Never Foam Roll Your Lower Back! (HERE’S WHY)

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The foam roller is a tool used to increase mobility and improve the soft tissue quality. That said, one are you never want to foam roll is your lower back or lumbar spine. There is a big difference between the thoracic spine and lumber spine when it comes to the benefits of foam rolling. In this video, I’m going to show you exactly what that is and tell you what to focus on instead if you are attempting to loosen up a stiff lower back.

It helps to start out at by looking at the anatomy of the spine. There are three defined zones of the spine; the cervical, thoracic and lumbar verterbrae. The cervical spine is the upper 7 segments that are located in your neck. The thoracic spine is the middle 12 segments that make up the middle of your torso. The lumber spine is the final 5 vertebrae that make up the lower back. Most disc issues occur in either the cervical or lumbar spine.

If you look closely at the differences between the thoracic and lumbar spine there is one that should jump out at you more than any other. That is, the thoracic vertebra articulate with the ribs on the front side at each level while the vertebra in the lumber spine has no connection with the ribs. This means that the middle back is supported on the front by a very stable ribcage while the lumbar spine is afforded non such luxury and is much more unstable because of this.

If you are going to foam roll your upper back you also get the benefit of having the force dispersed to the nearby scapula or shoulder blades as well. In fact, you consciously have to raise your arms out over your body if you want to target and hit the spine most effectively during the foam rolling. But beyond this there is another very important anatomical difference that accounts for the approval of rolling of the upper back and disapproval of rolling of the lower back. That is, the natural curvatures of those areas of the spine.

The thoracic spine is naturally curved forward into something called kyphosis. This is when we slump our shoulders forward and look hunched over. This gets worse the more we ignore our posture and develop muscle imbalances over time. We are all chronically deficient in thoracic extension. Using the foam roller to help us get more extension is one of the most valuable things we can do in the gym, especially on back day.

On the other hand, the curve of the lumber spine is opposite. It is naturally lordotic which means that it curves backwards. Forcing your lower back into more extension is going to aggravate many conditions that are devastating if the extension gets worse (like stenosis or a spinal stress fracture). Even if neither of these conditions exist, you are never really able to effectively roll this area because the muscles surrounding the lower back spasm to try and protect the delicate unprotected area.

For all of these reasons it is best to look to other ways to address the stiffness and tightness you are feeling in your lower back. Namely, its time to look to the muscles of the hips and glutes.

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