Writer: BRAD WALKER | Outlet: Stretch Coach
What is Back Pain?
Back pain actually refers to a group of injuries or disorders that can cause pain in the back area. Back pain may occur anywhere along the back. It may be bone or muscle related pain. The pain may be focused in one area of the back or may radiate to other areas. Pain in the back can take many forms and have many causes. Back pain is more than just pain in the back; it has underlying causes that must be addressed to reduce the pain. Failure to correct the underlying causes can lead to chronic back problems and continued back pain.
What Causes Back Pain?
As stated above, back pain has many possible causes. These causes may be skeletal, muscular, or nervous system in nature.
- The vertebrae of the spinal column are designed to rest atop each other in a very organized pattern. If they slip out of place they put pressure on the nerve bundles that exit at that point and stretch the ligaments and tendons attached to them. Fractures to the vertebrae will also cause pain due to the injury itself and the inflammation surrounding the injury.
- The discs that provide cushioning for the vertebrae can bulge or rupture at times causing extra pressure on the nerves and friction between the bones. A bulging disc will also cause problems with flexion and extension in that joint of the spine. These are oftent he result of muscle imbalances.
- Any of the muscles of the back can be strained, causing pain. The most commonly strained muscles are the erector spinae. This results in lower back pain and stiffness. The latissimus dorsi can be strained as well, leading to pain under the arm and across the middle of the back. The muscles of the upper back can be strained, especially with postural issues.
Signs and Symptoms
The first symptom of back pain is pain. The pain may be focused or radiate. Weakness at or below the site of the pain may also result. Stiffness in the muscles around the injury site is also common. Classic symptoms of back pain include:
- Pain – at the site of the injury or along the nerve pathway. This pain may increase with movement and also may become worse with prolonged periods in one position.
- Stiffness – along the spinal column or in the injured muscle.
- Weakness – below the injury site or throughout the back and extremities.
- Tingling / Numbness – in the lower extremities, especially after sitting for extended periods.
Prevention of Back Pain
Avoiding back pain in the first place is a much easier course than treating it after it occurs. Prevention of back pain involves avoiding those underlying causes mentioned above.
- Muscle imbalances can be avoided by keeping good posture, working the muscles evenly, and practicing good back stretches.
- Sitting is one of the major culprits in back pain. Sitting for extended periods of time can lead to back pain, especially in the same position. Instead, change positions every 10 minutes or so. Get up and walk, stand and stretch, change your foot and leg positions. Anything you can do to change the body position will help.
- Standing in the same place for a long time can be a problem, too. Proper footwear, with neutral insoles, will help cushion the body and put it in the proper position. A major problem many people experience is shifting weight from side to side, and eventually putting all the weight on one side for an extended period. This puts unbalanced pressure on the spine and pelvis. Instead, try to keep even weight on both feet.
- Lifting is an area of common back injury. Improper lifting form, especially when muscle imbalances already exist, is the most common cause of back pain. If a muscle imbalance already exists and you lift a load that is heavier than those weakened muscles can handle they will become injured. Inflexible or weak muscles are easily injured. Correcting the imbalances and postural deficiencies will help prevent lifting injuries.
- Stress is another common injury catalyst. Stress causes the muscles to tense up and lowers your tolerance for pain. This is a formula for injury. Stress is a part of everyday life, but it can be minimized. Deep breathing, a brisk walk, or talking about your problems can all help alleviate stress.
A strong, flexible back is much less susceptible to injury. Follow a good program of back stretches and strengthening, reduce stress, practice good posture while sitting and standing, and lift with proper form and you can help prevent many of the causes of back pain.
Treatment for Back Pain Relief
Getting back pain relief can take on many forms, depending on the type and source of the pain. As stated above, the correction of the underlying cause of the pain is the most important step in treatment. There are many traditional methods of treatment that have been used by many; however, these may not be the best choices.
- Traditionally, back pain sufferers have gone to orthopedic surgeons to address the problem. These doctors often prescribe cortisone shots and anti-inflammatory medications to deal with the pain. The problem here is that it does not address the underlying cause, so it is a short term fix.
- Surgical interventions are also often prescribed. These may help with the immediate issue causing pain, however the new scarring will cause additional pain and the original cause of the problem may not be fixed. So, the pain will return again when the same forces are applied to the area.
- Physical therapy is another commonly sought after option. The idea behind physical therapy for back pain is good; however, it does not always follow through. A physical therapist will work to reduce the pain symptoms, but a busy facility may seek to do only that. The underlying causes may be ignored in the quest for immediate pain relief. While the pain may go away for a short time, it will return once the underlying problem flares up again.
- Chiropractic care is another popular option. This involves the manual manipulation of the bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles to realign the bones. Unfortunately, the same forces that pulled the bones out of alignment in the first place are still there and will continue to work on the bones again. Unless the muscle imbalances are addressed the problem will continue.
- Massage is another good option. This will help address imbalances in flexibility, allowing the therapist to work on muscles that are tight and inflexible. They will also be able to break up scar tissue in injured muscles, allowing them a greater range of motion.
- And finally, addressing the muscle imbalances through post-rehab fitness training will help reverse the conditions that caused the pain in the first place. Back pain stretches and strengthening exercises for the back muscles will allow them to support the spinal column without causing excess pressure. Flexibility is essential for a healthy back and this can be addressed with the videos of back stretches below.
6 of the Best Back Stretches
- Flexion Extension Back Stretch
- Kneeling Back Rotation Stretch
- Knee-to-Chest Lower Back Stretch
- Leg Cross-Over Lower Back Stretch
- Kneeling Reach Forward Back Stretch
- Reaching Upper Back Stretch