There’s absolutely no one cause of low back pain. But we do know there is an emotional and mental component to back problems. Western medicine is beginning to understand the mind-body connection, especially in the area of stress, which goes hand-in-hand with back dysfunctions.

The royal pain in the butt can literally be connected to the amount of stress and agitation in your life. The structure of your spine is very complex with numerous muscles trying to hold up the moveable pole that controls the body. The entire spine from head to tail supports the weight of a person’s body with the ultimate purpose of protecting the spinal cord.

When referring to the complexity of the back, Thomas Myers believes that when we ask the spine to act like a stack of bricks–which we do when we load it momentarily with heavy groceries or chronically with a beer gut or a locked-down set of abs–it can act like one, but at an eventual cost to the disks. If we ask the spine to consistently counterbalance off-center weight, it will, but at a cost of long-term held tension and immobility.Consistent emotional upheavals, life traumas, and anger creates tension. Muscles of the back tighten when tense, putting stress on all 24 moving parts of your spine. Like a chain on your bicycle, one link off the sprocket and your chain does not function.

Why are we not paying more attention to this country’s major epidemic of back problems? Back pain is the second leading cause of work absenteeism and, more than any other medical condition, back problems result in lost productivity. The National Center for Health Statistics shows that chronic disability, resulting from low back pain, affects more than 2.4 million Americans permanently with an additional 2.4 million temporarily disabled. This doesn’t even account for the persistent nagging backers–or what I call the “tired back syndrome, please get me off my feet” problems.

Factors associated with a high incidence of back pain include sitting for long periods of

time, lifting improperly or lifting heavy objects, inadequate balance, poor posture, not stretching or strengthening back muscles (including the abdominal area) and strain in bending and twisting.

Other studies investigating back pain found that job dissatisfaction, monotony at work, fighting with co-workers and working in a isolated environment increase back problems. The psychological factors far outweigh the physical factors in predicting back pain.

The message is clear–get up and get going. Don’t sit around becoming the latest victim of back problems. This is not, by the way, a disease of people approaching their senior years; it is a problem for the fortysomething population. You can’t drive that lime green “slug bug” with back problems!

One bit of good news is that back issues are often related to muscle and soft tissue dysfunction. Unfortunately the soft tissue problems are overlooked as the main source of low back pain. There is solid information that the beginning stages of lumbar/sacral problems are connected directly to disharmony of primary muscle groups for each part of the back. This disharmony compromises almost everything associated with your back.

I fully believe that soft or connective tissue can be changed and maintained before it becomes a serious back problem. The number-one cure for soft tissue problems is stretching. As Gertrude Stein would say, “A stretch is a stretch is a stretch!” Art Brownstein in his book Healing Back Pain Naturally has a chapter called “The Back to Life Stretching Program.” He believes stretching is vital to healing any back problems and relieving pain from the muscles in your back. He suggests some key points for stretching:

  • Stretch as far as you can without feeling pain
  • Don’t overstretch
  • Support your back when you stretch
  • If you are incapacitated with pain, start out with stretches lying downÎ Do not bounce when you stretch
  • Breathe slowly
  • Stretch in the morning

Here are some simple moves I find useful for soft tissue maintenance:

  • Pelvic tilts: tuck butt, pull in on belly
  • Psoas stretches: lunge forward, one leg back, and stretch front of abdomen near thigh
  • Spinal flexes: arch your back then round your back slowly

When in doubt, ice! Too many people love that heating pad, which causes swelling. Use ice. Get a large bag of frozen peas and put it on the back for 15 to 20 minutes. If you use heat, it should be moist heat, but then switch to ice.

Everything becomes an issue with back problems–get advice about your body mechanics, how you are walking and how you are breathing. Bodywork and acupressure points are preventive as well as a great source of back pain relief. Popping the Vicoprofen with weeks of bed rest is obsolete and often keeps you in pain longer.

Back pain can be healed and put to rest. It takes a holistic approach with an eye towards prevention.

May the longtime sun shine upon you.