Back pain is extremely common. Stats show that approximately 80 per cent of Canadians will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. The good news is, we are equipped to deal with that pain and with a few easy tips we can prevent future recurrence.
Despite it being a common injury and chronic issue that people experience during their lifetime, there still are many myths and misconceptions out there regarding low back pain, including how and why it occurs.
Here is a small list of some of the common myths with a great follow up video by a world-renowned back specialist from Waterloo, Dr. Stuart McGill.
Myth #1: You need a Flexible Back to Prevent Injury
Truth is, most new studies have shown that flexibility is not a great predictor for people who are at risk of a low back injury. In fact, some studies have shown that increased lumbar flexibility may actually increase the risk of a low back injury in some people. This tells us that it is likely not only about the range of motion you can obtain, but more about the functional range of motion you can obtain with stability and motor control.
Myth #2: You Need a Strong Back to Prevent Injury
While increased strength is certainly important; the key to injury prevention is ENDURANCE within the stabilizing muscles. Imagine going for a long walk, those pelvic stabilizing and core muscles need to be as strong at the beginning of the walk as they are at the end of the walk or our mechanics will fall apart and injury may set in.
Myth #3: Suck in Your Belly to Work Your Core
A better way to think about this is to STIFFEN the abdomen to engage the core. Imagine lying on your back, and somebody was about to drop a ball on your stomach. You would brace/stiffen the abdomen to protect yourself; this is a proper way to engage the core.
Myth #4: Performing Full Sit-ups Will Strengthen Your Core
The process of completing a full sit-up will put your lumbar spine at a high risk of injury. This method has long been disregarded and many abdominal/core strengthening exercises have been developed and should be utilized instead.
Myth #5: Avoiding Exercise Will Avoid Injury
This is a common misconception. The benefits that come from exercise so greatly outweigh any risk of minor injuries that may result. In fact, prolonged sitting and sedentary lifestyle is certainly the main precursor to poor health and chronic pain. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Mark Lewis, one of our registered massage therapists at Reactivate Muskoka, is also a certified personal trainer. He has put together a short 4 minute core strengthening exercise routine for you to start and end your day with. Over time, the muscles supporting your body and your spine will become stronger and more responsive to what you are asking your body to do.
Click here for a video on core exercises for a stronger back
Bringing It All Together
Now that we have dispelled some of the myths that are commonly associated with low back pain, here are some simple tips to keep in mind to prevent low back pain, or to resolve a back pain issue that you may be having.
- Perfect your posture – It’s important to keep your spine properly aligned, whether you are standing, walking or sitting. One way to improve your posture is to imagine that a string is attached to the top of your head, pulling you gently upwards towards the ceiling. Just thinking about it will help you lengthen your spine. When sitting, especially in front of a computer, be sure the chair supports your lower back – in a slightly arched position – and that both feet are flat on the floor. Don’t slump, and use an armrest to help reduce stress in the upper body. For good sleeping posture, use a supportive pillow and mattress, and sleep on your back or side.
- Be more active. Every day. Poor fitness is associated with back pain. Why is that? Your spine is like a stack of Oreo cookies standing on top of each other. The cookie parts are your vertebrae (the bones of your spine) and the white centre is are the discs that act as cushions between the vertebrae. If there aren’t muscles that are strong enough and able to respond to the physical demands you ask your body to do, then that stack of cookies can start to sway like a tree in the wind. In response, the muscles that stabilize the spine need to contract and a balanced way in order to prevent the spine from falling over. Maintaining a healthy weight reduces strain on your back. Always warm-up before physical activity, and stretch -out when you’re finished. Of course we highly recommend the video that Mark Lewis, our fantastic Registered Massage Therapist, put together above, but if you need another one to add variety, here is a good video to incorporate into your routine.
- Lift with care – Avoid lifting heavy objects that may place too much strain on your back. When you do lift, hold the object close to your body and distribute the weight evenly. Picture lifting with your HIPS (as seen in the video), not your knees! (Yet another myth – busted!)
- Take time to focus on yourself – Mind/body activities including restorative yoga and regular massage can help you avoid stress-related back problems.
- See a health professional – See health professionals will help you navigate the system, figure out what is going on, relieve the acute pain and then restore your back into a state of good health. There is no “all in one” health care professional when it comes to rehabilitating your back pain. That is why a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach, such as the approach we have with our team at Reactivate Muskoka (hyperlink to www.reactivatemuskoka.com), to diagnosing and treating low back pain is imperative to long term relief.
- Physicians can help by examining your back and investigating with imaging as to why you are in pain. However, most back pain does not require any imaging unless the pain lasts more than 6 weeks and has been actively treated by the following individuals without improvement
- Chiropractors can help restore the alignment of the vertebrae in your spine, and some chiropractors, such as the ones that we have at Reactivate Muskoka, can use acupuncture and soft tissue massage to help the muscles keep the vertebrae in alignment.
- Massage Therapists can help relieve muscle spasms, restore balance to the muscles around your spine, and help the muscles react appropriately when you ask them to stabilize the spine and help you move.
- Physiotherapists can teach your muscles how to react properly, and balance out the strength around the spine so that movements are balanced, smooth, and coordinated.
Nobody wants back pain to get in the way of enjoying life and all of the activities and adventures that it offers. Getting treated for your back pain early rather than later will only speed up your recovery and reduce your pain more quickly. Please see your rehabilitation health professionals that you already see, and if you do not have one, our team at Reactivate Muskoka would be happy to help you get back into tip-top shape.
Dr. Barber is a certified Chiropractor (CMCC), Contemporary Medical Acupuncturist and a Strength and Conditioning Specialist. After graduating in 2006 from McMaster University with a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology and a minor degree in Neuroscience, he attended the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College and graduated in 2010 with clinical honours.
Using an evidence-based approach, he helps patients with a wide variety of conditions and disorders relating to the skeletal, nervous and muscular systems. He believes firmly in treating the source of the problem rather than the symptoms alone.
Dr. Barber takes pride in utilizing his diverse skill set and knowledge in order to create individualized treatment plans that allow his patients to meet their health and active living goals.
Treatment plans are unique to each patient and may include chiropractic therapy, acupuncture, shockwave therapy, advanced soft tissue techniques and functional range release and conditioning.