Recently a woman, let’s call her Linda, came to me reporting that suddenly without warning she experienced an intense band of lower back pain when she was bending over to pick-up the phone that she had dropped. Days later the back pain was not going away despite Linda doing all the things that normally would work for her: ice, heat, ibuprofen, and rest. She told me that she felt like she had a band of pain like a belt across her lower back and that it favored her right side. She was frustrated that her body would give out on her like that and scared that her back pain could be something more serious. After doing a simple physical exam, I knew exactly what Linda needed to get back on the road to recovery. I explained to her that what she was experiencing, while new and scary to her, was common and easily treatable. “That’s a relief to hear!” she exclaimed.
Why does this band of lower back pain happen suddenly?
What was happening with Linda’s back is in fact extremely common and very treatable with chiropractic care and some very simple exercises. Unfortunately, often times the exercises alone are not effective enough to treat the condition, meaning you likely will need some chiropractic care but usually a minimal amount. What I didn’t tell you in the story is that Linda is a tech worker and is often at her desk for hours on end—like most of us, even non-tech workers. When we sit for hours, including car time, our backs are taking in a lot of stress. The stress will build day after day causing microtrauma until one day it’s a straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back situation and you end up with a band of lower back pain. Where that last reach to pick-up something will send us to the couch, pronto.
What causes this lower back pain?
The stress that we are putting on our backs is really a disc bulge. Think of an ice cream sandwich if you pinch only one of the side you’ll see the ice cream move towards the opposite side of the sandwich. This is essentially what is happening when we sit for so long and don’t do things to negate the sitting. The disc will start to get closer and closer to one of the nerves that results in us feeling pain. What you don’t know is that before we feel pain your back was putting off distress signals. These signals likely occurred in nerves that we don’t typically notice when they are being pinched such as the pressure sensation, or vibration feeling. All senses that we wouldn’t typically notice if they were not functioning that well in our lower back.
To understand why this happens requires a quick lesson in neuroanatomy—bear with me here. Think of the various nerves that go to a particular area as a bundle of wires with different thicknesses. If you try to kink the bundle of wires the skinnier thin ones will kink first while the thicker ones will hold out. Luckily, for us the pain pathway is one of the thicker “wires” so takes considerable stress for it to kink resulting in pain.
How does chiropractic help?
As a chiropractor, what I do is analyze exactly how the vertebrae is putting pressure on the nerves and then carefully realign the vertebrae with adjustments that are tailor-made for you. In addition to the bones, I adjust: ligaments, discs, and muscles surrounding the misalignment, placing things back where they belong. This takes pressure immediately off of the nerves so the joints can function normally. With the joints functioning normally, the single repetitive exercises that I teach you will put the disc back where it belongs, centered between the vertebrae. Now the exercises will be effective with the joints moving as they are designed and meant to move. Our adjustments are doing something similar: we are giving the body all the tools it needs for a quicker recovery.
How can you keep this from happening to you?
Now that you understand how this band of lower back pain can happen and how we can help as chiropractors, I am going to tell you how you can help yourself. The very best thing for your lower back, especially if you have a long commute or sit for hours upon hours a day, is one exercise. The exercise was created by Robin McKenzie and it’s easy. What you do is standing feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on your hips and bend backwards until you feel a stretch, then repeat. Do this 10 times in a row every hour and your back will thank you for it. What this simple exercise does is uses your own anatomy to push the disc away from the nerve, getting it go back where it belongs. Naturally, if you feel your symptoms get worse then don’t do this exercise, but for the majority of patients that walk through our doors with lower back pain in a band on their lower back, this is the exercise for them.
Needless to say, Linda did get 100% better within 5 or so treatments and has been able to completely return to her activities that she enjoys doing. If you or anyone you know is suffering from lower back pain especially if it goes right across their lower back, let them know about what they can do as described in this article.