“My back hurts! I guess I’m getting old!” Well, not necessarily. With over 80 per cent of the population suffering from lower back pain in Canada each year, it’s safe to say that it’s something not exclusive to an aging demographic. Weekend warriors, desk jockeys, expectant moms, busy parents, trades workers and many more are experiencing lower back pain just as often as those in their parents’ generation.
Historically, medication and bed rest have been the go-to treatment, followed by X-rays or MRIs in stubborn cases. With lower back pain currently listed as the leading cause of disability, research on the most effective recovery practices to best suit the needs of the general public is constantly evolving. The paradigm has now shifted from rest and recover to treatment and movement.
The last two years have been pivotal to this change, with research bursting open the negative impact of opioids and other painkillers, and backing exercise and hands-on treatment as some of the best options for relieving lower back pain.
The transition to movement and treatment as best practices has become evident throughout culture. Social media is flooded with videos on how to stretch for pain, sciatica, stiff muscles and other conditions. Every day, patients walk in to my clinic with exercises they’ve been using to self-manage their pain. Even advertisements for muscle creams feature activity and exercise.
Here’s what we know:
– 80 per cent of the general public will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives.
– Lower back pain typically resolves itself within a few weeks of onset.
– 90 per cent of lower back pain will reoccur.
– Hands-on care and movement can speed up recovery times and prevent reoccurrence.
The lower back’s anatomy is tied tightly to its function, making it an intricate structure. Bone, muscle and ligament are organized carefully to support the entire body and every movement it makes. With the spine being the anchor point, our lower back (lumbar) muscles make up almost half of the body’s core support.
Imagine the core (the abdomen, flanks and lower back) as a barrel, with the staves being the muscles and spine, and the hoops symbolizing the strength and power needed to hold the structure upright. If either a hoop or stave is defective in any part of its structure or function, the entire system will be affected and unable to maintain its intended shape. Arthritis, overuse, improper use, and changes to the joints, discs or muscles, as well as so much more, can contribute to the failure of the core’s carefully calibrated state, resulting in lower back pain.
Until recently, guidelines on how to approach lower back pain were built mainly around pharmaceuticals, rest, imaging and potentially surgery. An article published in The Lancet this past June noted that there is a difference between treating the problem and preventing and treating the cause. This is where exercise and movement fit in. The article, along with several others like it, are on the cusp of the paradigm shift, where exercise is medicine. In fact, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology now hosts “Exercise is Medicine” month every May as a way to celebrate movement as the best way to help your body recover and stay within its normal function.
Treatment is the other important aspect of care. Seeking out care from a manual therapist, such as a chiropractor, physiotherapist or osteopath, who will target the cause of pain and correct it, allows movement to be pain-free. Hands-on care can prime the muscles to move, alleviating potential pain, spasms and restrictions that are preventing healing.
Education is also a large component of care that helps people familiarize themselves with their bodies. This includes:
– Becoming educated in what your body is telling you in a way that makes sense to you.
– Having all of your questions answered.
– Being shown the detailed tools needed to introduce movement as medicine.
Pain is your body’s way of sending you a message, and therapy can bridge the gap, helping you decipher these messages – an important factor in preventing reoccurrence.
Fear typically plays a big role when exercising with back pain. Many patients ask, “Should I be resting this?” While every injury is different, typically, my response is “Don’t be afraid to move.” Your body and joints are made to move. In fact, not moving is sometimes what causes the issues in the first place. A proper examination, followed by hands-on treatment is a great way to move past this fear and be reassured that exercise is safe and therapeutic.
Lower back pain, as prominent as it has become, has been given a well-needed makeover in terms of treatment. The shift in care from resting to moving, and from pharmaceuticals to hands-on treatment, has been effective in not only diminishing the incidence of lower back pain, but the reoccurrence rate as well. Proper care and exercise are quickly proving to be the key to recovery.