Think of a sliding door on a track that is slightly off. Day to day, you may notice it’s not QUITE as smooth, but it still works fine. Even over the course of a few months it won't’ seem too bad. Over a long enough timeline, that track wears down and that door eventually breaks. This is what having lack of mobility is like due to chronic pain.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is that nagging pain in your shoulders, low back, or knees. It’s that flare up you feel every now and then after doing a certain exercise, or the constant low level pain. How does it happen? From overuse OR underuse. Like the sliding door example above, chronic pain is caused by grooving the wrong movement pattern over years and years.
This can be different for everyone. Maybe your low back muscles atrophy from sitting at your desk all day and your hip flexors tighten up from being overutilized. Maybe you squat with poor technique causing your knees to cave in which tightens your piriformis muscle which now squeezes down on your sciatic nerve causing a shooting pain any time you get up out of bed. Whatever the case may be, now that you know where the pain is coming from, you can do something about it.
Look Above or Below to find the Root of the Problem
A lot of people assume if their low back hurts, then it's due to a weak lower back, or they just twisted at the wrong angle. While this may be true, we have to take it one step farther. Why did you twist at a wrong angle? If it’s technique, then let's go even a level deeper. What IS a good technique to prevent lower back pain?
For me after every leg day my sciatic pain kills me. I feel it from my low back, through my left glute, down to my ankle. That’s a lot of ground to cover so let’s just focus on some basics. Most people (due to sedentary lifestyle or improper technique) do not know how to fire their hips properly. Those with low back pain (like me in this case) can usually start by focusing on the hips. Full mobility in this case means me being above to squat, or deadlift, or just move my entire hip through a full range of motion activating the right muscles. This is your adductors (inside leg), glutes, and abductors (outside leg). All these need to be firing, and for me, what I found out was I had not been fully activating my outer glutes (glute medius) when descending on a squat. This caused other muscles within the hips to take over (low back, other glute muscles) and absorb too much of the load causing them to tighten up. It wasn’t until I addressed pushing out my knees more to activate that left glute muscle and my sciatic problem went away.
So the next time you feel a nagging pain, look up or below the source of pain to see what area should have a full range of motion but isn’t. More often than not it is firing your glutes properly (in the case of lower body) or getting full range of motion in the shoulders (in the case of upper body).
Practice Makes Perfect
Now that you have a general idea of where the source of the issue is, it’s time to wake up those dormant muscles and get them back in action. I’d choose 1-2 exercises for each area and do 3 sets for each exercise. Choose mobility drills that address the dormant muscle, and help cue your central nervous system to regroove proper movement patterns. So again, using my situation, I found doing clamshell exercises, and glute bridges effective drills for waking up my glutes fully.
You can do these drills in between your sets of leg work at the gym to get the most out of that workout, or find moments throughout your day to do them. This can be right before bed, or while you’re watching TV. I find the latter works best for more people, because you can easily attach it to a habit you are already doing and make it a habit sooner. We spend too much of our day sitting anyway so this gives us an excuse to introduce a healthy habit that not only gets us moving again, but will help get rid of a pain that’s been bothering you forever.
There are a ton of drills you can do for a given area so I recommend checking out our free mobility drills on YouTube.