Muscles Of Low Back: Gluteus Maximus

The Gluteus Maximus Helps With The Heavy Lifting

The Gluteus Maximus (or Glutæus Maximus) is the largest and the most superficial of the three gluteal muscles. It gives shape to and has the most influence on the appearance of your back side.

It has many attachments, but put simply, it starts at the posterior gluteal line (its kind of hard to visualize) of the Ilium (your hip bone), and from the posterior (rear) surface of the lower part of the sacrum and the side of the coccyx. It is inserted into, or connects to, the Iliotibial band of the Fascia Lata muscle (which runs down the outside of your leg), while the deeper fibers of the lower portion of the muscle connect to the thighbone.

This muscle works in opposition to the Psoas muscle. Instead of bending the body forward, it helps to arch the body backward. You can see the glutes pumped when some is doing the “superman” exercise.

The Gluteus Maximus is also a main muscle used in many sports such as volleyball, hockey, basketball, soccer, and football. The length of this post won’t let us look at all the Gluteus Maximus does. But it’s most powerful action is to bring your body back to the erect position after stooping. It accomplishes this by drawing the pelvis backward, being assisted by all the hamstring muscles (make a mental note) and the Adductor Magnus muscle.

Squats Will Stretch And Strengthen Gluteus Maximus

The maximus needs a lot of squatting action to keep it flexible and functioning properly. A weak and tender maximus muscle may give you a lot of pain when you are trying to roll over in bed, or even when you are sitting on a firm surface.

Since one of the main actions is to help you stand up straight after bending forward, if it’s weak, this could put more stress on the lower back muscles.

In my opinion, having the combination of weak gluteals + the tight psoas muscle is the biggest contributor to low back strains today. Keeping these guys strong and flexible should be a priority. Especially for anyone who sits for the majority of their waking hours.


Muscle Of Lower Back: The Piriformis

Piriformis Muscle Attaches To The Very Low Back – The Sacrum

The Pirifopiriformis-musclermis muscle is categorized as one of the lateral rotators of the hip. This means it helps turn your knee and foot away from the middle of your body. And, as mentioned above, it’s one of only two muscles that connect the legs to the spine.

The Piriformis muscle starts and attaches on the front portion of the sacrum. This is the larger part of what people usually call the “tailbone.” It travels on the backside of the body and attaches to the top and lateral (outside) of the thighbone.

The Piriformis is involved in a number of actions. It assists in turning the foot outward, and in drawing the leg away from the body—but only when the knee is flexed and the hip joint extended (think of the dog and the fire hydrant).

The Piriformis Muscle Works With The Psoas Muscle

Another essential role of the Piriformis is the Articular balance it seeks to create with the Psoas. It pulls on the sacrum at the back of the body, and this balances out the work of the Psoas pulling on the front of our back. The outcome helps us to keep our balance when we’re standing up.

Also, since the Piriformis is the only rotator muscle that connects to the front portion of the sacrum, it has a direct influence on the sacroiliac joint, which is another player in lower back pain. (“Oh, my achin’ sacroiliac!”)

The Piriformis muscle needs lots of hip rotational movements to stay limber and flexible. A tight Piriformis will limit hip rotation (or your ability to twist or turn when your feet are planted and you are standing). It will also limit the mobility of your sacrum. Both of these, in turn, will directly affect the quality of movement in your low back.

The Piriformis Muscle Can Cause Sciatica Symptoms

A tight Piriformis may even cause sciatica type symptoms sending jolts of pain down the back side of your leg. This can make life miserable for most people.

This condition is referred to as Piriformis Syndrome. It can be caused by prolonged sitting. What happens is the sciatic nerve gets trapped between the Piriformis and Gluteal muscles which causes pain and other types of sciatica symptoms.

Stretching the piriformis muscle will frequently relieve the problems. Staying regular with a piriformis stretching routine is a good way to help maintain a healthy back.

Muscle Of Lower Back: The Psoas

The Psoas Muscles Are Important Players For A Healthy Back

The Psoas is the body’s main engine for walking. It’s one of two muscles that make up the Iliopsoas muscle (the other is the Iliacus—hey, I didn’t name them!). I usually tell people that the Psoas is on “the front of your back.”

Some Hip Flexors Attach To The Low Back

I say this because it attaches to the front lower half of your spine (in some people it not only attaches to the lower lumbar vertebrae, but also goes up to the lower thoracic vertebrae for all you anatomists out there), and then travels out of the front of your lower abdomen and attaches on the back half of the inner thigh.

