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Low Back Pain – The Nuts and Bolts

September 20, 2010

While I do intend to write about health from a variety of aspects, for this first little bit I’d like to focus on a couple of concrete topics.  As a chiropractor, working in Guelph ON, I think the best place to start is with mechanical low back pain.

Some of the most common comments I hear from patients about back pain include:

“I’ve had this before and usually it works itself out quickly.  Why is it taking longer/feeling worse/being more stubborn this time?”

“All I did was lean over to pick up my keys/pencil/child and all of a sudden the pain came on.”

“It started with just a little twinge, and slowly got worse and worse.  What happened?”

If any of those quotes sound like you, take comfort – you’re in good (if not comfortable) company.  Statistics show that approximately 80% of us will suffer from low back pain at some point in our lives.

So what is it then that’s causing the pain?  To answer that let’s use an analogy and compare your back to a garden gate.  A new gate is strong and supportive.  It’s reliable and moves smoothly with little to no squeaking.  The gate, however, is subject to everyday stresses and the resulting wear and tear from weather.  It is susceptible to rusting and drying out.  Even the wood that the hinge is set into can become weak and less supportive.  However, with regular upkeep (oil for the hinge, stain for the wood) and even frequent use, the gate can work well for a long time.

Like the gate your back starts out strong and supportive.  It’s reliable and moves smoothly with little to no pain.  Your back, however, is subject to everyday stresses and the resulting wear and tear from the positions and postures you maintain.

The joints in your back (the hinge on the gate) are lubricated by what’s called synovial fluid.  This fluid not only helps the joints to slide more easily, it also gives nourishment to the cartilage on either side of the joint.  When the joints in your back move, some of the fluid is absorbed into the cartilage and is replaced by new, fresh fluid to maintain lubrication.  This is how a healthy joint is maintained:  regular healthy motion.  If the joint does not get that motion on a daily basis (through activity, exercise) the fluid isn’t replenished as readily and won’t be available to lubricate or nourish the cartilage.  In the short term, that may cause some local inflammation and back pain.  In the long term, the cartilage starts to break down.  It’s that process of cartilage being broken down that we call Osteoarthritis.

But wait, there’s more.  The muscles that surround and support your back (the wooden posts of the gate) need regular upkeep as well.  Exercises which emphasize support and endurance are necessary.  Not all exercises are created equal – some can help, and some can harm (I’ll address that more in a future post).  If the muscles don’t stay strong they won’t provide the stability needed to keep the joints moving well.

To a large extent this is how the majority of low back pain works – muscles and joints not getting the proper motion they need to stay healthy.  Although it’s technically called mechanical low back pain, and I’ve described it in mechanistic terms, know that the back and our bodies in general, are more than just machines.  Other factors can play a big role in how you function (again, save that for a future post).

Next time I’ll get into some of the options available to help with mechanical back pain.  Here’s a primer:  prevention, treatment, prevention…prevention.

For more information on back pain contact your Guelph Chiropractor at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

Photo Credit:  Valerie Everett

From → Back Pain

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