I’m human too. Very, very, very human.
OK, well the entire last week I had back pain for the first time in a long time!
It’s estimated that 80% of Americans will experience back pain in their life. Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide and back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work. One-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year! Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain—and that’s just for the more easily identified costs.
Pardon my French, but the reality of being a statistic really sucked.
Not only did the pain limit my movement, exercise routine and moment-to-moment comfort, but I noticed it also started limiting my patience, peacefulness, positivity, and energetic power.
I will never forget one of the hidden gifts wrapped up in the discomfort…true and deep empathy for those experiencing chronic pain. It can be a real WITCH!
Do you view pain as a wicked Witch of the West or wise Wizard of Oz?
To me, pain is a teacher. A wise Wizard of Oz to listen to.
Pain leads to awareness and awareness is the prerequisite for change. If something is not uncomfortable will we actually pay attention? Physical, mental and emotional pain is ALL there to guide us toward living more in balance and harmony. Pain increases our awareness that something about how we are living or working is off, it is then our sole responsibility to find the lesson and apply that learning to our lives. For example, touching a flame will teach you something pretty quickly and most of us never do it again.
Life transforms when you shift your perspective on pain from that of ‘victim’ to ‘valiant problem-solver’. You grow and evolve to know that your body and mind send constant signals as feedback to how much your thoughts, words, and deeds are in alignment with your highest purpose.
So my friend, what is your low back pain trying to teach you?
Let’s take a holistic health trip through 7 Sneakiest Reasons for Suffering Back Pain:
I’ve literally had workshop audience members tell me how they relieved back pain by following the water recommendations I share. How is this possible?!
Well there isn’t just one, but multiple ways that dehydration can contribute to back pain because water is important! So important that when there’s a shortage, it causes global stress, and our body uses it’s amazing water regulation system to pull any water out of areas that are of less priority for survival. When it comes to survival, the brain and internal organs trump the lower back every time.
In the eye-opening book, Your Bodies Many Cries for Water it states spinal disc structures are dependent on different hydraulic properties of water in the disc core. 75% of the weight of the upper body is supported by the water volume that is stored in the spinal disc and only 25 percent is supported by the fibrous materials around the disc! Once dehydration sets in, the intervertebral discs and their joints are the first affected with the 5th lumbar disc making up of 95% of cases. As you can easily see from the images below, when a plump and juicy disc gets dehydrated it will most likely cause bony structures to rub against other bony structures and/or nerves creating pain.
Dehydration can also create stress on the kidneys because they can not as easily do their job of removing excess fluids and waste from the blood. When organs are stressed they will hog the blood, nutrient, waste removal and water supply from the surrounding muscles like a kid at the water fountain drinking right ahead of you. For preserving survival when any organ is stressed, inflamed, or in pain it will weaken and shutdown nearby muscles preventing the muscular systems from working normally.
This can directly contribute to weakening the lower back muscles leading to a lack of support and stability of the pelvis and spine increasing sheer force on the lower back. Organs express stress, inflammation, and pain in predictable areas of the body known as referred pain. It’s common knowledge that when someone is having a heart attack they can feel pain radiating down their left arm. The kidney’s referred pain path completely covers the lower back and is highlighted in yellow in the diagram below:
2. Chronic Stress
The average professional experiences 17-31 stress responses per day. Our body launches into fight-or-flight through glands that send hormones (chemical messengers) to organs to prepare our physiology to run or fight for our life.
The main glands responsible for producing and pumping out stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, etc.) throughout the body are the adrenal glands, which sit right on top of the kidneys. Chronic stress leads to overload on the adrenal glands. Depleted and taxed glands negatively impact surrounding muscles just as stressed organs do! In the case of chronic stress, the adrenal glands become worn out from needing to constantly produce stress hormones to put out the ever-present emergency state your mind perceives it is in. The muscles of the pelvis will become weakened by a greedy adrenal gland monopolizing all the body’s resources which decreases the stability of the lumbar spine making the lower back more prone to aches, injuries, and pains.
3. Unresolved Emotional & Mental Issues
Is your paycheck, job, or supervisor causing unexplainable lower back, hip, knee, foot/ankle pain? Maybe so! Our personal and professional sense of safety, security and tribal association are deeply rooted into human beings and represented in the body at a center between Lumbar 5 and Sacral 1 of the spine – the most common site of lower back issues. This center influences our adrenal glands (as learned above) and the lumbar & sacral nerve plexuses as well as muscles all the way down to the toes.
