As I sit here writing this, I have two sticky pads sending electrical pulses through my lower back (read: upper ass). It’s magical—the kind of pain that makes John Mellencamp want to sing, “Hurts So Good.”
I’ve struggled with obnixous back pain for the past three years. Knock on wood, but it has nothing to do with my spine—it’s in my muscles. Whenever I sit at work or in the car for too long, I get an aching pain in my lower back. Doing certain exercises in barre and yoga classes makes it worse. I’m not a doctor so I can’t tell you the exact trouble spots, but from what I’ve gathered, the problem is deep—it’s not the kind of problem that my boyfriend’s five-minute back rub can solve (sorry, Luke 😚).
Since starting my 200-hour yoga teacher training in February, I decided it was time to get serious about addressing my back pain. I was doing more yoga than ever and the pain was only getting worse. To my surprise, I’ve had huge success in addressing it, so I decided to share my experience in hopes that it can help others. Below, I break down my process into three steps, but if you’re short on time, I suggest you read Steps 1 and 3.
Step 1: Tennis Ball (free!*)
A year ago I tore my ACL and went to a physical therapist for a solid six months. Although I was there for my knee, my whole body got screwed up. So one day, I mentioned that I had back pain for awhile, and favoring one leg because of my injury was making it worse. My physical therapist didn’t have the solution, but she pointed me in the right direction. What she told me is that a lot of people who think they struggle with back pain actually struggle tightness, soreness, or muscle strains in their glutes (again, read: ass). This is particularly true for people like me with lower back pain—the muscles there are closely connected. So she suggested I roll out my glutes at home daily using a tennis ball. The first time I tried this I realized she was onto something—sitting and rolling around on a tennis ball made a huge difference, and I could feel how much tension was hiding there.
Step 2: Foam Roller ($27.00)
From there, I decided to get serious and buy a foam roller. I purchased the Gaiam Restore Deep Tissue Roller from Target, er, Tarjay, for $27.99. #WorthIt. I started rolling out my glute muscles every night after yoga class and immediately felt amazing results. Most gyms have foam rollers you can use free of charge, but I found having one at home is much more effective because I can use it while watching TV or doing other mindless things around the house.
From there, I was noticing such a difference that I thought, ‘Let’s take this one step further.’ At this point, it was clear to me that whatever was causing my back pain was some sort of deep muscle strain buried in my gluteal muscles. I began by looking into booking a series of deep tissue massages, but quickly realized this was out of my budget 😢. Then, on good old Google, I came across TENS Machines (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), a small, battery operated machine that transmits tiny electronic shocks through sticky pads that stick to your skin. A lot of people are familiar with these from physical therapy, but many don’t realize you can actually purchase them to use at home.
The science on TENS machines is iffy. Doctors haven’t been able to prove whether they work one way or another. But in my case, I have no doubt that a TENS machine helped relieve much of my back pain.
The way I know this is because when I find the right spot, I can literally see and feel my muscles twitching. It’s freaky and magical at the same time. Usually, it’s muscles buried deep inside my body…down in my glutes or other strange places that are hard to reach via regular stretching. (My theory about why I have this built up of muscle strain is because I’m super flexible, especially in my hips, so when I try to stretch them out in yoga, it doesn’t do the trick.)
The specific machine I bought is called Pure Pulse Duo, and you can buy it on Amazon for $79. There’s plenty of cheaper options out there but after doing some research, I settled on this one and couldn’t be happier.
It’s super easy to use and fits in a tiny pouch. (Side note: if you’re wondering whether they paid me to post this, I can assure you they didn’t—Pure Pulse Duo has no idea that I’m even writing this! But #yourewelcome.)
The reason I’m writing this is because as someone who’s struggled with back pain for three years and finally found something so simple(!) that works, I feel the urge to share it. Everyone’s bodies are different, so of course, what works for me might not work for you, but I can’t help but think, “I wish someone had suggested this to me three years ago.”
For me, purchasing a TENS machine is and was life-changing. My back pain’s not gone, but it’s greatly reduced and now manageable. As an added bonus, using a TENS machine is extremely relaxing after a long day of work. Pop it on before bed, and you have the closest thing to an at-home deep tissue massage you can find. I’m probably supposed say, “Consult your doctor before using,” but if you’re struggling with a muscle strain that’s not serious enough to call the doctor, consider trying out a tennis ball, a foam roller, or a TENS machine first. A little, I’ve learned, can go long way.
Capital Yoga Girl
*I took the liberty of assuming most of you own a tennis ball, or live close enough to a dog park to find one😆.