Are you frustrated because your back keeps going out? Do you suffer from frequent bouts of lower back pain that interferes with your daily activity? Is constant discomfort and muscle tightness wearing you down?
It is estimated that 80% of U.S. adults will have back pain at some point in their lives. That’s 4 out of 5 of us! Lower back pain is also the leading cause of job-related disability.
Why do so many of us experience back pain so often?
Is A Lack Of Spinal Maintenance Why Your Back Keeps Going Out?
Lack of good spinal maintenance might be why your back keeps going out.
We brush our teeth to prevent cavities and gum disease.
We change the oil in our cars to avoid having to replace the engine.
Regular medical check-ups keep us up to date on our blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
We understand the concept of maintenance in countless areas of our lives. Even so, we still expect our bodies to last forever with little (or no) ongoing attention or assistance.
The human body is pretty amazing. We abuse ourselves physically, emotionally, and chemically every single day. Yet it carries on in spite of us, doing its best to keep us alive and thriving.
Stress: Another Reason Your Back Keeps Going Out
Modern life = stress. We are bombarded by hundreds of different kinds of stress every day.
When those stressors overwhelm the body’s ability to handle them, there is a potential for injury, illness, and pain.
What are the most common physical stressors?
- Poor posture
- Contact sports
- Hard physical labor
- Sitting for long periods
- Standing for long periods
- Exercising incorrectly
- Spending your day in awkward positions (mechanics, hair stylists, dental hygienists, etc.)
And these are just a few.
Many of these stressors won’t cause us any grief over a day or two. After years, though, they can begin to break us down.
Additionally, there are mental / emotional stressors, like…
- Loss of a job
- Unpaid bills
- Money problems
- Marital discord
- Abusive relationships
- Moving to a new city
- School or job deadlines
Chemical stressors are just as damaging to our health, although they aren’t talked about much.
- Unclean water
- Processed food
- Food chemicals
- Prescription Drugs
- Recreational drugs
- Basically anything you put in your body or on your skin that was not made by nature.
These are types of stress we all face and the body must adapt to them to keep us healthy.
How The Spine Responds To Stress
When we hear the words physical stress, we often think of lifting heavy things or working out too hard.
Physical stress comes in other seemingly harmless forms, as well. Sitting for long periods or having bad posture, for example.
Inflammation – With enough physical stress, spinal discs, muscles, ligaments, and tendons can become inflamed. This inflammation can interfere with proper joint motion. It can also irritate spinal nerves.
Muscle Tension – Along with inflammation, muscle tension is a common reaction to stress. This is the body’s attempt to protect joints and nerves, as well as guide joint movement.
Over the short term, inflammation and muscle tension are natural and healthy. But over years, postural changes occur, muscles shorten, scar tissue develops, we lose our range of motion, and eventually we experience pain.
Consider how much time we spend with our heads tilted downward while we study, text, use a computer, play on our phones, etc.
The average person might spend 10 hours a day with their neck in this awkward position.
An hour in this position might not pose a problem. But the strain on cervical (neck) joints, discs, muscles, and ligaments eventually pave the way for spinal degeneration, arthritis, and loss of mobility.
Let’s be clear about one thing…
Inflammation and muscle tension are not mistakes. They are the means by which the body attempts to adapt to stress.
Once you shift your thinking from “my body is broken” to “my body is trying to protect me,” you’ll begin to approach pain differently.
Does Your Back Pain Keep Returning?
There’s a reason why most of my patients are over 40. It’s not because bad backs “run in families” or that back pain is a normal part of aging.
Spinal maintenance just isn’t something we’re taught is important, unfortunately.
After 40 years of spinal stress, our lack of spinal care throughout life catches up with us.
This is never more evident than in high school and college athletes. They pummel their bodies for years (think football, wrestling, track, rugby, etc.) without ever being taught how to preserve their ligaments and joints.
Then they come into my office with 20 years of degeneration in their necks, shoulders, and lower backs.
This is a recipe for chronic pain.
Try These 5 Tips If Your Back Keeps Going Out
If your back keeps going out, there are plenty of steps you can take to reduce flare-ups.
*It’s important to seek guidance from a licensed health care practitioner before beginning any new activity or changing anything about your current health regimen. The following information is general and does not apply to all people and all conditions.
The ultimate goal is to maintain mobility as we age. This way we can live life fully and engage in the activities we enjoy.
The phrase we all learned in high school biology class is true: If you don’t use it, you lose it.
With that in mind, activities that move the spine without stressing it are key.
1. Reduce Spinal Stress
Too much of the wrong kinds of stress can result in spinal muscle tension and inflammation of spinal tissues. The first step to reducing pain flare-ups is eliminating as many of those stressors as possible.
How many of the physical, emotional, and chemical stressors listed previously can you reduce or eliminate?
2. 15 Minutes of Yoga Daily
I wish more of my patients would listen to me when I say that 10-15 minutes of yoga every day would change their lives.
Yoga isn’t just a bunch of people in a room stretching. Yes, it can release tight muscles, but more importantly it gently moves our joints through a full range of motion. This is wonderful for preserving mobility.
YouTube is an excellent resource for 10 minute beginner yoga routines. Be more specific in your searches with keywords like ‘yoga for low back pain,’ ‘yoga for neck pain,’ ‘yoga for athletes,’ or for ‘men’ or ‘women.’
3. Manual Therapy
I’m speaking mainly about chiropractic here. A skilled and experienced chiropractor can adjust vertebrae from their ‘stuck’ positions and restore motion to restricted joints.
One outcome of this is less muscle tension and inflammation in the spine.
Furthermore, being adjusted is useful for prevention of future problems and maintenance of spinal health.
4. Bodyweight Exercise
I prefer body-weight exercise to weight lifting.
We all should lift heavy things sometimes, but bodyweight movements are great for building functional strength and maintaining joint health.
Examples: Push-ups, pull-ups, squats, planks, and all the hundreds of variations of each.
The internet is saturated with programs based on our fitness level and age. Search for “beginner bodyweight exercises” for more info.
Motion is life, and staying active is one of the best ways to maintain health and increase longevity.
However, sometimes the best thing you can do is just let your body rest and heal.
Pain isn’t something we should ignore. It has a purpose.
Every single thing that we want to last needs maintenance. Your body should be at the top of that list.