Back Pain:A Look at Causes and Solutions
A brief anatomy and physics lesson first:
Let us examine why back pain is the most prevalent pain and is the source of untold loss of revenue to companies. The most common area of pain is around the lumbar vertebra, usually L4 or L5. L5 is the pivotal point of weight transfer from the upper body to the lower body. It therefore bears the brunt of the weight of the upper body.
However, that is just static weight. The pressure of the weight increases with any motion, creating a force similar to falling. For example, if someone is running, the body is being lifted and then "falls" back down, and the force of that "fall" is much greater than the weight of the body. Running will increase that force 2-3 times the normal force. As the impact of this force is passed through the foot, the equal and opposite reaction (by the law of basic physics) comes back up the body and shoots upward.
The greatest impact of this force is concentrated in the lumbar vertebral area. This is the area that is affected the most and causes suffering for many people.
That strong impact of this upward shooting force would damage the brain if it were not for the special design of the spine. The different curves of the spine act like coiled springs that help absorb and dissipate some of the upward impact. What also helps to dampen the impact are the individual disks between the vertebrae of the spine.
The importance of the intervertebral disks:
Each disk consists of a fibrous outer cover and a soft, gelatinous nucleus inside. It is this soft inner nucleus that absorbs 75% of the upper body weight as well as the any impact force shooting upward. The other 25% is absorbed by the outer part of the disc. In addition to these 2 pressures on the disks, there is also a front and back muscle group that run vertically along the spine, holding the vertebra in a stacked position. These muscles maintain the posture and exert a constant pressure on the disks.
The whole vertebral column’s purpose, of course, is to house a very precious part of the body: the spinal cord coming from the brain. Nerves split from the spinal cord and out through small openings within this protective column to enervate, receive and send messages to the muscles and organs.
Therefore, the disks play a heroic role in the overall functioning of the body. It helps to absorb and evenly distribute all of these forces as well as to maintain the open passageways from which the nerves pass out of.
Ruptured Disk, Prolapsed Disk, Degenerative Disc=Pain
If the disk is damaged in any way, any number of things can happen. Severe pain, first of all. If it shrinks and gets pushed to the back, then it will press the nerve and spinal cord against the bone, causing the pinched nerve. If it pushes against the sciatic nerve, then pain will also refer down the leg.
Also, if the disks are not up to par in its firmness and resiliency, it is not doing a proper job of wedging between each vertebra. This will cause the back muscles to take on the responsibility to keep the body upright. When it cannot handle it any longer, the back muscles will begin to spasm. This tightening creates a vicious cycle since tighter back muscles will clamp down to increase the pressure between the vertebrae, further damaging the disks in between.
Causes of disk damage:
Prolonged bad posture will open the back of the vertebrae into an unnatural position and put pressure on the disks, pushing it backward.
Dehydration of the body-the gelatinous nucleus of the disk is made up of mostly water and some salt.
Incorrect sports training or over training in sports involving combined flexion and rotation with compression (football, golfing, wresting, gymnastics, etc.)
Chronic poor diet and stress leads to continued calcification in bones. Stress can cause the body to "self medicate", leaching calcium from the bones for a calming effect. If the diet is poor, the body cannot compensate for this.
Sudden heavy lifting or incorrect lifting or accidents
Constant tension from stress or any type of anxiety will directly manifest in the muscles as constant stiffness or if over a longer period of time, as muscle spasms.
The solutions to back pain:
The muscle spasms need to be released first in order to allow breathing room for the disks. Then the muscles need to be retrained to not pull unevenly, causing a lopsided force to be exerted on the disks. Certainly, a program of drinking enough water to hydrate the entire body so that water will be released into the disk nucleus again needs to be started immediately.
The back muscles need to be strengthened to maintain good posture, which helps to maintain the proper angle of the vertebrae to all the disks to be healthy and strong wedges. Yes, sitting up straight is still the best advice.
Exercises that will help open the front angle of the vertebrae are quite beneficial, since they help create a suction that will pull fluid into the disk area and even nudge a disk back into position. And of course, regular aerobic exercise that increases the circulation of blood will drive more nutrients into the muscles and disks.
Regular stretching is excellent, since it creates a self massage for the muscles. And of course, any sign of tightness should be taken care of immediately. Then at least you can be better prepared if there should be an unforeseeable accident or that occasional heavy lifting.
Examination and introspection is helpful to discern what had initially caused the muscle tension that created the unnatural pull on the vertebrae. This constant pull will inevitably result in damaged disks.
It is usually not the big dramatic injury that causes the majority of these problems. Yes, it might point to that heavy lifting or sudden movement. But it is simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. Constant tension from unresolved emotions will stay in the muscles and disks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This will inevitably greatly weaken them, especially over time. Then any sudden stressor at a vulnerable time could cause the acute pain.