Why do we have back pain?

One of the most common societal health issues is a very silent but limiting one – the back pain. 

Anyone that has experienced back pain knows very suddenly how much it matters to be pain free in the back. It becomes the main priority to avoid any stress to the back and probably even evolutionary seen we subconsciously turn in to high defence mode. It is also not that strange, we only have one spine.

Last years one of our clients started her journey. As a doctor her jobs is often very physical, stressful and due to genetics she is proned to have higher blood sugar levels. When she started training with us lifting 16-20kg was already something that stressed her back, but instead of giving up it made her more aware of how much she needs her back in almost any situation.

The other day Bianca lifted 50kg for 10 reps which was a huge success, also she told me that now one year later her blood sugar levels have dropped and she can see in her blood work how her health has improved (I guess the benefits of being a doctor is you can check that more regularly). 

Why do people get back pain?

There is no one reason for back pain but there is definitely some very common ones. Most common is that the back muscles are too weak, and I tend to agree to the statement “there are no bad backs, just weak backs”. The weakness of the muscles lead to instability in the lower spine causing minor bulging of the discs. Naturally people tend to try to stretch their back but this can be counter productive.

People with strong backs also suffer from back issues, from accidents nobody could prevent, but most commonly due to poor flexibility in other parts of the body. Tight shoulders? Yes! Let’s let the back take the hit! Tight hips or hamstrings? Yes! The lower back jumps in and takes the hit.

So, let’s say we have two different groups, the weak and the strong ones. What both have in common is they spend most of their time sitting on chairs (from starting school it begins) that kind of puts more fuel to the fire. Decreasing the amount of sitting and increasing time moving would have major positive effects.

The most common reason that people pull their backs are outside the gym because they never learned how to lift anything heavy. Lifting up a back pack, a grocery bag or a small kid from the floor done with poor technique 100 times in a year is what slowly breaks the back down.

When we practice deadlifts in the gym I am more impressed by how someone lifts something outside the gym and keep the same attention to their movement than how much they actually pull in the gym. If we repeatedly lift with good mechanics it will eventually transfer to how we also move at home or at work.

What to do if it happens and what to avoid?

During the lockdown I noted that people started to sit more at their kitchen tables etc. leading to more neck and back issues. Combing that with a lot of burpees or “sloppy” push-ups was one of the first things to take out of training at the start. 

Depending on the situation the first response is to first assess and try to relax. Often it is the contracting muscles that hurt and it is a mechanism for the body to protect it self; freeze and shut down. In all cases it is important to find a way to move again and as soon as possible be able to lift again. Avoiding movement and lifting will cause further problems down the road (more weak backs and more stiffness). Laying down or sitting down for extended periods should be avoided as soon as possible as long as I am not experiencing bad pain, then slowly increase the time I can spend moving.

How to get rid of it?

If there is inflammation we first want the inflammation to get a way. There are good and bad ways to approach this and depends from person to person what protocol is the best. Putting ice or cooling is however proven to be just counter productive. Putting heat can help sometimes and sometimes just makes it worse. What I noted has helped most is to get blood circulation, have more movement over the day and as soon as possible starting to build up confidence and trust in the body to control its movements.

Why does it matter?

No matter how fit you are at biking and running, if you cannot lift anything heavy you are an easy victim for everyday activities when you have to pick something up from the floor.

Keep on strengthening your back today because it will be able to build bridges tomorrow. 

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