Lower back issues are one of the most common ailments in adults today. There are many reasons your lower back might not feel great, and diving into all of them is far beyond the scope of this post. However, before we get too far along, there is one important distinction to make, and that is “pain” compared to “tightness.” If you are in “pain” then getting an evaluation from a medical professional is probably the best thing to do. However, a lot of people might just feel “tight” but not necessarily in “pain” … and if that sounds like you, hopefully this post can help 🙂
Having a muscle that feels “tight” is commonly less to do with that muscle itself, but more so what that muscle is subconsciously being asked to do. Our bodies are hardwired to protect us from hurting ourselves (to a certain degree) and due to that, our bodies will often “stiffen” a muscle group or a series of muscle groups as a protective mechanism. When this happens, the stiffness will probably never get resolved simply by stretching (no matter how much you do), but instead we need to create better alignment and stability within your body so that your body doesn’t feel the need to protect itself, and it will then take the brakes off those tight muscles.
When it comes to the lower back feeling tight or stiff, one of the most common culprits is the way we hold our head. This has less to do with a high level knowledge of anatomy or physiology, and instead is just basic mechanics. When your head is stacked well over your shoulders, torso, and hips, then alignment is efficient and your lower back muscles do not need to work hard to keep you upright. However, if your head is held out in front of your body, either with the “chicken neck” or “texting neck” positions, then your alignment is inefficient, and it puts a ton of strain on your lower back. In this situation your brain senses that you might fall over forwards, faceplanting into the ground – which of course it doesn’t want to happen! Needless to say most of us don’t actually faceplant down; instead our body senses this poor alignment, and adds extra tension (stiffness / tightness) to our lower back muscles to prevent us from falling in spite of the weight of our head being out in front of us. So, this tightness you feel in your lower back could be much less about your lower back itself, and instead have a lot to do with your head and neck position.
The solution here is not to stretch your back muscles over and over, it is to remove the reason they are tight to begin with – poor neck / head posture. If you’re someone who chronically has a tight lower back, pay attention to your posture and if you are spending a lot of time in the chicken neck position (for example at your keyboard) or the texting neck position … if you are, try to make adjustments to position yourself more neutral; your lower back will thank you for it 🙂 See the examples below for a visual explanation.