Why Should You Perform Lower Back Self-Myofascial Release?
For those of us who experience lower back pain and stiffness, majority of the time, the causality is chronic overactive myofascial tissue within the lower back muscles from daily activities and exercise. The muscles in the lower back include erector spinae, deeper multifidus, and quadratus lumborum (1, 2). When these muscles become overactive, you could expect a hindrance of the spinal movements; extension, flexion, lateral flexion, and rotation of the spine (1, 2).
So, is there a quick fix? You guessed it. If you have been keeping up with my previous articles, you must be fully aware of the instant pain relief and mobility benefits of self-myofascial release, and YES! It can also be applied to the lower back. However, it is recommended to consult your Medical doctor or Physiotherapist prior to engaging in this protocol, in case of a more serious underlying issue. As an expert in human movement sciences, I will provide a practical application on the basis of the self-myofascial release theory, but first, let's analyze some of the research.
What does the Research indicate?
A single session of self-myofascial release can offer some pain relief and increase mobility, but employing the technique habitually can be more optimal (3, 4). A 2014 study by Ajimsha and colleagues (3) observed the effects of lower back myofascial release on 80 active nursing professionals with chronic back pain, using a single-blind placebo trial (participants do not know their intervention). The participants were split into a self-myofascial release and a control group (no meaningful intervention).
The intervention took the time course of 8 weeks and consisted of 24 myofascial release sessions performed by certified physiotherapists/massage therapists.
All of the participants filled out a subjective McGill pain Questionnaire and rate on a Quebec Back pain disability scale. The lower back myofascial release group indicated a 53.3% reduction in pain and a 27.7% reduction in lower back functional disability (increased mobility). On the other hand, the control group reported 26.1% and 9.8% reduction, respectively.
In the myofascial release group, 73% of participants showed at least a 50% reduction in pain over the study period of 8 weeks. In contrast, no participant in the control group reported at least 50% pain reduction in the same period. In simpler terms, Myofascial release is great for reducing lower back pain and improving movement.
In support of the notion, Arguisuelas et al. (4) conducted a similar study using 54 participants with non-specific chronic back pain, who were divided into a myofascial release and a sham group. The researchers utilized the McGill pain Questionnaire, the Visual Analogy Scale and to identify any reductions in disability, the Roland-Morris questionnaire. The study consisted of 4 sessions, and each lasted 40 minutes. At the end of the study, the myofascial release group showed significant improvements in pain and mobility.
Lower Back Self-Myofascial Release
Equipment required: Peanut Massage Ball (12.7 cm length, 6.35 cm diameter) (5)
Targeted muscle: Multifidus and Quadratus Lumborum
Step 1: Place peanut massage ball on the ground on a clean surface.
Step 2: Find the trigger point by lying supinated with the peanut massage ball placed underneath the lower back, which will be an area that would be considerably more stiff and painful compared to other areas.
Step 3: Rest hands on the chest.
Step 4: Apply pressure into the trigger point for around 30 seconds.
Step 5: Repeat the protocol 4-5 times and try to get deeper each attempt.
Step 6: Stretch the lower back for additional mobility benefits.
- A peanut massage ball is great for targeting the muscle around both sides of the lumbar spine.
- Usually used for the suboccipital zone, I would recommend clients to use it for the lower back.
- The positive pressure of this exercise is derived from the participant's weight and is great for targeting and digging deep into specific areas.
Equipment required: Foam Roller (6)
Targeted muscle: Erector Spinae
Step 1: Place a foam roller on the ground on a clean surface.
Step 2: Lie supinated (on back), perpendicular on top of the foam roller positioned just close to the tailbone.
Step 3: Plant the feet flat on the ground at shoulder width.
Step 4: Place the hands on the ground for additional balance.
Step 5: Flex/extend at the knee (pulling and pushing against the ground with the lower legs) to roll the foam roller up and down the lower back.
Step 6: Continue rolling for 30-40 seconds
- A foam roller is a great tool as it covers the lower back to release myofascial lower back pain and stiffness.
