Struggling with Back Pain?
Whether it is located in your upper, middle, or lower back, most people will experience some form of back pain in their life. In fact, an estimated 32 million Americans are currently suffering with back pain at this moment. Back pain has become the #1 cause of disability in the United States and is quickly becoming a major concern for many people. This article will lay out what causes lower back pain, how to prevent it, and what the best form of treatment is once it has developed.
If you have any questions about our Ellicott City or Clarksville locations, or would like to learn more about chiropractic care at Morrison Chiropractic, our experienced chiropractic team at Morrison Chiropractic is here to help.
What is the Cause of Back Pain?
The number of potential injuries, joint restrictions, and conditions that could cause back pain seems endless. Tendons, ligaments, discs, muscles, and bones can all become irritated or damaged throughout a lifetime, through repetitive stress or sudden, severe trauma.
Your lower back is made up of 5 bones stacked on top of each other with a soft "disc" between each segment to allow for flexibility. Normally, each joint in your spine should move freely and independently. Back pain develops when one or more of the joints in your low back becomes restricted. We call this condition "lumbar segmental joint restriction".
Joint restriction can develop in many ways. Sometimes they are brought on by an accident or an injury. Other times, they develop from repetitive strains or poor posture. Several factors may make you more likely to experience low back problems. These include being overweight, smoking, strenuous work, repetitive bending, twisting and lifting, prolonged exposure to whole body vibration- i.e. operating a motorized vehicle, stress, anxiety, depression, dissatisfaction with your job and even your attitude!
Restricted joints give rise to a self-perpetuating cycle of discomfort. Joint restriction causes swelling and inflammation, which triggers muscular guarding leading to more restriction. Since your spine functions as a unit, rather than as isolated pieces, a joint restriction in one area of your spine often causes "compensatory" problems in another. Think of this as a rowboat with multiple oarsmen on each side. When one rower quits, the others are placed under additional stress and can become overworked.
Joint restrictions most commonly cause local tenderness and discomfort. You may notice that your range of motion is limited. Movement may increase your discomfort. Pain from a restricted joint often radiates down to your hips or thighs.
Disc Bulges or Herniation
One of the most common and painful causes of back pain is a disc bulge or herniation. A disc herniation occurs when the outer edges of the disc are worn away over time, this allows the center of the disc to balloon out ultimately placing pressure on the nerve. According to MRI studies, as many as 37% of the American population have a disc bulge or herniation, with the vast majority of those diagnosed not reporting any pain. On the other hand, the people who are experiencing pain often describe it as severe and intense.
If you have been diagnosed with a "Lumbar Radiculopathy". This means that one or more of the nerves emerging from your lower back has become irritated or possibly pinched usually by a herniated disc. This often results in pain, numbness or tingling in the specific area of your leg that is supplied by the irritated nerve. The term "Sciatica" is often used to describe this condition, because most (but not all) "lumbar radiculopathies" involve the sciatic nerve which supplies the back & outside of your thigh and calf. Symptoms of a lumbar radiculopathy may vary from a dull ache to a constant severe sharp shooting pain. Your symptoms are likely aggravated by certain positions or movements.
Chiropractic care has been shown to prevent the advancement of the herniation and provide relief from the associated pain.
Muscular Sprains and Tendon or Ligament Strains
Your low back relies on muscles and ligaments for support. "Sprains" and "strains" are the result of these tissues being stretched too hard or too far, much like a rope that frays when it is stretched beyond its normal capacity. The term "sprain" means that the tough, durable ligaments that hold your bones together have been damaged, while "strain" means that your muscles or tendons that move your trunk have been partially torn.
Most people experience low back pain at some point in their lifetime, and 70% of those patients can attribute their symptoms to sprain/strain injuries. Lumbar sprains and strains may result from sudden or forceful movements like a fall, twist, lift, push, pull, direct blow, or quickly straightening up from a seated, crouched, or bent position. Most commonly, sprains and strains are not the result of any single event, but rather from repeated overloading. The spine can generally manage small isolated stressors quite well, but repetitive challenges lead to injury in much the same way that constantly bending a piece of copper wire will cause it to break. Examples of these stressors include: bad postures, sedentary lifestyles, poor fitting workstations, repetitive movements, improper lifting, or being overweight.
Symptoms from a sprain/strain may begin abruptly but more commonly develop gradually. Symptoms may range from dull discomfort to surprisingly debilitating pain that becomes sharper when you move. Rest may relieve your symptoms but often leads to stiffness. The pain is generally centered in your lower back but can spread towards your hips or thighs.
Sprain/strain injuries cause your normal healthy elastic tissue to be replaced with less elastic "scar tissue." This process can lead to ongoing pain and even arthritis. Patients who elect to forego treatment and "just deal with it" develop chronic low back pain more than 60% of the time. Seeking early and appropriate treatment like the type provided by the doctors at Morrison Chiropractic is critical.
Stress and Back Pain
People with chronic stress have a very different physiological profile than those who don't. Elevated stress levels have been shown to contribute to the development of heart disease, digestive issues, depression, obesity, and back pain. The tension produced by chronic stress causes a contraction of muscle tissue creating “trigger points” which can be extremely painful.
HOW CAN WE HELP?
Upon completion of a full history, orthopedic and neurological evaluation we will discuss the available treatment options. If we decide you are a good and safe candidate for chiropractic care, to solve the problem, we will treat the source of your nerve irritation. Treatment may consist of:
- Gentle joint manipulation to restore movement to your spine and relieve pain.
- Therapeutic modalities to ease your muscle tightness, pain and swelling
- Therapeutic exercise to restore normal mobility and strength
It is important for you to follow your treatment plan closely and be sure to tell us immediately if you experience any progression of your leg pain, numbness or weakness.
Depending on the severity of your injury, you may need to limit your activity for a while, especially bending, twisting, and lifting, or movements that cause pain. Bed rest is not in your best interest. You should remain active and return to normal activities as your symptoms allow. The short-term use of a lumbar support belt may be helpful. Sitting makes your back temporarily more vulnerable to sprains and strains from sudden or unexpected movements. Be sure to take "micro breaks" from workstations for 10 seconds every 20 minutes. Following acute injuries, you can apply ice for 15-20 minutes each hour. Heat may be helpful after several days or for more chronic origins of pain. Ask your doctor for specific ice/heat recommendations. Some patients report partial relief from sports creams.
If you are suffering from back pain in or have any further questions, please contact our chiropractic team at Morrison Chiropractic today to schedule a consultation.