Reasons we may struggle with finding appropriate treatment for low back pain.
Mistakes that We Might Make
Lower back pain can affect your ability to perform and function well in many areas of life. This includes many basic activities of daily living, household duties, yard work and gardening, or recreational sports like golfing or tennis, to name a few. These often become progressively more challenging and difficult to perform when complicated with lower back problems.
With a proper foundation of exercises and stretches that target and retrain the muscles that affect the lower back, one can enjoy improved functioning and performance across these areas. However it requires a commitment of time and effort for results.
Chronic low back pain often restricts our low back muscles, hips and legs from operating in the way they naturally are made to. Pain from the lumbar spine or strained and fatigued muscles in this area act as a deterrent and limit our movement. Correct movements become more difficult to perform due to pain and reduced mobility. We tend to move our bodies differently to avoid further pain and end up using less specialized muscle groups instead. These muscles then learn to move incorrectly over time and may cause problems to our back later on. These muscles then become progressively more sore and strained, also presenting pain. This complicates our lower back issues and causes us to have more difficulty in troubleshooting which areas of our lower back are the source of our pain. This complication may cause us to treat these less relevant areas of the body.
By not treating the more crucial areas that are the source of our pain, we end up applying temporary treatment to the wrong area. This naturally results in a cycle of ineffective treatment and temporary relief. Because the source of the pain has not been addressed yet, sufferers may mistakenly be led to believe that their pain can not be helped and may resign to accept chronic back pain.
Problems Over Time
Chronic lower back pain does not happen overnight. Lower back pain develops from cumulative factors that operate individually or together to cause stress to the lumbar vertebrae and discs. Before you notice any pain to your lower back, a series of problems would have developed in order for it to occur. For example, the lumbar spine is capable of withstanding significant amounts of force and pressure, even if unbalanced. However, the discs and joints involved have their upper limit in which too much pressure will result in nerve impingement, disc bulge (or tear), or joint wear. The smaller intrinsic muscles that keep the spine stable also have their limits. They begin to strain and fatigue from constant pressure or load bearing. They risk strain, sprain, tear or spasm when pushed beyond their limit.
Mixed Signals from the Body
These areas of the body are very strong and are able to bear the load and dynamic pressures we place on them. However, they usually bear until failure with little signs of warning except for a dull pain in some cases. We are not usually sensitive to these warning signs and generally interpret it as a minor problem that over-the-counter medications can remedy. Through repeated cycles of this process, the risk of serious injury and pain is more likely.
This tendency to misinterpret the source of certain types of low back pain and the corresponding treatment presents a significant obstacle to proper long term treatment.
Specific Exercises as an Option to Explore
The idea of exercise to treat low back pain can certainly be intimidating as one may believe that there would be a risk of exacerbating or causing more pain from exercise. Therefore, it is important to follow the correct method of exercise that is protective to the spine and not harmful.
There are exercises specific to low back pain that can be learned. These are effective in allowing the spine to function as intended and not compensate for other muscles groups that were previously neglected. Exercises that target the hip flexors, leg muscles and lower back are very beneficial to protection of the lumbar spine. Transferring the responsibility of work performed by the spine back to the muscles of the lower back, hips and legs is necessary to prevent and reverse low back pain issues. Without this, the lumbar spine compensates for the lack of adequate movement required of these muscles and joints and the risk of strain and injury to the spine and invertebral discs increases. This results in the acute and chronic forms of pain that we experience over time.
Exercise should not be seen as an activity to perform while in pain with the hope of the pain resolving. Rather, it is the means to retrain and recondition the body to function effectively in order to protect the lumbar spine from pain. In order to stay motivated to this reconditioning, and to see the benefits on the spine, it is also helpful to understand the purpose of each muscle group being trained.
Sherwin Nicholson, Honours B.Sc. in Human Biology, 20 years Medical Research, Toronto General Hospital – Max Bell Research Centre. SN Health Resources.