The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimate 70-90% of people will suffer from low back pain at some point in their life.
70-90%, now that is a lot of people!
There are many different reasons as to why people may have low back pain. For some, it may be from a specific injury and if this is you, I’m hoping you are getting some treatment for it. While others, it may be a combination of factors some of which we will analyse here.
We as humans have evolved to look like the man with the spear in the middle of the picture above. An upright animal built for running and hunting who can see prey and predators over tall grass. We have not evolved (just yet….) to be the person crouched at the desk.
Sitting in this position hunched over not only is bad for your posture, but after just 20 minutes can increased laxity in your spinal ligaments which isn’t good news.
Basically, the soft tissue in your back lengthens, then it locks at that length, and then it becomes more collagenous to support itself due to always being under constant strain. Think of Play-dough being left out of its can and hardening up, and who wants hard Play-dough? The tissue then becomes stiffer due to the collagen which can cause inflammation, tearing and injury, common causes of back pain.
Conversely, your front side, such as your hips, stomach and chest become short and then locks, which can cause knots and tightness.
Having a lengthened and locked back, and shortened and locked front equates to bad posture, greater risk of injury, pain and a lack of movement ability and potential. Oh and it doesn’t look great either.
Can it be fixed?
We can get these muscles and ligaments back in proportion with each other. Firstly, stretching is a great way to lengthen the locked muscles at the front of your body, especially your hip flexors which are always contracted when sitting at a desk.
Whereas to shorten the collagenous tissue, strength training is needed for your back, but it’s not enough on its own to change the make up of the tissue. This is where soft tissue work such as foam rolling can break it up, and help it back to it’s original length.
Don’t want to buy a foam roller? Use ours before and after class!!
Due to this evolution of our upright nature, our lower back is placed in a vulnerable position. By being upright, more weight is placed through our lower back. This in itself doesn’t necessarily hurt us, but small changes or limitations can. For example, our lower backs aren’t made for twisting movements. We’re talking 13 degrees of safe rotation, that’s it. It’s not much.
Rotation is particularly dangerous to our vertebral discs and the lower back is particularly vulnerable when we twist… So, ensure when twisting, it is your upper back that does the twisting…it is designed to twist, unlike your lower back.
Another limitation is a lack of flexibility in the front of our hip structure – Which is often tight due to sitting down most of the day. This increases the compressive load on the spinal facets (part of your vertebrae) during walking/running when your back leg pushes off the floor to propel you forwards. This limitation places your legs behind your hips and torso by extending the pelvis under the lower back. This increased compressive load will over time lead to low back pain, especially if running.
The simple solution is to ensure that you are doing the correct stretches, especially for your hip flexors.
Quick question: How often do you walk around bare foot in a day? No shoes, just feet on the floor? Now what about feet on something that isn’t smooth like sand or grass? I’m guessing not often, and changing this one little thing could help alleviate your back pain…..Don’t believe me? Let me explain.
The nerves in the soles of your feet share the same nerve innervations of the lumbar stabilisers. Meaning your feet send direct feedback into your pelvic floor and low back. Your feet and a muscle called Multifidis share the same nerve root.
This is a key muscle, because it starts in the pelvic floor and runs the whole way up either side of your spine and inserts into the back of your head. Along the way, it inserts into each Vertebrae except for C1.
When wearing shoes, the sensory organs in our feet aren’t being stimulated, which in turn doesn’t stimulate our lower back, meaning it isn’t getting the necessary feedback. It’s akin to our lower back being colour blind when we could be able to see the full range of colours by just removing our shoes.
Tip: Try and walk on as many different surfaces barefoot as you can to get as much stimulus into those feet.
Does Core training play any part?
You don’t need an Arnold Swarzenegger 6 pack, but you do need some core strength to prevent back pain. Having a weak abdominal wall increases extension and compressive loading of the lumber facets, which may not cause pain right away, but over time it, pain will likely come as a result of this weakness of the core. Having a strong core also provides stability and support for the spine.
The best way to combat this? Core strength training, for example, our express abbs class, or our Pilates classes.
We all take this for granted, but breathing is very important. Outside of the obvious reason to inhale so we don’t turn blue, deep breathing initiates the Para-Sympathetic system which is responsible for Repair and Healing while decreasing stress. So whether it be during training, after training or throughout the day, you can always help your body repair itself by breathing in deeply through your nose, and out through your mouth.
So where do I start?
Even if you don’t have any low back pain now, the chances are you will experience it at some stage in your life. A good starting point is to take your shoes off, and try and get as much stimulus into the soles of your feet as you can…..(note, this doesn’t mean walk on nails).
Pilates and Yoga are a great way to get this stimulus whilst also getting the added benefits of the exercise as well.
Strength training and regular stretching is also important to unlock your tissue and get it back to its original length, whilst it will also help posture, and as a side benefit, you will feel great afterwards.
Try and avoid rotation movements that originate from your low back, this body segment does not like to rotate, so be kind and keep it straight.
And lastly, if you have a desk job, try and remember to sit up straight, lock your shoulders back and down, and every 20 minutes stand up and go for a quick walk.
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