Back pain is the most common complaint we treat. More than 80 percent of Americans experience back pain at some point in their lifetime. For many, the effect of back pain is an everyday battle which immensely impacts the quality of life. The pain we feel — whether in the back, the hip(s), or down the leg(s) — is the body’s request for change. Back pain is not an indication something is broken, needing to be “fixed.” By taking the time to understand the problem and how it behaves, we can apply the right tool for the job — only then can we achieve a solution.
WHAT IT IS
Back pain is most commonly of mechanical nature, meaning how we move and use our body. If your back pain changes — for better or worse — with varying movement and positions accompanied by stiffness or loss of normal motion, you likely suffer from mechanical back pain.
The more common acute back pain is an episode lasting no longer than six weeks. Back pain is considered chronic when lasting greater than three months.
Because the nerve supply to your legs stems from the spinal cord within the spine, poor spinal mechanics can alter the signals from your brain to the muscles. It is not uncommon to experience symptoms such as pain, muscle weakness, or numbness and tingling anywhere down your leg(s), with or without local back symptoms!
We have assessed and successfully treated many medical diagnoses where the source of the problem is located at the spine. Examples include:
- Hip pain
- IT Band Syndrome
- Groin/hamstring strain
- Leg pain
- Knee pain
- Plantar Fasciitis
In rare cases, back pain can indicate a serious medical problem requiring immediate attention.
If you experience bladder dysfunction, fever, direct trauma, or unexplained weight loss accompanied by back pain, seek immediate medical attention.
WHAT IT ISN’T
The pain we feel is simply a request from our brain to change. Pain is usually unassociated with damage, rather it’s an alert we need to change our physical behavior or else serious problem may result.
Mechanical back pain does not have to be debilitating and just because you have back pain does not mean you’re broken, needing to be “fixed”.
Just because you have pain doesn’t mean you need an MRI; just because your MRI shows “degeneration,” “disc bulges,” or “arthritis,” doesn’t mean it’s causing your pain. Back pain is often unassociated with aforementioned structural changes commonly found from imaging, e.g. X-ray, CT scan, MRI. Furthermore, there’s a high prevalence of interpretive errors between radiologists. So, not only does imaging your spine result in a high rate of unrelated findings, the professionals interpreting them cannot concisely agree upon diagnoses!
To learn more about the problems of MRI regarding muscle and joint pain, read our evidence-based blog post on the topic.
COMMON CAUSES OF BACK PAIN
Mechanical back pain is most commonly caused by poor body mechanics and postural habits.
Humans are meant to move and move often — not sit in chairs and stare at electronic screens for hours on end. From infancy through the first year of life, we learn to how to move, setting us up for the rest of our lives.
Mechanical back pain can occur suddenly from something as simple as bending over to put on your socks, or can gradually occur for no apparent reason.
Pain from bending over is not because forward bending is inherently bad, rather it’s the result of the accumulated stress of repetitive bending — the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to say.
Think about the average desk worker’s day: sit for breakfast, sit in the car to work, sit at the desk, sit for lunch, back to sitting at the desk, sit in the car back home, sit in front of the T.V. — you get the point.
The accumulative postural stress of sitting as a daily habit is like bending your finger backward. It may not hurt at first, but the longer you hold it there, and the more pressure you apply over time, it will start to feel uncomfortable and aching. When you let go of the finger, you’ll have a residual ache, but you’ll notice the pain quickly subsides. This is mechanical pain and is similar to what the typical American with back pain experiences.
So, what happens after you poorly lift something heavy after sitting all day? It’s like cranking that finger back as far as it can go…and it’s probably going to hurt long after you let go of it!
COMMON TREATMENTS FOR BACK PAIN
The most common treatments are rest, medication, physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, and other various conservative therapies.
While most acute bouts of back pain will resolve on their own within a few weeks, the risk of recurrence is very high. The greatest risk of injury is the previous injury — if you’ve done it once, it’s very likely to happen again.
Few individuals need surgery for back pain. Have a disc bulge? Even if it’s relevant, lumbar disc herniations have been shown to resolve on their own without surgery.
If you have intense and unrelenting pain down the leg, progressive muscle weakness, bladder or bowel symptoms, or specific structural problems not responding to conservative therapy, surgery may be warranted.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT BACK PAIN
With all mechanical pain, there’s a ‘what’ and a ‘why’ — what the problem is and why it’s occurring in the first place. To achieve resolution it’s crucial to not only identify and correct the problem at hand but address the behaviors which lead to the issue’s occurrence. Here are some self-help tips:
- Keep moving
- Avoid sitting for longer than 30-minutes at a time
- Sit with upright posture with lumbar support
- Take micro-breaks: stretch, take a stroll, grab a snack, move around
- Download our free eBook, 5 Fixes to REACH Back Pain Freedom
- Learn proper lifting mechanics: click here for video link
- Take mental notes of what you are doing when your pain feels better or worse to identify any behavioral patterns
STILL STRUGGLING WITH BACK PAIN? WE CAN HELP!
Our approach isn’t to just “fix” the problem, rather understand what it is and what it isn’t. When we understand it the correct treatment is applied to the right problem — only then can we achieve a solution. Why use a hammer if you’re not positive it’s a nail? The last thing you want is to hammer away at a screw!
REACH initiates treatment for back pain by utilizing the Mckenzie Method (MDT). MDT is a proven system of examination, treatment, and classification of spinal, joint, and other musculoskeletal pain, backed by years of research, evidence, and practice. The System is shown to be low cost, fast, and effective even for chronic pain.
When we explore simple repetitive movements which improve or worsen your symptoms and functional baselines (e.g., walking, stepping, lifting, reaching, bending, muscle strength), we can understand how your pain behaves.
If a mechanical force caused the problem then it is logical a mechanical force may be part of the solution. The MDT system is designed to identify the mechanical problem and develop a plan to correct or improve the mechanics, thus decrease or eliminate the pain and functional limitations. Further, the system tells us what treatment tool to use at the appropriate time, eliminating the guessing game.
Once we identify a movement(s) which improves your baselines, you’re on your way to controlling your pain, not needing your chiropractor on a repetitive basis. If your problem is something we are unable to treat, the McKenzie assessment will tell us this within a few sessions, then we recommend the next best course of action to find you a solution.
Sick of suffering the same old symptoms, but nervous to reach out to a pro for help? Schedule a courtesy call to ask a REACH Doc. We’ll point you in the right direction!