Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Common Cause of Low Back Pain

We see patients every day who have injured their backs in various ways.  However, there always seems to be a common theme to almost all of the low back injuries.  Whether the pain is a 2/10 or a 10/10, it was almost always due to an overuse injury of some kind.  Usually, people can pinpoint the exact moment their back began hurting and what caused it.  These are the easier cases to treat since we now understand the mechanism of injury.  The more difficult cases are when the pain begins as an "ache" and slowly gains momentum until the patient can no longer function without experiencing pain.  It's harder to determine what exactly started the pain, thus the mechanism is harder to understand and treat. 

If you ever start experiencing back pain, try to remember what activities you did the days leading up to the first sign of pain.  This will always help us to better diagnose and treat you.  If we know what you were doing before the pain began, we can understand which muscles were being used and in which way.  This helps to determine which muscles might have become overused and which muscles are part of the compensatory mechanism.  The types of activities to be aware of can include working around the house or yard (or some other activity that you do not normally do), changing your workout (going from elliptical to stationary bike or trying a new workout class or video), driving for long periods of time, sitting for long periods of time, or any other activity that is not part of your normal routine. 

Sometimes patients have a hard time determining if they have done anything abnormal.  Honestly, it can be as simple as picking up a small child off the floor.  This can be the "straw that broke the camel's back".  You may have had an overuse injury lingering for a long period of time causing stress in the low back muscles, specifically the lumbar spine erectors and when you reached down to pick up the small child, it created just enough stress to put those muscles into spasm.  The injury did not occur because you picked up the child.  The injury occurred because of a long standing problem of overusing the erectors in some other way.  It could be that you sit at a desk all day long, or have a long commute to and from work.  There are hundreds of different ways to overuse these muscles, so it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is causing the overuse.

The best treatment is to treat the actual overuse problem.  If you can stabilize and strengthen the correct muscles and learn to stretch and relax the compensatory muscles, you can remain pain free for a very long time.  So, the next time you experience some low back discomfort, start taking notes as to what you have been doing for the few days leading up to the pain beginning.  Then give our office a call, bring in your notes, and we can start to figure out what exactly is causing your pain and get you back to a pain free life.