Unwittingly, most people cause their own lower-back pain. However, it’s often not the traumatic incidents like car accidents or lifting too much weight causing problems. Instead, the injuries often occur without notice, stemming from moving through life without a good understanding of how the back works. You couple common back misuse with poor fitness instruction, outdated or incorrect internet information and even medical professionals unfamiliar with lower-back pain causes, and the result is a problem affecting millions. And, while it’s true that serious conditions such as spinal metastatic diseases, spinal infection, abdominal aortic aneurism, compression factors and more can result in back pain, all of these conditions require a medical diagnosis for treatment. That’s just one more reason for not simply tolerating pain and hoping it will go away.
Mysterious Appearances of Lower-Back Pain
Did you ever notice that sedentary individuals tend to have less lower-back pain? By contrast, people who exercise regularly, do manual labor, or have active lifestyles tend to encounter more pain. (The notable exception to this would be office workers who sit incorrectly for hours on end.) Lower-back pain caused by degenerative disc disease, disc herniation or discogenic pain, muscle strain or ligamentous injuries are often the direct result of poor lower-back use. That’s why when someone “throws out” their low back with a seemingly trivial movement, such as putting on their socks, it was most likely a long time coming.
This in no way means exercise or active lifestyles are bad or should be avoided. It means people must pay more attention to how they engage their body in these activities. Poor low back mechanics will lead to back pain and disc injury, commonly misidentified as muscle pain. Once pain occurs, people are often treated, coached or instructed (often by uncredited online sources) on simple “solutions” or fixes. These often prevent healing and can even further degrade their condition. Frustration grows as stretches, anti-inflammatory medication, muscle relaxers and more fail to treat the real problem while often aggravating the disc injury. Sadly, sometimes patients’ consistent or building pain is even dismissed by others as all in their heads.
So how can you treat your back better in day-to-day use? The low back best tolerates weight when the spine is in a neutral position, especially when lumbar lordosis (low back curve) is maintained. Without this form, injury will occur.
Are You Hurting Your Lower Back?
What are some common movements and postures that often lead to lower-back injuries? Here are a few:
Activities that require forward bending, necessitating the normal spinal curve to straighten or reverse increase risk for lower-back pain. This includes sit-ups (straight-leg or bent-knee), cross curl-up, crunches, elbow to knee, straight-leg raise, scissor kicks, extension exercises and pelvic tilts.
Many yoga poses require forward bending … often beyond most people’s natural capabilities. The key to avoiding yoga injuries is maintaining the lower back’s natural curvature, or lumbar lordosis, while forward bending using the hips. This requires flexing in the hips and not the back. In the examples below, the female maintains a proper curvature of the back with her downward facing dog, while the male’s position has sacrificed his natural curvature. Repeating his position can injure the back over time.
Poor sitting posture has not shown to necessarily cause back injuries. However, if you already have a bad back, poor posture will make it worse.
Yes, Even Brushing Your Teeth!
Surprisingly, many activities of daily living, such as cleaning the bathtub or leaning over the sink to brush your teeth, can cause similar damage or injury to the lumbar spine. Once again, this is often from failure to maintain the spine’s natural curvature.
In the end, every movement is an opportunity to perform spine sparing movements or spine endangering movements!
Understanding how your back works and knowing spine-sparing movements reduces the likelihood of lower-back injury. Yoga and exercise aren’t inherently bad for the back. However, incorrect yoga, exercises and postures are bad for the back and have led to a worldwide lower-back pain pandemic, as discussed by this World Health Organization article.
Treating Lower Back Pain
Distinguishing mechanical-lower back pain from organic lower-back pain remains the key to proper treatment. Often, this leads us to more successful treatments outside of spinal adjustments, including:
- Determining what movements or postures cause lower-back pain
- Eliminating the cause of pain and finding pain-free postures
- Developing postures and movement patterns that enable pain-free function
- Providing essential exercises to stabilize the torso, core and spine when moving through life
- Developing a walking and exercise plan
- Mobilizing the hips
- Making daily use of exercises based on patterns of movements: push, pull, carry, etc.
- Making healthy spine choices when engaging in any activity
If you’re experiencing lower-back pain from an unidentified source, isn’t it time you take back control of your life? Most importantly, you can return to a healthy, active lifestyle while keeping your lower-back in mind. Let’s find the source of your pain and work for natural solutions to a fuller, richer, pain-free life.