Why does my back ‘go’ and what can I do about it?
If you have had sudden low back pain, there’s a good chance you have used the description “my back has gone” or “it just went”. But where did it go?
In this article our chiropractors will attempt to answer why sudden onset back pain is such a common problem and what the causes are.
Why Does My Back Go?
It’s fair to say that the majority of people who visit Worcester Chiropractic Clinic with back pain aren’t aware of an immediately obvious cause for their symptoms.
This is a situation chiropractors see all the time in clinic and a question we get asked a lot is ‘why does my back hurt? I didn’t even do anything!’.
Getting to the bottom of these causes is one of the most important ways chiropractors help prevent pain from returning.
Pain and stiffness can creep up gradually, appear overnight or just suddenly come on doing something as inconsequential as picking up a pen off the floor. So why does this happen?
The majority of back pain is not related to sudden trauma. The spine is a very robust structure and very difficult to injure in one go.
More often, symptoms are a result of long-term loading.
This could be something you do repetitively, such as bending and lifting at work or incorrect technique when exercising, or something you do for a sustained period, such as prolonged sitting, computer work or driving.
It is important to clarify at this point that our bodies are made to do these movements – we should be able to bend, twist, reach, lift, everything.
But when we do too much of something, without it being balanced by other things (for example, the majority of us spend far too much time sitting, and a lot less time walking and reaching overhead), the uneven loading can lead to problems.
This highlights a very important point. The best way to prevent back pain is through a variety of movements. The more different activities you do, the better the chances of balanced muscle development and the lower your risk of back pain.
Repetitive loading is a common cause of low back pain amongst manual workers and new mothers. All that bending and lifting.
When we do something repeatedly our body’s tolerance to the load decreases over time, as it doesn’t have time to rest and recover before the load is applied again. Over time this tolerance can decrease to the point that we get pain.
If you compare this to when the body is given a period of rest, be that stopping the activity or changing to a different one that doesn’t stress the same tissues, there is time to recover and the body’s tolerance to the activity improves again.
This is a common cause of low back pain amongst desk workers and drivers.
The same level of load is maintained through a long period and over time the body can no longer tolerate the load and, you guessed it, gives you pain.
This is why people will often feel a lot better over the weekend or when they are on holiday and not at their desk all day!
So you can see that back pain might be a result, not of doing anything new, but of a gradual failure of your spine to cope with the day-to-day loads it is exposed to.
This explains why most back pain occurs whilst doing something innocuous.
Margin of Safety
In both instances, of sustained and repetitive loading, there is a margin of safety.
This margin of safety can be increased, either by decreasing the load applied to your spine or by increasing your spine’s tolerance to load.
Decreasing the load applied to your spine can be a useful temporary strategy, but it often isn’t practical long-term to make large changes here.
For example, you could decrease the load on your spine by taking breaks away from your desk, but at some point you’re going to have to return to do some work!
But fortunately improving tolerance is very achievable and something that chiropractors help patients with all the time.
Manual therapy can improve the function of your spine in a way that makes it better able to cope with the demands of day to day living, but even more can be done with specific strengthening exercises.