Almost four out of five people will experience back pain at some point during their lives. Of this population, one in three will have a recurrent episode of low back pain. Acute back pain (new onset of pain) is terrifying. It can persist for several days to weeks before subsiding. A patient told me the other day, "it is the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced...and I have had broken bones, torn ligaments, and more." Fortunately, we now know that there are some simple steps to expediting the pain process.
Why does back pain occur?
In perfect conditions - muscles, ligaments, and other structures operate at their optimal length and strength. To ensure this relationship, every muscle has an opposite muscle which helps stabilize proper movement. One of our most common postural imbalances effects the muscles of the hips and low back. This posture is commonly seen in those who sit at a desk for long periods of time. Generally, a shortened muscle becomes overused and strong. A lengthened muscle becomes weak and inefficient. To understand this relationship, compare the muscles of the body to that of a sail on a sailboat. A gust of wind will transfer all the weight of the sailboat toward one side of the boat. If the strength of the wind is too strong, the sails will snap and the boat will collapse. Now imagine the sail is your spine. If you place all your weight on your back, the muscles on the front must support your weight. Your lower back muscles are especially vulnerable to this prolonged posture. When your back fails to accommodate to the repetitive loading, pain is the result.
What should you do after back pain occurs?
Gentle movements, graded exercises, and a gradual return to activity is the best combination of self-care. To expedite this process, physical therapy can identify the cause of the pain and implement pain management strategies sooner. Additionally, retraining the core muscles is essential after an acute low back pain episode. See the video below regarding other tips and cues to expedite the pain process.
*Pain should be investigated by a trained medical professional. The information contained in this blog post is intended to be a general approach to mechanical low back pain. It is best to discuss your pain with a medical provider prior to performing any exercise or training.