Photo by Joyce McCown on Unsplash
Back pain is the most common issue that affects our movement, progress, success, and enjoyment.
It can vary in intensity but at some point, most of us have been sidelined by its painful presence.
It’s estimated that 8 out of 10 people at some point will seek help to remedy their back pain.
My hope with this guide is to give you a better understanding of the complexity of back pain and help you take a few steps that can help alleviate or prevent it from happening to you.
Common causes of WHY we get back pain?
If we can understand more about how our back functions, we can start to find ways to move past the pain and disability.
UNKNOWN – A large portion of back pain cases are classified as idiopathic or of unknown origin. There isn’t an apparent reason the pain exists. That doesn’t mean the pain doesn’t exist, it’s just there is no apparent reason for the pain. In contrast, there is a high percentage of persons with structural changes in the spine that would warrant pain or treatment but have no symptoms, they are asymptomatic. This can mean a couple of things. One possible explanation is structural changes alone don’t necessarily lead to pain. There must be a second or third component that must be added to bring about pain. The other is many undiagnosed back conditions may just be one or two movements away from being seriously hurt.
THE AGING SPINE – Our spine and posture will likely go through some changes as we get older. Our head moves forward and our back starts to round. some of this is due to sitting for longer and longer hours. One thing we do know, the spine has the capacity (when healthy) to move in many ways but as we get older we tend to lose this ability. The spine becomes rigid and gets more and more locked into place. This begins to alter posture placing more stress on the joints and muscles that have compensated for the limitation. Eventually, this can cause permanent changes in the structure and movement of your spine and that can contribute to pain.
THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMELS BACK – When it comes to certain conditions in the spine, like disc bulges and herniations. (when the Nucleus of the spine pushes out on the fibrous ring of the discs and interferes with nerves) It often takes years and years of poor posture, poor training, or lifting techniques that weaken the tissue to a breaking point. Then when you pick up a pencil, that little bending forward was enough to hurt your back. It wasn’t the pencil, it was the years leading up to that event that caused the damage.
SOMETIMES IT’S NOT THE BACK – Sometimes the back isn’t the culprit but the victim. If you have tight leg muscles or have a knee injury chances are you’re compensating for that lack of range and function. Likely, you’re not bending your knees but instead, you’re rounding your spine when you sit down or pick things up. This extra movement for your back is enough to cause serious issues. You may experience back pain and focus your attention there when in fact it’s coming from the dysfunction of your knees. When you help your knees and return to proper movement you’ll take the stress off your back. So sometimes the back may be the one yelling at you but it’s other areas or situations that are the real cause.
Common Dysfunctions of the Spine
The following are conditions that are often seen with back pain. Keep in mind the mere presence of these dysfunctions doesn’t mean you’ll have pain. We know however that your movement will be impaired and the tissue will be more susceptible to injury.
MUSCLE STRESS – Moving furniture, picking a box up at work, or just twisting and bending, if done incorrectly can easily result in muscle strain. It’s simply a matter of the muscles are not able to withstand the amount of force placed on it. The tissue reaches a breaking point and this results in tissue damage or back pain.
DISC BULGING OR HERNIATION – These are two of the common disc problems. Your discs sit between your vertebrae and they act as shock absorbers. It has a nucleus center like a jelly donut. A bulge is misshaping without the nucleus breaking through the fibers or the jelly is almost pressing out of the donut. A herniation is when it does break through (the jelly is now outside of the donut) and interferes with nerves and the function of your spine.
SPONDYLOLISTHESIS OR SLIPPED DISC – When you have a fracture in part of the vertebrae. This results in an unstable joint and allows for the forward movement of one to discover the other. There is often pain with a certain range of motion. It’s the condition that you sometimes hear as the “slipped disc”. Avoiding movements that cause pain is crucial with this condition.
What you can do about your back pain?
Keep in mind that back pain is a multi-factorial sensation. We know that structural changes alone aren’t the sole cause, so there must be other factors. Neural, muscular, emotional, and stress also play a significant role.
This goes without saying but I’ll say it anyways. Always consult your Doctor or Physician and follow through with their recommendations. Then take it upon your shoulders to rehab your back so you can minimize the chance of having these problems in the future.
STOP PICKING THE SCAB – Avoid what causes you pain at all costs. This sounds easy but it’s not. We repeatedly do what we love, making it challenging to identify what’s causing or adding to your back pain. Maybe you’re a runner and you know that your back hurts more after a long run. You can just stop running right? Usually, you try and cut back on the running thinking that it will help. When what you need to do is stop running altogether. That way you can fix the real issue(s), and then slowly rehab back to your running.
SETTING EXPECTATIONS – Take a realistic look at what it’s going to take to get pain-free. We all love overnight success and it’s wonderful when that happens. Knowing that there are so many factors to back pain means It’s going to take time and a lot of work. There’s a good chance you will have to make significant changes both to your lifestyle and especially to how you’re moving or exercising.
BREATHING EXERCISES – Your breath is key to properly using your diaphragm and core muscles. As you learn to control it you’ll also increase your spinal movement and stability. This will help you keep your spine from moving in ways it was not meant to be.
PAYING ATTENTION TO POSTURE – Your position dictates how much stress is going through your joints at any time. Poor posture limits the use of muscles throwing your body off balance and making it difficult to do simple daily movements including breathing. It’s an absolute must that you become aware and place posture at the top of your priority list. It’s been said that posture is where movement begins and ends, so you want to get as close as you can to ideal posture.
STABILITY AND CORE TRAINING – This is where your movement training should start. The core muscles act as your body’s natural weight-lifting belt. Protecting your spine, helping your breath, and allowing for proper movement. Get this first step wrong and your spine is left unprotected. Without proper support, it will be easier to hurt the back and begin the pain experience once again.
CORRECTIVE EXERCISES HELP – There is a lot you can do to help if you’ve had back pain before and are finding it difficult to get back into the activities you enjoy. With proper guidance, you can correct the compensation patterns caused by the pain and restore the proper function of the body. This will increase your ability to move and improve your resiliency to injury. The movement itself can act as a natural pain killer. It can block the threat signals of your body reducing the pain you experience.
As you can see when it comes to your back problems it’s not a simple problem with a simple solution. It’s very much a complex phenomenon. There are many factors to consider and I hope that this guide can give you a little direction as to what to pursue and work on next.
Most of all, I hope it brings you hope, that the pain you’re feeling right now (or in the past) isn’t permanent. You can heal, improve your movement and strengthen your body so you can feel like you’re back to normal once again.
Move Well, Live Better