Updated: Aug 22, 2019
Lower back pain. What a pain in the...back!
Lower back pain is the leading cause of missed-work and doctors visits. 80% of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Americans spend 50 billion on treating lower back pain when most cases can be healed on their own (and do after 6 weeks).
Back pain is on the rise. The majority of lower back sufferers spend most of their day at a desk and are female. The crazy thing is, even when they go to their primary care physician, 9 out of 10 never find out what is causing their pain. Mind-blown. It seems inexcusable to me. In my experience training and stretching people, here’s my opinion on why we get lower back pain and what to do about it.
Top 11 causes of lower back pain
Repetitive non-movement. It’s hard to un-do hours upon hours of sitting in the same position (car, desk, couch are all the same position). Postural and muscle imbalances are going to develop. Collagen is also going to be created to make you stiff because you are not moving enough.
Repetitive movement. Standing or being on your feet all day will also cause muscles imbalances because we’re moving the same way over and over. Same goes for a job that requires repetitive and specific movements, like picking up boxes.
Trauma. Physical or emotional. Physical, could be a car accident. Emotional could be anything from a miscarriage to self-loathing thoughts or emotional abuse. It has been proven emotions are stored in the body and can cause dis-ease.
Digestive issues, particularly constipation. Drinking adequate water and moving more helps with constipation. Abdominal massage, like this one, is also very helpful. As well as, diaphragmatic breathing, like this example.
Lack of sleep. Sleep equals recovery. Everything is better with good sleep. Our bodies are able to recover when we get a proper amount of sleep. Our lymphatic system is also renewed at night, flushing stagnant waste (aka stiffness) out of the body. Aim for 7.5-8 hours a day.
Not enough water. Our tissues (muscles, ligaments, fascia, etc) are like a sponge. If the sponge dries up it get stiff. This is your body without enough water. Aim for 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water and a light yellow urine (see chart below for reference).
Too much stress. Stress raises cortisol. Cortisol breaks down collagen. Ligaments are collagen. Cortisol also breaks down the gut lining, causing inflammation in the body. Having high levels of cortisol all the time negates any positive effects of cortisol.
Smoking. Smoking reduces blood flow and oxygen to your body, which can keep your body from delivering enough nutrients to the disks in your back. You’re basically starving your body of oxygen, and you’re also slowing the healing process.
Being overweight. Being overweight puts additional stress on your joints, spine and ligaments. Maintaining a proper weight can help ease that unwanted extra load.
Overdoing it. If we workout (or a long day with a lot of manual tasks, like cleaning, gardening, handy work etc) to hard without the proper training and strength, our bodies end up sore and achy. American society has the terrible all or nothing mentality. This is not good when applied to pain. Aim for increasing steps, weights, mileage gradually (varies upon person and pain perception).
Not enough movement/exercise. Same goes for not enough movement. Movement lubricates our joints. It creates a healthy slide and glide of our tissues. It helps keep the lymphatic system pumping and flushing waste out of the body. Start with 5-10 minutes of movement/exercise and keep adding on if you feel pain-free (a little muscle soreness is normal). Again, this will vary per person per pain tolerance.
A few things to note, you will most likely feel more pain if you are constantly stressed, not sleeping well and/or dehydrated. Period. If you do not get these things under control, you’ll be running in circles like a dog chasing its tail.
You might have noticed I did not list bulging or ruptured disks, which 80% of us have. These do not equal pain. Some might have pain and others will not. Most of the time, bulging/ruptured disk are not caused from actual trauma, like a car accident, but by the above list. In my opinion, back pain is mostly preventable and the majority of disk symptoms heal on their own.
Arthritis is a whole other ballgame. Once the damage is done with arthritis, you want to maintain the health of the joint and do as much as you can so it doesn’t degenerate further. Luckily, methods like stem cell therapy seem to have promising results.
One note on skeletal irregularities and osteoporosis. It's not uncommon for scoliosis to be improved through manual therapy, stretching and physical therapy techniques. As well as, osteoporosis through nutrition, exercise and proper posture and movement.
What about some Advil?
If you find it's helpful, go for it. But chronic use is hard on your liver and not recommended, in my opinion.
If you are looking for supplements that could help, magnesium and CBD are my go-tos. But that's me. I believe most people are magnesium deficient and using a spray like this one could help ease body aches. As well as CBD cream like this one.
So, now that we’ve covered what can cause your lower back pain, what would a daily routine look like to help prevent and undo the pain?
Daily tips to prevent lower back pain:
1. The beginning of your day starts when you go to bed. Don’t leave sleep for the last thing you do, but the first thing! It’s that important. You can live without a lot of things, but sleep is not one of them. The best hours of sleep is from 10:00pm -2:00am. For more tips on getting better zzz’s, click here.
2. First thing in the morning, drink a full glass of water. Add lemon and sea salt for an added bonus. Find an app or reminder tool to help you drink more throughout the day. Remember, the best thing to reference is the color of your pee. Save this chart to reference. Drinking enough water will help digestion as well. Two birds with one stone!
3. Before the day gets going, meditate for 5-10 minutes. I'm especially fond of tapping, so that held emotions don't get pent up in your body and cause pain (read more about tapping here). Meditation literally changes your brain so you respond better to stress. I'm also fond of journaling and somatic meditation, like this one.
4. Walk daily. It can be 5 minutes here. 10 minutes there. Or all at once. But aim for 10,000 steps. Remember if you’re getting 3,000 steps in daily, you need to add those steps gradually or you could increase your pain. This also helps with weight management, stress, digestion and clearing stagnant toxins via the lymphatic system. Walking is the best!
5. Un-do the day with 10 minutes of stretching and foam rolling. Whether you've sat all day, stood all day or had an intense work-out, you're creating muscles imbalances and tension. This stretch is great for those who sit a lot and this foam roll is great for releasing tension from the back. Both are great for stress relief as well. Here's a 10-minute routine to follow.
Give these tips a try and let me know if it helps. I'd love hearing success stories!
What are some of your go-to tips for alleviating back pain? Please leave them in the comments below. And feel free to share this article with someone who could use the help.