Low back pain affects millions of Americans every year. It will affect 80% of all people at one time or another. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and skin diseases, 8 out of 10 Americans will suffer from low back pain at one point in their lives.
When your back feels good it is easy to take it and all of the motions that begin from the back, for granted. But when it goes out or flairs up, you will not take it for granted.
Low back pain can come from many different sources. The muscles that will affect low back pain are the leg muscles, hip muscles, low back muscles, and abdominal/ core muscles. Every step that you take you use hundreds of muscles to coordinate that move. If one of those muscles is tight, irritated and spasmed it will throw all of the other muscles in the area out of balance.
Your body is a big pulley system, especially your pelvis. Any muscle that attaches to the pelvis can get irritated and pull on the pelvis. This will throw the pelvis out of balance and pull on some of the other muscles that attach to the pelvis; like the muscles in the low back. Most low back pain will come from tight, irritated, and spasmed hip muscles. These muscles will pull on your low back muscles and irritate them.
The best pre-determining factor to getting low back pain is having had it before. Low back pain will be accompanied by, and probably caused by, spasmed and irritated hip, leg, low back and abdominal muscles. Accompanying (and probably causing) the low back pain will be spasmed and inflamed low back, hip, leg and abdominal muscles. Once these muscles fall into a pattern of spasm and inflammation, they will establish neurological pathways that perpetuate these muscle spasms. I wrote about how the neurological pathways are formed in a previous article. The muscles can fall out of these patterns on their own by fatiguing or tiring themselves out. But once they are established, the pathways will be present for the rest of your life. Once these pathways are established, it is easy for the muscles to fall back into those patterns when the muscles get tight and stressed. The muscles will fall right back into those old patterns and pathways, reproducing similar pain to what was experienced before.
Very commonly I hear from patients how when they were in high school they had some accident or injury that caused significant pain. These accidents and injuries usually occur from playing football, wrestling, cheerleading, gymnastics, or just horsing around. Whatever the cause, the pain was present and affected the person for a period of time. But since then the occasionally get the same pain in the same place as they first did when back in high school.
“Doc, I remember the first time I had this neck and shoulder pain. I was playing football and hit this guy with my shoulder and I immediately got the same pain that I just got last week when I reached behind me in the car to get something in the back seat.” I hear this very commonly. This is because the muscles formed neurological pathways that perpetuate spasm, inflammation and pain.
There are many ways to prevent low back pain and flair ups. The best way by far is to exercise and stretch. Stretching will release tension that accumulates daily from repetitive issues. This will prevent the muscles from getting so tight that they tear on a microscopic level and then fall into those patterns of spasm and inflammation. The stronger a muscle is, the better able it will be to withstand the rigors, stress and repetitive motions of daily life. Stronger muscles will also help to stabilize arthritic, degenerative and painful areas which will allow you to use those areas more without irritating them.
The article I am attaching gives some good tips at how to prevent low back pain. I disagree with a few things mentioned in the following slide show.
They recommend using heat after a few days. Heat will temporarily loosen up tight and painful muscles and is very soothing. In the long run though, heat will increase the inflammation and therefore cause the pain to linger if not get worse.
Ice, while not as soothing as heat, will decrease the inflammation in the muscles and provide relief. It is a fallacy that you cannot use ice after 24 to 48 hours after an injury. The muscles will stay inflamed for weeks if not months to years. As long as there is inflammation, ice will help calm down the pain while heat will irritate it.
I feel that chiropractic care, especially soft tissue work and trigger point therapy, will help calm down low back pain and help it heal much quicker than message will. Message can feel very good, and be very relaxing and provide other health benefits, but it is not designed to heal injuries the way chiropractic treatments and soft tissue therapy does.
The slide show also mentions using a TENs unit. A TENs unit will temporarily reduce pain, but it is only temporary. It works in the same way that shaking your thumb after hitting it with a hammer does. It floods the brain with signals and thus prevents the person from feeling the pain, temporarily. The relief usually only lasts while the TENs unit is on. You will get more lasting relief from ice and stretching and moving around a little.
Another topic brought up in the slide show is bed rest, and how bad it is for you. Bed rest used to be recommended for low back pain. The thought was that since it hurt so much to move, it was good to rest the muscles and let them calm down. When your low back is flaired up, you do want to rest your body and let the spasm and inflammation in the muscles calm down. But, you don’t want to be completely sedentary.
Bed rest will prolong your low back pain. Immobility will cause the muscles to actually get tighter. When any area, especially your low back, is flaired up , spasmed and painful, you need to move around. You don’t want to be running a marathon, but no sitting or resting for longer than a half an hour without getting up and moving around a little bit. When you are sleeping it is not necessary to get up every half an hour. But throughout the day you want to move around and loosen up those tight and irritated muscles.
Bed rest, even a few days of bed rest, will result in muscle atrophy and cause metabolic changes that can shorten your life. There are studies that show how prolonged bed rest resulted in metabolic changes that were still around years later. Basically prolonged bed rest caused the study subjects to age prematurely.
So when your back flairs up, keep yourself moving. Don’t just sit down and take anti-inflammatories. Stretch, ice, and move around but don’t go crazy. No long term activity. Listen to your body, if an activity hurts then back off from it. Once you learn your limitations, they will change as your back gets better.
Have patience though, your low back pain will calm down eventually. Chiropractic care, stretching, ice and anti-inflammatories will help your low back pain calm down and heal quickly. Eventually the trigger points can fatigue themselves out and calm down. The more you stretch, ice, move around, and see a chiropractor, especially one that does trigger point therapy like Nimmo, the quicker you will heal. The quicker you heal, the less pain you will be in and the quicker you can get back into your activities of daily life. And the quicker you can get back into your normal routines, the faster you’ll be able to get back into exercise which will prevent low back pain from coming back anytime soon. Thus starting a positive feedback cycle.
The more you exercise, the better you feel, the better you feel, the less pain you will have overall and the more you will be able to move around, be active and exercise. And this positive feedback cycle will keep you feeling better for a long time and prevent frequent flairups. That, is the Pain Free Way.