If you struggle with low back pain and are contemplating what options exist for treatment, you’re not alone. According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), 8 out of 10 people will suffer from low back pain at some point in their lives. I have worked with clients as young as 14 and clients well into their 70’s who sought treatment for low back pain.
So what causes low back pain? In my observation, there is the context and then there is the cause. Either one can result in low back pain, but commonly they occur together.
The context is the environment in which your low back functions. How well-supported it is by the legs, pelvis, ribcage, and other areas of the spine; how well it has developed in terms of movement, flexibility, and strength; its state of nourishment and hydration; and the mechanical forces of strain, pull, compression and rotation coming from above and below all add up to the context.
A well-nourished, hydrated, supported, strong and adaptable spine has a much smaller potential for injury in the low back than a spine that is starved, dehydrated, subject to strains or imbalances from above or below, and weakened from inactivity and disuse.
In a back that is poorly supported, routine and everyday tasks—such as prolonged sitting or lifting relatively light objects—can seemingly cause low back pain. In reality, it is the context that is at fault, not the task itself. The back is simply poorly equipped to handle normal tasks.
However, even the healthiest back can be subjected to a mechanism forceful enough to cause an injury. Therefore, the “cause” that we often look for emerges as a singular moment: the fall, the lifting event, or the accident.
Although we have little control over falls and accidents, we can favorably affect our odds by improving the context in which our backs function. A Rolf practitioner can attend to the structural context, while a nutritional consultant or yoga instructor can attend to other aspects. We can do much for ourselves by staying fit, staying active, watching our weight, nourishing our bodies well nutritionally, drinking enough water, and activating our deep, core abdominal muscles through pilates or other similar activities.
Next post, look for an anatomy geek’s view of the low back.