Making Sense of Back Pain…

Almost every person no matter age, gender, profession or physical activity level, will at some point have some kind of back pain or discomfort. From a niggle in the neck, to raging lower back pain radiating to the legs it’s an experience most of us had or will most likely have at least once.

 

The causes of back pain are multiple and still there is a lot of confusion about them. Many factors are involved in predisposing a spine to back pain and many factors are involved in maintaining the symptoms, leading to chronic pain and disability and all the costs that accompany this. Such factors involve physical activity and habits, current and previous injuries, work place activity and ergonomics, structural predisposition, posture and underlying degenerations. However, even having the perfect posture, the perfect chair and perfect fitness routine does not guarantee a life without back pain.  And as most of us know back pain can create physical, mental and emotional discomfort.

 

But if we start looking at the spine, not only as a combination of bones, muscles and ligaments but also as a complete structure and as a complete function, and in the context of its existence therefore within a body that belongs to a person, things start to make more sense. There is always a reason why people suffer pain and sometimes a combination of reasons that overflow the system and cause breakdown. More common is the scenario of the back going after a tiny movement or lifting something very light than by pushing a heavy sofa or lifting heavy boxes. Preceding the tiny movement though, there have been other movements, habits, situations or even emotions that have started a process of de-compensating the functional and structural balance of the spine. The word de-compensation is key, since our bodies have the natural ability to compensate for whatever load we place on them. Therefore,  when we reach that threshold of not being able to compensate any further, like the final brick on a tower of bricks, our whole balance pattern collapses and the symptoms start.

For example:

  •  Stress, a major issue in modern life, has effects in our biochemical and hormonal balance as well as our muscle tone. Prolonged stress causes tensed muscles in the upper and middle back leading to compression of the joints and stiffness. When the middle back joints do not move freely the upper spine and the lower spine have to move more than necessary to compensate for the loss in the middle part. Excessive spinal movement then, can cause muscle spasms, disc bulges, trapped nerve problems and acute locked back.
  • Prolonged sitting changes the natural length of ligaments, muscles and joint capsules through a physical phenomenon called creep. As a result the natural curves of the spine are compromised and therefore the spine cannot sustain normal forces of compression and distraction. At some point, we reach the threshold where a small movement, as the last straw, creates a much more intense response of discomfort and pain.

 

So, treating back pain does not just come down to releasing joints, muscles and nerves. It requires the context of the person, in essence a look of where this spine lives and what its role and use is.  It requires consideration of the physical, mental and emotional history and integration of the symptomatic area to the rest of the body and to the rest of the person. Our painful spine still belongs to us but when a body part hurts all we want to do is disconnect it from our body and almost throw it away. If we embrace it though, provide compassion and care, this pain will reveal its reasons for being here. The body knows what the reason is. We only need to ask the right questions and listen openly and carefully. Treatment is the adjustment of what has not been effective to what is and restoring the ease of movement, balance and flow of life through the body.

 

 

Manouela Sofianopoulou
Osteopath