- The positive pressure of this exercise is derived from the participant's weight. However, it may not be suitable for delving into the deeper muscles like the multifidus and quadratus lumborum.
- Repeat the protocol 3-4 times and stretch the area during a 30 second intra-set period for additional benefits.
Equipment required: Massage stick (7)
Targeted muscle: Erector Spinae
Step 1: Stand erect by bracing the core with the feet shoulder-width apart to create stability.
Step 2: Hold the massage stick against the back with a double overhand grip.
Step 3: Create some positive pressure and roll the stickup and down the lumbar region of the back for around 1 minute at a time.
Step 4: Repeat the movement 3-4 times and attempt to get deeper into the myofascial tissue if you can.
- This exercise is similar to foam rolling the lumbar region of the back but differs as you are required to create positive pressure from the arms
- Ensure that you do not apply too much pressure onto the spine itself.
- There are a few variations to the massage stick i.e., spikey and non-spikey. It is best to use the stick you are most comfortable with.
- If you can dig deeper into the myofascial tissue, you may be able to target the deeper muscles.
Visiting a Deep Tissue Massage Therapist
When you visit a deep tissue massage therapist, you can expect to have a 1-1 consultation to identify where the stiffness and pain derive from so that the masseuse can target the specific area i.e., lower back. A typical single session can last around 30 minutes or longer.
This is my ‘go to’ when it comes to relaxing muscles in the back, I would say that this is more of an assisted myofascial release intervention.
The only downside of this intervention is that it’s a lot more expensive ($90-110 USD) compared to self-myofascial release through using an inexpensive tool. But, in my opinion, it is worth the price due to it being much more relaxing and effortless. (3, 4)
Suppose you’re feeling stiffness in the lower back which causes pain in movement. In that case, there is a high possibility that the myofascial tissue is tight, which can be released via various methods such as applying pressure on the trigger point using a peanut massage ball, a foam roller, a massage stick or employing a deep tissue massage therapist. However, if you have been reading my previous articles and practically applied some of those exercises, you should be able to get innovative and even create your own variations of self-myofascial release to apply positive pressure on the lumbar region of the back. Remember to consult your medical doctor or exercise professional prior to attempting any of the myofascial release protocols.
- Andersson, E.A., Oddsson, L.I.E., Grundstrom, H., et al. EMG activities of the quadratus lumborum and erector spinae muscles during flexion-relaxation and other motor tasks. Clinical Biomechanics. 1996; 11(7): 392-400
- Park, K.M., Kim, S.Y., Oh, D.W. Effects of the pelvic compression belt on gluteus medius, quadratus lumborum, and lumbar multifidus activities during side-lying hip abduction. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology. 2010;20 (6): 1141-1145
- Ajimsha, M.S., Daniel, B., Chithra. Effectiveness of myofascial release in the management of chronic low back pain in nursing professionals. Journal of body works and movement therapies. 2014; 18(2): 273-281
- Arguisuelas, M., Francisco, L.J.,Zuriaga-Sanches, D., et al. Effectiveness of myofascial release in None specific chronic low back pain A randomized Clinical trial. SPINE. 2017; 42 (9): 627-634
- Zhang, Q., Trama,R., Foure. The Immediate Effects of Self‐Myofacial Release on Flexibility, Jump Performance and Dynamic Balance Ability. Journal of Human Kinetics. 2020; 75 (1) :139-148
- Kwangsun, D., Jaeenun, K., Joegeun. Acute effect of self-myofascial release using a foam roller on the plantar fascia on hamstring and lumbar spine superficial back line flexibility. Physical Therapy Rehabilitation Science. 2018; 7(1):35-40
- Cheatam, S.W., Stull, K.R., Amber-Wright, T. ROLLER MASSAGE: SURVEY OF PHYSICAL THERAPY PROFESSIONALS AND A COMMENTARY ON CLINICAL STANDARDS- PART II. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 13(5): 920-930.
Disclaimer: all of the information within this article is for educational purposes and is NOT intended as a personalized exercise prescription. No one can be held liable under the circumstances of damages, reparation, or monetary losses as a result of the information.