Neuromuscular tension. Have you ever heard this term? I have and I in fact lived with the debilitating problem for 3 months the summer of 2016. You wouldn't really think that as a Personal Trainer that would be possible, but sometimes your spending more time looking after your clients and less time paying attention to yourself that these things just tend to creep up.
Wikieducators definition is this: "One of the effects of stress is a general increase in tension within the skeletal muscles. This muscular tension occurs generally, but affects some areas more than others.
The muscles which are typically affected by stress include the shoulder elevators, the muscles of the neck and jaw, the accessory muscles of breathing and the diaphragm. The erector spinae are a commonly affected muscle group. Muscles which are already under tension due to postural distortions or for other reasons may develop problems secondary to the increased muscular tension. Muscles which are used repetitively during the period of stress are often held with more tension in them than is necessary (e.g muscles of the shoulder and arm when typing), and if this behaviour occurs often the tension may become habitual."
I'm not the only person to run into this or similar back problems. At least half of my clients have had similar issues, some so severe they couldn't walk and were put on things like muscle relaxants, heavy pain meds and or anti-inflammatory. There are ways to reduce and possibly eliminate this pain over time. It happens as a twofold process. One is deep stretching and alleviating the excess muscle tension which I have found usually comes from the calves and or hamstrings being VERY tight already and then the mid back, and usually one side of the mid back being much tighter than the other side. This was the case for me. The second part of the process is doing deep abdominal muscle exercises. I'm not talking crunches here, I'm talking Transverse Abdominus exercises. The Transverse Abdominus or TVA acts as a natural girdle to compress and stabilise your torso. When it is not strong enough, or you haven't learned to activate it while lifting something as simple as a laundry basket, you will use your Erectorspinae group and round your back, which will cause excess pressure on your vertebra and can lead to muscles and tendons being pinched, pulled or strained. Add to that very tight hamstrings, calves and an already tight left of right mid back and you have a recipe for intense low back pain.
These are the steps I took for myself and for my clients.
Deep hamstring stretches and deep calf stretches help the muscles over time lengthen and reduce excessive pressure. Myofascial rolling helps this immensely especially if you are afraid to move due to the pain and location of the pain. I also found taking a tennis ball or lacrosse ball and rolling it along the tight Erectorspinae muscle helped to begin loosening the muscle as did stretching in child's pose.
1. Use a towel or wall. Lay on your back on the floor on something comfortable (blanket or matt will work). Lay one leg straight out on the floor and either lean the other heel on a wall or wrap a towel around the foot and pull it gently towards you. You will need to hold this position until you feel a little bit of give or for up to a minute.
2. Switch legs and repeat, but hold the side that is tightest for longer.
3. To stretch the calf you can use a towel to gently angle your toes down toward you. If you are not very flexible then you will feel the stretch at a very subtle angle, if you are more flexible it will take more.
4. Use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball and roll the area of your back that is tightest. You can use a wall for this or ask someone else to help you. If using a wall, place the ball at your back and stand with your back on the ball against the wall. Apply enough pressure that you can feel the muscle against the ball. It is ok to feel some discomfort when doing this as the muscle is VERY tight. When it begins to feel less comfortable rolling a ball on it stop rolling and stretch your side using child's pose and pulling to the opposite side. Hold the pose until you either feel a little give or give it up to a minute.
As for toning your Transverse Abdominus, I have done and would do the following exercises:
Pelvic hip tilts
Pelvic hip tilts with alternating kicks
The more neutral spine stretching you do the better. Ease into the core exercises I have listed. Make sure you start with no more than 5 or so of each exercise to start. I also highly recommend seeing a Bowen Therapist to help loosen the muscles faster, in my experience the therapy helped a great deal.