The Iliacus muscle works along side the Psoas muscles, and attaches on the inside wall of the pelvis. It joins the Psoas and forms a common tendon. This is the one that attaches to the back half of the inner thigh.

The Psoas Muscles Connect To The Lumbar Vertebrae

Because the Psoas muscles attach to so many points along your spine and leg, it affects all of the vertebral joints, and thus all of your low back. So if something is wrong with your Psoas, something is wrong with your back.

The Psoas is one of only two muscles that connect the legs to the spine. The other is the Piriformis (more about that one later on). Even though there are fifty-seven muscles that attach to/on the pelvis, the Psoas—which doesn’t attach to the pelvis—is arguably more influential in regards to the pelvis than any of them.

While the Psoas is the main muscle for walking, it plays a deeper—maybe even more important—role as a flexor. The Psoas is the body’s main hip flexor. Hip flexion is when you bring your knee toward your chest. So, when we are in a sitting position, our hips are flexed because our knees are relatively closer to our chests.

When we are in a prolonged flexed position, the muscle tends to tighten. And, like we learned in our roller coaster trip, trying to straighten out a tight flexed muscle can be a painful process that takes some effort to achieve.

Regular Activity For Flexible Psoas Muscles And A Healthy Back

To stay flexible, the Psoas muscles needs a lot of forward and backward leg activity such as running or swimming, or even just periodic lunging exercises. Your Psoas will let you know that it is tight by making it difficult to stand up after sitting for a while. Or if you walk too long, you’ll get a pain across your lower back at your belt line.

Go here for more information about psoas stretching.

Sitting All Day Back Pain

Can Sitting All Day Cause Back Pain

Because of our modern lifestyles and the prevalence of the technologies that make working (and getting to work) easier, we unconsciously set ourselves up for back pain because we’re sitting all day. In fact, Dr. Joel Press has said that “sitting all day is the worst thing in the world you can do for your back.” BTW, he’s the medical director of the Spine & Sports Institute at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Sitting on your butt for the majority of the day is an occupational hazard for many people. Think about it for a minute…How many people sit for a living? Cab drivers, delivery drivers, toll booth operators, truck drivers, secretaries, customer service reps, sales people, computer and data entry operators, school teachers, students, and on and on…. seems like almost everybody. And what comes with all that sitting? Back pain.

While I’m sure I would get mixed reviews if I were to ask all the sitters to take a job satisfaction survey, the bottom line is that most people sit for the majority of their waking hours. We may not like it. But, this is how we pay the bills.

Sitting All Day In Different Places Makes No Difference

Whether we are at the desk, in the car, on the public transportation commute, in front of the TV, or at the dinner table, it makes no difference. Modern society has chained the majority of us to a chair of one sort or another.

I want you to entertain this idea for a minute…there are several problems that come along with sitting for such a long time. But since we are talking about muscles and back pain, let’s just focus on that.

There is a definite difference between human beings and rocks (sometimes, it’s not so obvious). Unlike rocks, humans are designed to move. There are many different physiological processes that are enhanced and improved with movement. One of them is our flexibility, which has to do with our muscles.

The quality of our flexibility is directly related to how tight our muscles are. In fact, inflexibility is the same thing as being tight. So, going back to the beginning, if back pain is caused by the straining of tight muscles, and prolonged sitting leads to tight muscles, then it’s not much of a leap to conclude that prolonged sitting contributes directly to potential back strain, is it?

Sitting All Day Will Make Your Muscles Tight

As I suggested above, the main reason that most people experience back pain is due to muscle tension. It really doesn’t matter what you think is wrong with you or if you’ve had this or that surgery.

What really matters is what is going on in your body. If you have been sidelined with an injury for a while, or, your lifestyle and activity habits are sedentary for the most part, you have no choice but to have tight muscles. This is because you’re probably sitting all day.

Sure, there may be some other stuff going on too. But, if the muscles haven’t been worked and stretched, there is probably a relative degree of tightness that has set in.

Getting up and moving around might be the best way to treat and even prevent an episode of lower back pain. An easy walking routine or stretching workout might be the thing to counteract the fact that you’re sitting all day.

Back Pain Stretches: The Psoas Stretch

Stretching: A Good Low Back Pain Exercise

This post on lower back stretches is about stretching the psoas muscle. The psoas (pronounced so-as) is a very important muscle when it comes to having a healthy back. Targeting it for low back pain exercise is important.

