5 Things you didn’t know about lower back pain
Your emotions and stress can affect back pain
Many different factors can affect back pain. When in pain, sleep can be impacted and someone might struggle to get a good night of sleep. Sleep is however the ideal time for the body to heal and repair itself, so a good night of sleep helps recovery. Poor sleep can also contribute to your stress and anxiety.
It has been shown in research that stress and emotions can affect the body in many different ways. This includes your tolerance to pain but also making you more prone to injuries.
Stress, anxiety and depression has also been shown to impact other health conditions and the immune system such as irritable bowel syndrome which can in turn impact back pain or other symptoms.
Emotionally, lower back pain tends to relate to feelings of abandonment, feeling overloaded by responsibilities, betrayals, break ups or even past traumas.
Bed rest is not the gold standard anymore
After an injury whether it is back pain or a sprain, the first idea that comes to mind is to rest and avoid moving. This has been shown it might be counter productive. It is normal to want to avoid the activities or movement aggravating the pain in the first few days. It is however recommended to get active and back to normal activities as quickly as possible.
Many trials have failed to show the benefits of bed rest. Those have also demonstrated the negative consequences of prolonged bed rest. Pain can actually be aggravated by the longer the period of bed rest is. It can also lead to a longer recovery time, higher pain levels as well as potentially leading the back pain towards a chronic state.
A disc doesn’t actually ‘slip’
You may have heard a friend or a colleague mention they have back pain and it is because of a slipped disc. The term ‘slipped disc’ is actually quite misleading. The spine is formed of 33 vertebrae. Those bones are separated by discs between each of them. Intervertebral discs are soft cushions acting as shock absorbers for the spine. Discs are formed of a stronger outer layer and a jam-like centre. With a back injury, a disc can get injured and a part of the stronger outer layer breaks. The jam-like centre then gets out and can push on the nerves nearby. If the disc bulge occurs in the lower back (also called lumbar spine), along with the lower back pain, it can cause symptoms such as buttock and/or leg pain, tingling, numbness in the legs and feet (sciatica symptoms).
It is important to note that a disc can bulge and not cause any symptoms. Many scans of spines of people not experiencing pain have shown multiple disc bulges and disc dehydration.
Saying that a disc ‘slipped’ implied that something moved out of place which is not the case. Over time the disc bulge can get better as the body will try and get rid of some of the jam-like centre pushing on the nerves. However the disc will still be slightly more vulnerable than the others and will require activity, exercise and strengthening to avoid future injuries.
Sometimes Lower back pain doesn’t come from the back
In some cases, lower back pain doesn’t come from a problem in the lower back. Some conditions affecting the organs or abdomen can cause lower back pain.
Issues such as kidney stones, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) or even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other inflammatory conditions can cause back pain.
If the back pain is caused by an abdominal issue, there will be other symptoms associated. Someone suffering from an undiagnosed inflammatory bowel syndrome can experience symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea or bloating as well as abdominal and lower back pain. Other abdominal complaints such as food intolerances or digestive dysfunctions can affect the lower back in the same way.
Previous surgeries or scars on the abdomen such as a scar from an appendectomy can cause pulling or scar tissue affecting the lower back as well. Some muscles are attached to the lower back and spine such as the hip flexors and can cause lower back pain if too tight or not functioning properly.
In conclusion many abdominal or hip issues can cause or aggravate lower back pain.
There is no perfect posture
Throughout the years, physical therapists and researchers have tried to find the perfect sitting posture. So far not one specific posture has been found to help reduce or avoid back pain. Everybody has a different posture and spine. There is not one perfect posture even though sitting straight has always been considered the best posture. There is actually no correlation between sitting straight or slouching in people experiencing back pain and people that aren’t.
The best advice a therapist can give regarding posture is to vary it. Activity and movement is what keeps our spine healthy. Changing posture regularly and moving from our seat often (every 30 to 45 minutes for example) is more likely to reduce and prevent back pain than trying to sit in a position that doesn’t work for your body.
To summarise, back pain is influenced by many factors from diet, sleep, to stress or even abdominal complaints. The best you can do to keep you back healthy is regular activity, movement and exercise.
Booking an appointment with an osteopath, physiotherapist or chiropractor might help get the pain under control to be able to move freely again. They can also advise you on exercise and activities that are good and work for you individually.
The Holistic Spine – John Cross – John Cross Publications – 2020