Foam Rollers for the Lower Back
Is a foam rolling on your lower back dangerous?
You can use a foam roller for back pain, but it should not be used directly on your lower back muscles. If you place a foam roller directly on you lower back (using all your bodyweight) it can potentially be dangerous. It can cause too much pressure on the spine. When you’re rolling your upper back, all the muscles in the shoulder blades allow for a foundation of support to protect your spine. However, once you start rolling your lower back, there is less protection for the spine. The lower back muscles will actually contract to protect the spine. This does the opposite of what a muscle roller is all about when targeting painful, tense muscles. The goal of rolling is to relax the muscles and release the trigger points, not tense the muscles even more!
Instead of using a foam roller on your lower back, you should use a muscle roller on your trigger points in the gluteus muscles, psoas muscles, and the upper and mid back muscles. These are the muscles (trigger points) that commonly cause lower back pain. In these areas you can safely use the foam roller and you will begin to feel relief in your lower back after sticking to a foam rolling routine.
How to use a foam roller for your lower back
Besides the trigger points mentioned above, sometimes you may actually have tightness in your lower back and side oblique muscles. If you do have some tight muscles in the lower back, you can use a foam roller on your sides and lower back if you do it correctly. To do this, be sure to use your arm as a support beam so as to not put too much pressure on your sides or lower back.
Note: Always consult with a doctor or qualified fitness or medical professional before attempting to use a foam roller on your lower back.
With that said, it is recommended to use a massage ball instead of a full body foam roller for your lower back, as using a foam roller on the lower back can potentially be dangerous.
Using a massage ball on your lower back is much safer than using a foam roller on your lower back because it’s not using your whole body weight to put pressure on your spine. To do this, you can lean against a wall with the massage ball between your lower back and the wall. Then slowly move up and down with your legs (or side to side).
Foam Rollers for lower back pain
Lower back pain is one of the most common pains that people experience. If you suffer lower back pain, using a muscle roller may drastically help reduce your pain. If you suspect any back injuries, it is very important to consult with a doctor or health professional before attempting to use a foam roller to target your lower back.
Some of the reasons for back pain are repetitive movements, too much sitting (desk jobs), bad posture, low core strength, trigger points, and unhealthy fascia. Several of theses factors can influence each other and can spiral out of control if not addressed.
Lower back trigger points
The fastest way to eliminate lower back pain is to target the trigger points and initiate myofascial release with a muscle roller. There are certain trigger points associated with lower back pain. No matter how active or inactive you may be, you may still suffer from lower back pain that is caused from these trigger points. In fact trigger points may be the most common cause of undiagnosed (or misdiagnosed) lower back pain.
Luckily, foam rollers have come into the fitness and pain management landscape. We can now use foam rolling as a self-massaging myofascial release techniques to eradicate the lower back pain, and many other muscular pains in the body. When foam rolling you need to focus on the trigger points that are causing the pain. In the case of lower back pain, usually the trigger points are in your gluteus muscles, upper/mid back, or psoas muscles.
Trigger Points Associated with Lower Back Pain
- Upper Back
- Mid Back
- Gluteus Maximus
- Psoas Muscles
It may seem strange to have lower back pain due to muscles in your upper back, mid back, Psoas or gluteus muscles. If you have tight muscles and trigger points in these areas it can cause referred pain to lower back, along with issues in posture. The bad posture can then cause you to overstrain your lower back muscles. For example certain movements that should be using your upper back muscles may be impeded by your trigger points in your upper back. Your body may adapt by using your lower back muscles in certain movements or postures, where your lower back is not meant to cary the load. This can cause pain over time and is not how your body was designed work.
Other ways a foam roller can help with lower back pain
Foam rollers can be used in a few ways to help relieve lower back pain. The most common way to use a muscle roller is for for self myofascial massage. This targets both the fascia and the muscle tissues to keep them healthy, hydrated, and relaxed. However, there are a few other ways you can use a foam roller for the back.
- Self Myofascial Release (Trigger Point): Myofascial release helps keeps your whole fascia and muscles healthy. Muscle rollers help to release the knots in your muscles, known as trigger points.
- Flexibility & Mobility: To increase flexibility, a foam roller can be used as a platform to easily stretch out different parts of your body, including your back.
- Core Strength: Core strengthening exercises can be performed on a foam roller, which can increase strength in your abs, lower back and even upper back.
Poor posture and lower back strength
Our core muscles (both the abs and the back muscles) support our upright posture all day long. It is common for people, especially with desk or computer jobs to sit all day without any activation of the back or core muscles. This in effect causes imbalances in the muscles, and creates tightness and trigger points throughout the body.
Because of this, people’s core muscles get week, which results in a poor posture. A poor posture can stretch the muscles all day long in a negative way, which factor into the development of even weaker core muscles.
Lower back pain tends to get better with core work, due to stronger muscles and a better posture. In this case, foam rollers can also be used for your lower back by targeting your core strength. Foam rollers can also help with flexibility and mobility. However, stretching can sometimes make lower back pain worse. If your back pain is due to trigger points, it is better to address the trigger points & tightness that’s causing the lower back pain. Then you can stretches to loosen up your body.
One great way to fix bad posture is to simply do core exercises with a foam roller that target the back muscles (lower and upper), along with abdominal work. Once your muscles develop some strenght through resistance training, it will be much easier to keep the good posture all day long.
Pre-existing Back injuries
Using a foam roller for lower back injuries may not be right for you. If you have any mechanical injuries in the back, you should seek professional medical advice like a doctor and physical therapist, as you can cause more damage to your back with a foam roller. With that said, if done correctly, targeting the trigger points in your body can have a big positive effect on people with back pain.
Note: Always consult with a doctor or health professional first to see if foam rolling is right for you, and to diagnose any serious structural conditions with your back.