- Posted by Covent Garden Physio
- On 17th May 2019
- 0 Comments
- back pain
Many people who experience back pain are concerned that there may be an issue with their spine and, as a result, become fearful of exercises or activities that stress the back. However, in most cases, this will only make back pain worse or increase your risk of further injury.
If you avoid exercises such as deadlifts because you think “my back can’t take it”, you might be missing out on the best cure for your back pain!
How does muscle weakness cause back pain?
Your back muscles are more likely to be the cause of your back pain than your spine. Our lifestyles, as a whole, are becoming increasingly sedentary with many people spending eight hours or more sitting behind a computer.
Such work doesn’t provide many opportunities for the lifting, twisting and bending necessary to keep your back strong. Even if you compensate by going to the gym, you may not be doing enough exercise or the right exercises to strengthen your back.
Over time, this underutilisation of back muscles will lead to weakness and imbalance. All it takes then is a minor increase in load to cause an injury, which is why so much pain begins with something as simple as bending down to tie a shoelace, lifting luggage into an overhead or even just sneezing.
In many cases, there isn’t an acute injury to pin the blame on. Weak back muscles can be gradually overloaded simply through the strain of sitting all day, especially when there is a muscle imbalance.
What is muscle imbalance?
Muscles in your body can broadly be separated into the muscles that provide power and those that provide stability.
Each is very specifically adapted to their particular function: a muscle that provides power works in short bursts but can’t stay active for long, while a stabilising muscle can’t provide much power but can stay active for hours.
When one muscle can’t fulfil its role, another muscle has to pick up the slack. If a muscle meant for generating power has to stay active for hours to provide stability, it will become overloaded and painful, while a muscle meant for stability being forced to generate power will be easily injured.
Such imbalances are very difficult to address without professional diagnosis and exercise prescription.
Simply throwing yourself into the gym to exercise your back may not help at all (or even make it worse) because you need to target specific muscles with specific exercises in order to restore balance.
This is often how people who are fit and active can still end up with chronic back pain without any acute injuries despite not being the demographic you would expect to develop it.
What if my back pain is caused by a structural problem in the spine?
Here’s the thing: your spine probably has structural issues.
In MRI scans of people who report no back pain, 52% of 30 year olds were found to have disc degeneration. By 50, this number shoots up to 80%. This tells us that disc degeneration is a normal part of ageing and doesn’t necessarily lead to pain.
It also means that if structural issues are discovered, we can’t assume that they are the cause of the pain. If we determine through our diagnosis that the cause is most likely muscular, the presence of degeneration should not contradict that.
However, there are certain structural issues which should be taken seriously, but their symptoms present very differently to typical back pain.
For example, a herniated disc which is pressing on a nerve may result in pain, tingling and numbness which travels down your arms or legs depending on which nerve is affected.
If you’re just feeling pain with no other symptoms then you probably don’t need to worry. However, you should always see a medical professional to rule out the possibility that it is caused by something more serious.
No matter the cause of your back pain, you should see a physiotherapist
Back pain is a complex, multi-faceted issue which can be caused or exacerbated by everything from weakness and injury to stress and lack of sleep.
At CGP, we take a holistic approach to our diagnosis and treatments to give you the best chance of a recovery that lasts.