Baby Got Back (Pain)

If you’re reading this, I can only assume you’re a member of the unlucky 25% of the population dealing with recurring back pain.  Some put the percentage closer to 80.

We clearly have an epidemic on our hands.

How do we wrangle this beast called back pain?  Well it helps to know what the “back” is & what “pain” is.  In this post you’ll discover a brief history of the back–as winding as our natural curves–and just what’s going on with pain.  We’ll wrap up with a couple of tips you can use to alleviate your pain and keep yourself bulletproof in the future.  It’s fun to be bulletproof : )

What’s Going On Back There?

Let’s take a look at that spine of yours.  We humans are actually a pretty lucky accident, somehow riding the wave of natural selection to the top of the food chain.  But the thing is…evolution doesn’t care about your comfort as long as you can reproduce.  And there’s no free lunch.  Every adaptation in populations comes with a drawback, big or small.

The spine is no exception.

The perks of verticality included use of tools, more visibility on the savannah, and reduced sun exposure.  But this big upside came with a cost.  The burden of locomotion shifted almost entirely to our legs, and we needed to disperse Ground Reaction Force very differently.  More simply: our battle with gravity became much tougher.  These spines of ours handle a lot more pressure.  Luckily we have neutral spinal curves.  Or should I say, we should have.  Modern sedentary lifestyles wreak havoc on alignment and lead to shifts in these curves, which then leads to “force bottlenecks” in the neck and low back.  Ouch.

Sound familiar?

So here we have a bit of a predicament.  Our spines are designed for a very different environment of movement than the one they encounter today.  They came into existence at a time when movement was a necessity, not an option.  When was the last time you had to forage for your lunch?  This modern lack of movement simply sets us up for a lot of preventable pain.  Hey, speaking of which…

What Is Pain?

Pain is a tricky beast if ever there was one.  People with supposedly “healthy” backs have spasms and aches, while some folks with herniated discs feel nothing.  It often occurs far away from the site of injury and lingers after tissues have healed.

What’s that all about?

The confusing thing that we’re never directly taught about pain is that it’s actually an output, not an input.  Your brain makes pain.  Pain–as best we understand it–is a neurological response to what the body considers dangerous stimulus.  You touch a hot stove, the body senses danger and reflexively reacts faster than you can comprehend.  The damaged tissues result in the brain saying

Ow, something’s not right here!

Now in the case of recurring or chronic back pain what often happens is overuse of certain muscles.  When the skeletal system is out of alignment, the muscular system has to work overtime to keep your body upright.  This chronic misuse leads to buildup of muscular tension, which leads to buildup of lactic acid, which leads to the brain once again saying

Ow, something’s not right here!

Now this becomes a vicious cycle when the pain alters our movements leading to more muscular misuse.  Let’s nip that in the bud.  So much back pain could be alleviated or cured if we could find a way for the skeletal system to do its job better, letting the muscles find neutral, resting length.  It’s the bones that give us clarity of form.  The muscles simply propel them through space.

What Can I Do?

Luckily you aren’t relegated to the chiropractor for the rest of your life.  Smart movements can work wonders to increase awareness and remind the body how it’s supposed to work.  This quick trick is my absolute favorite for achy shoulders and neck pain.  It looks goofy, but I promise you’ll find a huge relief.

Our next trick is called The Wave.  It’ll blow your mind.

I said it.  I meant it.  I’m here to represent it.

The wave is very subtle and very powerful, giving us a fantastic way to re-articulate each and every vertebra of the spine.  You’ll need 10 or so minutes to go through it, but dang, it’s so worth it.  You can find The Wave here.

What are your experiences with back pain?  Have you found anything particularly useful?  Leave a note in the comments below!