Unresolved past, present, and even future issues around money, job security, safety or personal/professional relationships can cause the adrenal glands and nerves of the pelvis/legs to negatively impact the organs and muscles of the whole lower body contributing to pain and dysfunction!
4. Food Allergies
The must-own book, How to Eat, Move, & Be Healthy! by Paul Chek has an amazing illustration of how gut inflammation leads to a weakening of the lower abdominal core musculature. The diagram below shows that when we eat food allergens (gluten, grains, nuts, seeds, dairy, and soy) they can irritate the small intestine and produce the common symptoms listed.
The small intestine runs on the same nerve channel as the abdominal wall and will cause a weakening nerve reflex to these muscles similar to what was mentioned above about kidney stress in relationship to the lower back muscles. Other causes of digestive distress that will decrease the core’s function are: stress (#1 cause of digestive problems), dehydration causes constipation and clogs up the colon, and ingesting medical drugs, food additives, food colorings, artificial ingredients, and drinking alcohol on an empty stomach.
5. Lumbar Spine Arch
When we sit, the lumbar spine or lower back arch flattens into the chair, seat, or sofa. This flattening of the lumbar spine eliminates the natural shock absorbing curve. The body adapts to the stresses and stimulus placed upon it from sitting all day by changing the position of the muscles, tendons, ligaments and ultimately the bones (pelvis/spine/skeleton). As the lower back flattens we are predisposed to having our lower back discs bear a higher amount of stress normally dissipated by a optimal lumbar curve.
6. Short, Tight Hip Flexors
The average professional sits for 13.5 hours per day, meaning over 50% of their day is seated on their bum! When we are sitting our thighs are raised up toward 90 degrees through hip flexion. We have muscles called hip flexors that make this possible by contracting and shortening. Hours of sitting cause the hip flexor muscles to structurally shorten which tilts the pelvis forward and increases the arch of the lower back called an anterior pelvic tilt. This exaggerated lower back arch sets individuals up for extra stress on the lower back.
7. Weak Core
When professionals hear the word ‘core’ they usually only think of abdominal muscles specifically the six-pack muscle (rectus abdominis), but the core is so much more! This misunderstanding leads to hundreds of crunches or sit ups and gives exercisers the false sense that they have a strong core. Often there is great confusion and frustration when a professional that can perform hundreds of crunches and has back pain.
Then there are some professionals that view the core as all superficial abdominal and lower back muscles that can be seen in the mirror. Unfortunately, this is also incorrect. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine the core is made up of 29 different muscles that attach to the pelvis and spine. The core is located between your ‘pits and hips’ at the center of the body/center of mass just like an apple or the Earth.
The superficial abdominal and lower back muscles are mostly core ‘movers’ that help the body flex, extend, twist, laterally bend and rotate. Below the mirror muscles are deep core muscles referred to as ‘stabilizers’ that provide stabilizing support to the pelvis and spine.
Lower back pain can occur when the superficial ‘mover’ core muscles are too dominant and strong in relationship to the deep ‘stabilizer’ muscles. Pain happens because the pelvis and spine are exposed to greater sheer forces and stress when it cannot stabilize during movement and exercise. Individuals are training the core from the outside in, when they would be best served training from the inside out.
There you have it, 7 Sneakiest Reasons for Suffering Back Pain. The good news is there are fast, simple, and action-based steps that I have guided clients through and you can do it too!
Drinking 1/2 body weight in ounces of water per day
Regularly practicing stress-reducing activities unique for you
Uncovering, processing, and letting go of issues on safety, security, or tribal association from the past, present, and/or future
Identifying what foods cause digestive distress and substituting them
Being mindful of your lower back arch and getting proper support
Lengthening and stretching the hip flexors
Strengthening the core stabilizer muscles
This holistic approach to back pain will greatly reduce pain, minimize the occurrence of pain, and completely prevent the probability of experiencing pain.
Now that you have new pieces to the lower back pain puzzle, I have to ask…did you learn enough from your discomfort to finally do something about it?
Good, now prove it.
Lance Breger is an Executive Wellness Coach and the Founder of Infinity Wellness Partners, a comprehensive corporate wellness company that prepares executives and organizations for the most productive and healthy work-life. Lance has led online/on-site training programs for over one thousand professionals through his company’s four pillars of wellness: fitness, nutrition, mind/body and ergonomics.
Lance is also a Master Instructor for the American Council on Exercise and the recipient of the IDEA Health & Fitness Association Program Director of the Year award. Contact Lance for coaching, consulting and speaking at: firstname.lastname@example.org