When the psoas is tight, it causes a lot different problems. When it’s tight it can actually make it difficult for anyone to stand up from a sitting position. It can also cause pain across the beltline in your back when you try to stand up straight. And, a tight psoas will make it very difficult for you to be able to walk for long periods of time without having anything to lean on like a shopping cart for instance.

So, what is this particular muscle? I like to say that it’s located on the “front of the back”. What I mean by this is that it attaches to the front of the back bone. It’s deep in your abdomen behind your stomach, intestines and all the rest of the stuff in there.

You have two. Left and right. They attach to (at least) the last 5 lumbar vetebrae (in some people the attachment to the spine goes higher than the lumbar vertebrae) and travel down and attach to the inside of the upper thigh bone.

These muscles are important in so many different ways. The following examples will show just how much work these muscles actually do. For one, they act as the primary stabilizers for your lumbar spine. If you reach out to the side or bend over sideways, it’s the psoas that works to stop you from falling over sideways.

If you are reaching above your head, or stretching by bending backward, it’s the psoas that stops you from falling over backward.

The Psoas Moves The Legs and Curls The Trunk. So you can see that for back pain, exercising it would be a good low back pain exercise.

Most people don’t realize it, but when they are doing sit-ups or leg lifts when working on their abdominals, your psoas is doing a large part of the work too because apart from stabilizing the spine, the psoas works to curl the knees toward the chest.

This muscle is also the primary muscle that lifts your leg out in front of you when you’re walking and also raises your knee when you are marching.

As you can see, this particular muscle is responsible for a lot of activity that goes on in your body. And, because it has such a big role to play in a lot of aspects of our everyday lives, if it’s not flexible or limber enough, it can really limit how much we can do and how comfortable we are doing it.

How To do This Low Back Pain Exercise

In order to stretch the psoas, it’s important to keep some things in mind. For starters, it’s good to realize that you don’t have to be aggressive when it comes to stretching. Consistency and awareness is what’s really important.

When you do get the right stretch going, you should feel some gentle tension in the lower abdomen and into the upper front part of the thigh. I will walk you through a few ways to stretch it below.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it pays to really be aware of what you are feeling and experiencing when you are stretching. Stretching deliberately will help you stay focused on what you are doing in the moment of the stretch.

One more thing to keep in mind is that stretching is not supposed to be a painful thing. It may be uncomfortable, but the discomfort should be kept at it’s very minimum.

Our bodies are a lot smarter than we think. If we get too aggressive or we aren’t paying attention to it then the muscle might actually contract because of an inbuilt protection reflex.

Stretching the psoas can be done in several ways. It’s probably a good idea to try several ways to stretch to see which one gives you the most benefit. Like with any stretching program, don’t be too aggressive. A slow, gentle, and prolonged stretch will give you the best results.

The general position for stretching the psoas is with one leg forward and the other backward. There are a lot of ways to get this done. Just remember that the stretches are gentle and should be held for 30-60 seconds and repeated for 3-5 reps on each leg.

Method 1. Lay down on your back across your bed with both legs hanging down to the floor at the knee. Using your hands, pull one knee up toward your chest. If your feet are not able to touch the ground, this motion will stretch the psoas on the opposite leg.

Method 2. Place an upright chair (without arms) in front of a normal doorway. You stand on the opposite side of the doorway facing the seat of the chair. Standing in the same spot, place one of your feet on the seat of the chair while you hold on to the door posts for balance. Then simply bend the knee of the forward leg while keeping the rear foot completely on the ground. You’ll end up in a “lunge” position. This should put a good stretch on the front part of the rear leg.

Method 3. The proposal stretch. I call it this because to do it is like a guy asking a girl to get married. If it’s not too painful, you kneel on one knee with the opposite foot flat on the ground. The front foot should be in front of it’s knee, not right below it. To do this stretch, you simply lunge forward bending the front knee and stretch the front of the rear thigh.

So, in summary, a tight psoas can cause a lot of pain across the beltline or waist, especially when trying to stand up straight. This is because it’s attaches to the front side of the spine and pulls on it when standing up.

This muscle works to stabilize the back bone when you’re bending and reaching and it also helps to move the legs when you’re walking or running.

Keeping this muscle stretched out is very important when it comes to having a healthy back. And a good lower back pain exercise program should include a regular stretching program for the psoas muscle.

Try one of the three stretches mentioned above and see which one gives you the best results. Go at it slowly and gently so as not to cause any additional pain. Keeping the back healthy with low back pain exercise is a good prescription for staying active and having more fun.