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Where does back pain come from?

It's here to stay if you're not doing the right things.

do you…

Get out of bed with a back that is sorer than the night before?

Throw your back out just getting off the sofa or in and out of the car?

not enjoy shopping (or travelling) because of the aches?

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Let's start with common causes

Muscle Strain

You’re experiencing a stretch, tear or overall muscle injury and inflamation of your muscle or tissues which connect your muscle to bone. This can be chronic or acute.

Obesity

Obesity increases the risk of back pains. The extra weight places extra demand on muscles to work harder causing strains to happen easily.

Herniated Discs

This is a condition which is a problem with the rubbery discs between the spinal bones.

Scoliosis / Osteoporosis

An unnatural curvature of the spine or conditions where bones are brittle

Is it muscular?

For most people with back, foot, knee and shoulder pains, the problem is muscular. It’s particularly obvious if you have pains in multiple locations. Perhaps it started as a lower back pain, and now it’s in your upper back, neck and feet. It tends to be a dull aching pain and seems to get worse when you sit for prolonged periods or bend over. 

If its muscular, let’s get down to brass tax. The root cause of the problem is weak muscles that aren’t ready for the workload it’s been put under, in angles and movement’s they aren’t ready for. This is the simple truth for most people, particularly those who live sedentary lives which revolve around the home and the office. 

If the pain is acute (i.e. it suddenly happened) then you’ve recently done something that was more than your body was ready for (which injured it).

If the pain is chronic (keeps going on and on) then you haven’t dealt with prior injuries properly and fixed the root causes.

The following are the root causes and the corresponding fixes.

Using the wrong muscles

Seen the posters that say “Lift with your feet”? When we live a sedentary lifestyle our body forgets how to do really simple movements and we end up using all the wrong bits to move. Forget deadlifts and squats for now, we’re just talking about picking a piece of lego off the floor!

The lower back is a relatively weak muscle. It’s not designed to do much lifting in comparison to the glutes and its function is much like the core muscles; holding you steady. With picking things up off the floor, you want to be activating and utilising your glutes to do the lifting, even when its just your body weight.

Think of it this way, you’re likely to be overusing the lower back muscles, getting it to do the job of the glutes and legs.

Over time, we forget how to co-ordinate the body properly and activate muscles in the correct sequence. The solution here is to improve your squatting technique and retrain the muscle memory so you activate your glutes naturally and consistently.

 

Lack of Strength

Specifically with lower back pains, a major culprit may be weak glutes and core. Squatting right down to the floor with an upright back is a natural movement that ANYONE should be able to do (unless you are a genetic anomaly)!

Here is a quick test, if getting off the floor requires a lot of hands (or you brace your knees as you stand up), you might have a weak glutes.

If the glutes and core is weak, then you’re naturally going to compensate by using your lower back. Compensation is a natural body function, your body naturally finds ways to accomplish a movement. Some of this is psychological and subconcious. i.e. you may already have the strength but your body lacks the innate confidence. 

Being overweight doesn’t help as this increases the demand on your muscles. (being 10 kg overweight means 10 extra kgs you have to lug around each time you squat or bend over!)

 

Exercise and training glute strength and activation is crucial to remind your body that the movement is in fact natural and that you CAN do it.

Poor Mobility

Just a reminder, mobility isn’t just flexibility but a combination of balance, co-ordination, strength and flexibility.

When the hamstrings are tight or you lack ankle, hip and back mobility, you’re going to compensate by using the lower back in all your squatting and hinging movements. And if you’re over-using the lower-back, you’re going to strain it. (you should get the overall theme by now).

Poor balance and proprioception is another culprit which brings the lower-back into play when other muscles are supposed to be doing the heavy lifting.

So, surprise surprise, fix your mobility and flexibility and retrain the way you move.

Over time, lack of strength and poor mobility compounds the problem i.e. since you can’t do it, your body compensates more, further exacerbating the problem.

how to make matters worse.

So you’re off to retrain the way you move, build strength and mobility… Great?

Here are a few things you need to know:

The very act of exercise will almost certainly cause injury and further pains!

If you have been sedentary, then you need to accept that your body isn’t in a great condition. Think of your body as a car that has been sitting in your garage for 10 years that hasn’t been driven or serviced… and its gathering dust. On top of this, you’ve probably forgotten how to drive! With this in mind:

1. Heading off to the 45 incline leg press, barbell squats and deadlifts is a terrible place to start! These are big heavy movements that are going to red-line you and just aren’t right for beginners.

2. On the topic of red-lining, High Intensity, High Impact exercise routines is another terrible place to start. Imagine taking this car out of the garage and stepping on the gas! Its a sure fire way to break something… permanently.

3. Even light exercise can (and is very likely) to cause further strain. Think of it this way, you’re getting back pains just sitting down in a chair, getting off the sofa or picking something off the ground; so just in driving this “car” to the service station will probably result in some damage.

Bad technique and form will make matters worse.

If you are going to retrain the body, do it right, do it methodically and take your time.

1. Make sure you focus on form and technique first as you gradually build up strength, joint endurance, mobility, balance and more. 

2. Even stretching and flexibility work needs to be approached carefully, forcing yourself through stretches can make matters worse.

BE PATIENT!

Life isn’t about having 6 packs, being ripped or having the perfect butt as quickly as possible. Try focus on the joy of movement first. Once you can move well and confidently, you can start to ask more of your body. 

Making the change

Step 1 : start with medical advice

Let’s start with the obvious… Start this journey with a visit to a medical professional / physio / allied health. Proper diagnosis is needed to understand what the cause is, particularly if the problem is serious and structural. Meet with the professional and be certain that there isn’t something terribly wrong that exercise isn’t going to fix.

Step 2 : understand your limitations

A good physiotherapist / allied health professional will be able to tell you if you are ready to exercise, what exercises you should avoid and prescribe specific exercises you should be doing. If your physiotherapist or health professional refuses to give you advice around exercise… consider getting a second opinion. If you need recommendations, reach out and if possible we could help recommend a good health professional.

Don’t push past what’s been recommended. Train sensible today so you can train more tomorrow.

Step 3 : sensible fitness programs

You should be aiming for regular exercise, at least 4 times a week with relative consistency. You should be mixing up strength and mobility exercises in your programs i.e. it shouldn’t ever be one without the other. Ideally you should be looking for movement based exercises such as pilates & yoga. Get a good instructor because GOOD FORM IS EVERYTHING.

If you’re considering training at L9 Fitness, great classes to try include Yoga, PureMotion, Stretch & Flexibility & Beginners BodyWeight Strength.

Here is the general rule of thumb, keep your training balanced and prioritise what you are weak at. e.g. if you are bad at flexibility, then that’s the entire case to do more stretch and flexibility work.

Thanks for getting this far, we hope you got something useful from this article.

 

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