If you have ever suffered from low back pain, you probably know how debilitating it can be. This injury has prevented 80 percent of American adults from being able to work or enjoy other activities.
Ongoing back pain is daunting—but it is not unavoidable. Its causes are found in our everyday actions. To get past suffering and lead a pain-free life, you need to address the real causes.
How Not to Solve Back Pain
Back pain causes more disability than any other condition. It is the number two reason for doctor visits and a leading reason for Americans missing work. The Journal of Pain reports the annual collective cost of chronic pain is as high as $635 billion a year—more than the costs for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Our collective spinal weakness is not projected to improve in the future. Most people rely on drugs for recovery. Prescription drugs like opioids are handed out like candy for back pain, even though these powerful drugs are highly addictive and their side effects can include death.
Surgery as a solution also has a poor track record. Radiologists say we are doing too many inappropriate mris, with a broad range of interpretive errors; this suggests a problem of unnecessary treatments. Shockingly, research shows that more than half of patients whose mris showed abnormalities would undergo spine surgery, even if they were not experiencing any symptoms.
Forget leaning on a medical system heavy on profit but light on pain relief.
Start with this: The human body is designed to move. With this in mind, let’s look for the cause of our back ailments, rather than reaching for pills or anesthesia.
Many of us sit for most of the day. Sitting actually changes the position of your spine, because weight is transferred to the buttocks and thighs, instead of being borne by the legs, hips and torso. This bends the spine significantly, redistributing weight differently than when standing or lying down, and aggravating pre-existing spinal conditions. Sitting can also cause circulatory constriction, nerve compression and soft tissue problems.
None of this bodes well for the average office worker. More than half of those who experience back pain spend most of their day sitting at work. And most of us sit when we are away from work. The damaging effects of sitting on other parts of the body include obesity, muscle weakness and lack of mobility.
Discs do not herniate on their own. Joints do not degenerate without cause. Sciatica doesn’t strike without reason. Unless you’re involved in a high-risk occupation, participate in high-impact exercises, or had a traumatic accident that injured your back, the reason for your back pain is most likely inactivity, muscle weakness and postural dysfunctions. Even if you are fit and healthy, sit long enough and you’ll put twice as much pressure on discs of the spine as standing.
Inactivity and weakness can lead to a bad outcome, but you can help yourself recover. If you find yourself in pain, take frequent breaks from your sitting job. Move around! If you slouch, focus on maintaining the correct alignment: shoulders back, chest out and weight spread evenly on both feet.
Studies are generally lacking in conclusively proving that exercise is beneficial for back pain, but common sense says otherwise. Weak muscles, tendons and ligaments restrict the body’s ability to move, rotate and bend properly. Atrophied stomach muscles increase the strain on the back and can cause an abnormal tilt of the pelvis. Weak back muscles increase the load on the spine and the risk for disc compression.
Focus on exercising the abdominals, glutes and hamstrings, the often neglected posterior chain. Great examples are “good morning” exercises (bending at the waist), reverse lunges, sumo deadlifts, sled pulls, wide box squats and hip thrusters. These are highly effective in strengthening your body and back until you are pain free.
If you don’t recognize these exercises and your problem causes a disruption in your life, talk to a personal trainer to get the help you need. You’ll be amazed how a little focus on primary muscles reduces back pain significantly.
An often overlooked factor in combating back pain is nutrition. Hydrate properly with lots of water and eat a balanced, wholesome diet in the right proportion to prevent inflammation and maintain a healthy body weight.
Nothing is ever simple, including chronic pain. But the good news is that your body remains remarkably resilient even after decades of neglect. No matter when you start, discipline can help reverse many effects of weakness. There will be discomfort on the way, but if you embrace the challenge, you will regain vitality and a more robust posture. Set good habits in how you “posture up,” strengthen your body, watch what you consume, and you can be pain free.