Lower back pain back affects up to 90% of people at some time in their life, and many never fully recover. A simple injury never quite clears up and your back becomes more prone to further and repeated problems. A bit of short term background pain will go on to develop long term chronic back pain, restricting what you can do, and depleting your overall quality of life, and it seems there is little help other than painkillers and a general advice to exercise.
How is it then that modern medicine which has been so spectacular in raising the health standards over the past 100 years has no clear treatment for a chronic problem that affects over four out every five members of the population sometime in their life and roughly 20% of the population at any one time?
The reason it seems is that in most cases it is very difficult to identify a single cause for back pain. Most cases of back pain sufferers no clear pathology can be identified. Apart from such clear things as structural imbalance, skeletal defect, surgery, trauma/accident damage, nerve compression, infection and the like, there is no consensus of opinion on the cause of the vast majority of the back pain problems.
The following factors are considered to contribute to back pain.
- having had back pain in the past.
- physical factors such as heavy physical work.
- frequent bending, twisting, lifting, pulling and pushing, repetitive work, static postures and vibrations.
- psychosocial factors such as stress, anxiety, depression, job satisfaction, mental stress.
- smoking and obesity.
The first three of these have a significant involvement of the use – or misuse – of the muscles of the body. Chronically tight muscles whether in the lower back, shoulder or neck are the lot of most people, even the young and active report aches and pains back, neck and shoulder, and general tightness in their muscles and restrictions in their ease of movement.
The advice given out, apart from “keep moving” is to (1) strengthen weak muscles and (2) stretch tight muscles. Most people do take this advice, exercise a little and often have some form of physical treatment. Self-evidently this advice doesn’t work long term, if it did work the problem would not still be with us all months and years later.
However, over the past few years, modern medical research into the neurology of the brain has now understood that muscle tension is controlled in the brain, and not the body, and therefore there is a pathway showing how it can be reduced and re-educated. It is in the re-education of your brain/muscle tension connection, where your route out of your chronic pain lies.
There are many different approaches, but they all involve you feeling your body and involve your engagement in the process. In simple terms, without all the science, here is one process you can try:
- Further contract the muscles that feel tight, do this purposefully but keep with your comfort range.
- Keeping that tightness, slowly lengthen that contraction out, softly and gently as if you were just waking up in the morning and stretching out. (try yawning at the same time to get that feel)
- Completely relax.
- Repeat this a few times, a couple of times each day.
Can it be that simple….. Yes it can, and with a gradual repeated practice you can lower the rate of muscle contraction until the muscle regains its “normal muscle tone” that is the tone at which it works most economically along with other muscles to allow pain free movement.
It takes time practice and patience, but it works. No one else can do it for you, and an intellectual understanding may be interesting but in itself it won’t work. You have to set a timetable and you have to do the work! You will need to do it on a regular basis, but if you have been in pain for a long time you might just be invested enough to put in the effort. Over a few weeks you can release muscles that have been tight and painful for many years, and begin to move more freely, easily without pain or restriction.
The starting place for most people however is to feel the detail of their contractions, to understand exactly where they are tight, and which tension lines they need to focus on to start the process of releasing long held twists distortions and contractions.
To help you on this path, we have developed a programme of 5 packages, each one works on different parts of your body to show you how to unwind tightness and begin the process of unwinding. These practices show you step by step how to release, relax, soften and connect up your body, here’s our package on lower back movements https://exercisesforlife.co.uk/#lower-back
These correction-type movements are your starting point and will show you where you are restricted, binding, or tight. Those movements themselves are designed to help you to move into more efficient balance. Using these in conjunction with the exercise above will give a two pronged approach to releasing your long term chronic pain.