The Big 3 Travel Pack
By Sara Parsons
Sitting in the aisle of my chariot in the sky, a United Airlines B737 commercial airplane, flying from my new home in the DMV to my old stomping grounds on the West Coast, I find myself prompted to share the top 3 exercises I use while traveling to keep my low back pain away. Maybe it’s the lacrosse ball currently digging into my left hamstring that gave me the idea. Perhaps it is the large amount of people we treat at Arlington Pain and Rehab Clarendon who come back after long international flights out of alignment, tight, and experiencing back pain. It could be the snowbirds that need help relieving their back pain after returning from their journey south chasing the sun into Florida. Whatever the reason for the sudden motivation, I have learned to listen to that silent voice of motivation, and I offer you these Big 3 Travel Pack exercises that can help the weary traveler prevent low back pain.
The exercises in The Big 3 Travel Pack were chosen because they will target the three main areas that become tight while sitting for long periods of time, and all of them can be executed in small places with little wiggle room. In fact, they are designed to be done while sitting on an airplane or in a car. How can it get easier than that? They were also chosen because there is only one travel friendly piece of equipment needed: a lacrosse ball.
- Hamstring Pinning with a Lacrosse Ball
The first exercise is pinning the hamstrings with the afore mentioned handy dandy lacrosse ball. While sitting, simply sandwich the lacrosse ball between your leg and the seat, then move your knee side to side. This will allow the lacrosse ball to get into the muscle and work out any tightness caused by sitting. Another technique that helps floss the muscle and fascia is to flex and extend the knee while pinning the hamstring. The movement of the muscle fibers sliding back and forth during active motion, while being pinned by the lacrosse ball, is a way to perform self myofascial release. Very effective and highly recommended. Move the lacrosse ball around to different areas up and down the back of the leg to cover the whole muscle.
Why do tight hamstrings cause low back pain? While sitting, the hamstring is locked in a shortened position. If this shortened position is held for a prolonged amount of time, adhesions form in the muscle and fascia and create tightness. When the hamstrings become tight, they decrease the range of motion in the hips. If this loss in range of motion is not treated, the gluteus muscles that are powerful hip extensors cannot function as intended, and ‘silent glutes’ can result. This epidemic has become more and more prevalent in our society since sitting has become such a huge part of the everyday lifestyle. ‘Silent glutes’ is the brain losing the connection with the gluteus muscles. The brain literally forgets how to fire and activate the glutes. If the glutes aren’t active and strong, the low back compensates. The lumbar spine also compensates for the lack of motion in the hips. These two compensations can lead to back pain. If you are someone who travels frequently, make sure you keep those hamstrings mobile.
- Door Knob Drill – Hip Flexors
Tight Hip Flexors are one of the major causes of low back pain. It is very important to target the hip flexors while traveling. In fact, if for some reason you had to choose only one of the Big 3 Travel Pack exercises to utilize, this should be your choice. Take the lacrosse ball and place it on the hip flexors. Now apply a little bit of pressure and twist the lacrosse ball back and forth, as if you were twisting a door knob. You will experience a slight burning sensation. This is what you want to feel. You are releasing the adhesions that have formed, and this will help release the tightness in the hip flexors.
Why do tight hip flexors cause low back pain? The hip flexors become shortened when the hip is flexed. While sitting, the hip is flexed at approximately 90 degrees. Adhesions form in a prolonged shortened state and tightness follows. Tight hip flexors are a little known low back pain agitator. The iliopsoas (ill-ee-o-so-as) is a group of three muscles: the iliacus, the psoas major and the psoas minor. The iliopsoas is a powerful hip flexor group that attaches the femur to the cervical spine. When the muscle group becomes too tight, it can pull the lumber spine into extension and lock the hips in anterior pelvic tilt, increasing pressure on the spine and resulting in low back pain.
- Door Knob Drill – Pectoralis Muscles
The third of the Big 3 is identical to the second, except the lacrosse ball is used to release the pectoralis muscles. Place the lacrosse ball on different spots under the collar bone and between the shoulder and sternum and twist the doorknob to release those adhesions.
Why do tight pecs cause low back pain? The pectoralis minor connects into the anterior portion of the shoulder. If the pec minor becomes tight, it can lock the shoulder in a forward, internally rotated position. When the shoulders are stuck in this position thoracic spine mobility is compromised and the lumbar spine compensates for this lack of motion. The lumbar spine becomes too mobile, and low back pain ensues.
To keep low back pain away while traveling, make use of the Big 3 Travel Pack exercises. Keep the hamstrings, hip flexors, and pecs from becoming overly tight and throwing off the delicate balance of the body. From the descent into Sunny San Diego, be safe, stay mobile, and enjoy your adventures and travels!