I have long held the belief that most of the pain we experience, if it is not from a disease process or some type of sickness, is muscular in nature and usually from repetitive motions. I believe that most low back pain comes about through repetitive means. It can even be argued that a significant amount cases of osteo-arthritis are from old repetitive traumas that have never been allowed to fully heal. Over time, the microscopic injuries that come from repetitive traumas can eventually cause the onset of osteo-arthritis.
My favorite example is that of someone sitting at a desk, let’s call him Bob. Bob has been working at his desk job for the last 10 years. Bob did not sit at a desk at his prior job. Initially Bob didn’t feel any pain from sitting for long periods at his desk. Sitting at a desk for a few days or even a few weeks will not usually cause any pain or issues. Sitting for years on end, will however eventually cause Bob’s muscles to slowly tighten up over time.
While in a seated position for a prolonged period, the front of Bob’s hips will tighten up. His stomach muscles will tighten up as well, along with the front of his legs, or his quads. His low back muscles will get stretched out and weakened, and his hip muscles or gluteal muscles will get tighter and tighter as well. And his hamstring muscles, the ones in the back of the legs, will get so tight from being in the seated position that they will become inhibited and their function will be compromised.
All of these changes in Bob’s muscles will make him susceptible to throwing out his back. His muscles will be more tight and irritated in general. When Bob’s muscles are in this state, he is much more likely to bend over to tie his shoe, pull a muscle and throw out his low back. When this happens, Bob may wonder what caused his back to go out, since the pain came on so suddenly. But it was set up from all of that time spent in front of the computer tightening up his low back and hips and legs.
I believe that in today’s society, this type of repetitive injury, or cumulative trauma, is rampant and causes many of the aches and pains and injuries that are so prevalent. The best example of this is carpal tunnel. Carpal tunnel is caused by someone using their forearm muscles too much (like from typing, playing the piano, or like Janice from the Soprano’s who claimed she got carpal tunnel from making latte’s at Starbucks). This overuse of the muscles slowly causes the muscles to tighten up over time until they tear on a microscopic level and become painful.
Repetitive trauma can be healed, and can even be prevented. I feel it is much easier, less expensive, and less time consuming to do some maintenance and prevent these issues form cropping up in the first place. So how do you treat and prevent repetitive trauma?
Exercise and stretching is the best way to get rid of the daily accumulation of tightness that we all have and that can eventually become a repetitive issue if not taken care of. The exercises and stretches that I have listed in my program are great for reducing the pain, inflammation and irritation that accumulates in repetitive trauma; and can also prevent these traumas from coming up in the first place.
Most low back pain is due to this repetitive trauma. A new study was released that showed that practicing yoga can reduce chronic low back pain. In this study researches divided subjects into 2 groups. One group did 90 minute sessions of Iyengar yoga twice a week for 6 months. The other group continued whatever type of therapy or exercise they were already doing.
After 6 months the group that practiced yoga reported improvements in their pain and had more function. They also reported less symptoms of depression. “The yoga group had less pain, less functional disability, and less depression, compared with the control group,” said study author Kimberly Williams, a research assistant professor in the department of community medicine at West Virginia University. “These were statistically significant and clinically important changes that were maintained 6 months after the intervention,” she goes on to say.
Exercises like yoga help to strengthen up deconditioned core muscles, but also loosen them up and balance the muscles out; along with increasing balance and stability in the midsection. This is key to stabilizing the core, low back, hips, legs, and even knees.
Dr. Todd J. Albert, chairman of the department of orthopedics at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia said “I have found yoga and Pilates are great for chronic low back pain. There is so much concentration on core strengthening, which is critical for people who have become deconditioned.”
I have recommended yoga, Pilates and Ti Chi for years. I feel that they give you real world strength. Meaning that these systems strengthen up the muscles that stabilize you throughout the day. They strengthen up the muscles that help you walk for long periods, they help with golf by increasing core strength and flexibility, aids with gardening by giving your core muscles more endurance to deal with bending over and weeding for hours. They help out with these activities and so much more.
Systems like yoga help you stretch out the daily accumulation of tightness that occurs in our muscles. If you can stretch out and balance out your overused muscles on a consistent and regular basis, you will be able to prevent injury and pain from coming up. This is because if you can stretch out a tight and irritated and overused muscle before it has a chance to tear and become strained, then you will be able to prevent it from reaching that point in the first place, and keep yourself much more comfortable and pain free.
I set up my pain free lifestyle exercise program to slowly incorporate stretching, balancing and core strengthening. This will give you most of the physical benefits that low level yoga, pilates or ti chi will give you. Any system that works on your balance, flexibility, and core strength can reduce, or even get rid of, low back pain and many other types of joint pain throughout the body. You have nothing to lose by trying it.