhile having your hip mobility assessed.

Ongoing low back pain or dysfunction is unfortunately all too common. Even if you don’t currently have pain, its easy to feel as though your back isn’t ‘normal’, or hasn’t been for a long time. Whether it be intermittent low back aches and pains or a general sense of tightness or stiffness, there can a number of things that keep you feeling less than positive about the overall state of your back.

And this can be frustrating if you feel like you’ve put some effort into making it go, and stay away.

Perhaps you’ve committed to a core strengthening program, or invested your hard earned money and time into profressional treatment, or even just bought a new mattress or pillow. At the end of the day there can come a moment where you pause, contemplate your mortality, and begin to think that your ongoing low back pain or discomfort might just be an unwanted lifelong friend.

But thankfully, we know the body is designed to feel and function well.

So if your low back doesn’t feel right, then there’s often a tangible reason for that. One that we can help you figure out, understand, and work to address over time.

And one of the most overlooked aspects of a nagging back may not actually be your back at all. It’s your hips.

So let’s understand why this might be important for you and, more importantly, what you can do about it.

The Importance of Hip Mobility for Normal Low Back Function

The first thing to consider here is that we can’t just think of your low back as a ‘low back’. Sure this is important for descriptive purposes, but your body doesn’t think this way. And if wanting to understand how to best improve your lower back, it might be best if you don’t either.

Your body doesn’t see your low back as a separate entity floating around in space on its own, it considers you as a whole, fully intergrated piece of machinery.

It doesn’t consider you as a grumbly disc, or arthritic low back joint, it sees you as having a specific fault within the broader machine. Your symptoms are clearly very important, but they need to be considered within the context of everything around it and everything that influences it.

And this is why the hips are so important.

skeleton xray bending over phyx you physiotherapy in port macquarie

Apologies for the poor image above, but this highlights a really interesting concept. The hip joints are the next most mobile structure underneath the lower back. There are pelvic joints in between, but these are generally considered stable joints that transfer force from the legs to spine and vice versa. And with this in mind, any restriction when bending your hips has the potential to ask more of the low back than it would normally like. This can set it up for dysfunction and potentially contribute to keeping it around.

The next time you bend, sit down, squat or even lean forward, take a moment to get a feel for where that movement is coming from.

If your back needs to bend more to compensate for a lack of range at your hips, this could be one very simple reason why your low back discomfort is hanging around. Your symptoms may not be entirely due to the state of your lower back, but the environment it exists in.

Ultimately you might just be including your low back in more conversations, for longer periods of time, than it would like to admit.

How Do I Free Up My Hips?

Before we get in to the details, it’s important to first understand whether your hips are actually stiff or tight in the first place.

A really simple quick test to try is literally just pulling one knee up to your chest. Sure there are other more functional tests like the hip hinge and deep squat, but lying down and gently pulling one knee up, and then comparing to the other side is a great substitute.

Importantly, when pulling your knee to your chest we are looking at two important things:

  1. How close your knee comes to your chest
  2. Whether you have to cheat along the way

Ideally, when lying flat on your back, you should be able to bring one knee somewhat close to your chest in a straight line, without feeling like your bottom lifts off the bed, or your low back moves. If you can’t quite get your knee to your chest without ‘cheating’, this could be a clear sign that you are missing some important hip range of motion – and that your back is involved more than it should be.

If you have a grumbly low back and struggle to get past ninety degrees (or can barely reach your knee to begin with) then you might have found a huge potential handbrake you didn’t realise was there.

Once you’ve established how restricted those hips might be it’s obviously important to work on freeing them up. And a quality assessment is a good way to figure out whether the muscles in your hips are tight or its more your deeper hip joint capsule.

By targeting the restrictred tissue with appropriate mobility exercises we can work with you to feed some slack back in to your lower back from below.

There are a tonne of different hip mobility exercises out there, but if you would like one of the team here at Phyx You Physiotherapy in Port Macquarie to specifcally assess your back and hips and create an apporopriate treatment plan, please give us a call on (02) 6584 5005, or book online below!

At the end of the day, please don’t let any persistent or ongoing low back dysfunction deter you from wanting to reach your goals. Often, there might just be a hidden handbrake or two you may not have considered, that could be the missing piece of your puzzle.

How are you managing your back? Are you working hard on an exercise program or still looking for that missing piece?



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