Back pain is often caused by muscular imbalance.  If you do hard manual labor, have a desk job, or lead a sedentary lifestyle, your days are likely contributing to many forms of tightness or weakness in your body.  The muscles of the back, which support the spine, are at particular susceptibility to this imbalance and weakness.  

Over time, pain develops from the inability to return to natural anatomical positions.  Static and dynamic stretches paired with a well-rounded exercise program are obviously beneficial, but one simple tool is often overlooked - the foam roller.

A foam roller is basically a glorified pool noodle.  It is used simply to apply pressure to muscle to reduce tension and tightness.  As a form of self-massage, it can be both painful yet relaxing. We will also be on the lookout for "knots" or trigger points - places of intense pain or hardness along the muscle.

Foam Roll IT Band

To begin, we will focus on the upper/outer thigh.  Why?  Because a tight IT band and quadriceps contribute to tight hips, and tight hips pull down on the low back, etc.  Place the roller on the ground and place it perpendicular to the body as you adopt a side-plank position.  You may stack the feet or keep the top foot down to adjust pressure.  Slowly roll from just below the hip bone to the top of the knee area.  If you experience any areas of extreme pressure, that may be a trigger point.  Roll the length of the thigh 3-5 times, leaning forward to place more emphasis on the quadriceps.  Stop on any "hot" spots for 15-45 seconds and breathe deep.  This is how to release tension.  Repeat other side.

Foam Rolling the IT Band
Credit: myself

Foam Roll the Back

Now we move up to the actual back musculature.  It is not advised to roll the lower back as the lumbar spine could easily be put into a detrimental position.  Instead, we'll roll the mid and upper back - from just below the shoulder-blade to the base of the neck.  Again, place the roller perpendicular to the body and place about 1-2 inches under the shoulder blades.  Face up, hug yourself to spread the back smooth, and roll back and forth using your feet.  This should feel like a nice back rub.  Tilt to the left and right to hit trigger points around the shoulder area as well.

Finish up with deep breathing and you'll be well on your way to showing your back some love!

Foam Rolling the Upper Back
Credit: myself
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