Ooh, My Aching Back

So last week’s posture Thursday I wrote about axial neck pain. This week I thought I’d sink a little lower and talk about lumbar pain. Why? Because I’ve suffered it, and if you want me to name things that are detrimental to both your posture and your healthy lifestyle, lower back pain will definitely make the list.

About 7 years ago I was playing at the beach with the boys and kid number 2 wanted to go for a swim. In we went, and we were splashing and playing, and I was dipping him in and out, and swinging him around. He was laughing and shouting, “More, Daddy, more,” and so more he got. Until, “CLICK.”

Wait, what was that? Something just above my sacrum went, “CLICK.”

No problem, put kid 2 down, and go sit down for a rest.

“Daddy, daddy, my turn,” quoth kid number 1. Who, at the time, was twice as old and twice as big.

“Sure, (Kid number 2), come on.”

So I dipped him in and out, and swung him around, and finally got to rest in a medieval torture device known as a beach chair, sleep in a cottage bed, and drive 2 – ½ hours home. Three pain filled days later, as we were driving from here to there, kid 1 announced, “Daddy, I don’t feel good, I think I’m going to barf.”

Okay, pull off highway, get into first parking lot, jump out of car, open kid 1’s door, reach in to get him out and…collapse in pain. The only thing that kept me from landing on the poor boy was propping myself up on the car roof, and the pain was so intense that now I wanted to throw up. Fortunately, I neither fell on him nor barfed, and even better, as soon as he got out of the car he felt better.

But I felt worse. I mean, what sort of failure as a daddy can’t help his sick little boy? Back pain is no excuse, I’d been at work for three days, I managed that fine, but when my boy needed me, I couldn’t be there. The pain in my lower back was just too severe.

Please be aware, I know back pain is a very good reason to be unable to help. The problem is that I was fit and strong, and, emotionally, “a very good reason” felt like “a lousy excuse.” So, blah blah blah, I fixed my back. How? Check posture Mondays, we on about something else today.

Today, we’re not talking how to fix back pain, we’re a step back of that at “acute lower back pain.” What is it? What triggers it? Why is it so common?

From Dr. Ammerman at spine universe:

Acute low back pain usually comes on suddenly, feels terrible and lasts a short time.

Okay, it’s short term, severe lower back pain, but why is it so common?

Basically because your lumbar spine supports your upper body weight, along with anything you are lifting. Add in the weak core muscles, weak spinal muscles and poor posture so common in modern society and you’ve got a perfect recipe for, “CLICK” followed by pain meds, anti-inflammatories and bed rest.

Okay, there’s your definition, and your root cause. What are the triggers? They include, but are not limited to:

  • Poor lifting posture (lifting with your back, not your legs)
  • Lifting too much weight
  • Overdoing exercise (there’s a reason you’re warned to consult a physician before embarking on a vigorous exercise program)
  • Non-linear motion (bending and twisting while lifting)
  • Physical trauma (falls, car accidents)
  • Contact sports (hello, hockey)

If you suffer acute lower back pain, you must first determine your triggers and then recall the sage advice of Groucho Marx:

Seriously, step 2 (yes, 2) is avoiding your pain triggers. Step 1 is learning them (and documenting them). Thing is, in learning, documenting and learning to avoid your pain triggers, you’re still going to suffer. So, when it hits, what do you do about it?

  • Walk it off. Seriously, keep moving, as much as the pain allows. This does not mean go to the gym for your regular workout, it means do what you can to keep the muscles active. This will promote circulation, allowing your body to heal the trauma.
  • Ice it, heat it. Ice numbs the pain and reduces inflammation. Heat encourages circulation (see “walk it off”) and loosens tight muscles.
  • Pain med and anti-inflammatories. Same effects as ice and heat. With the added benefit that killing the pain allows you to sleep better, and in my experience nothing fixes back pain like a good night’s sleep.
  • Occupational therapy, physio therapy, massage therapy and chiropractic care.

I wrote about my wife’s acute lower back pain a couple weeks ago. Her sister is an occupational therapist, and her number one advice for my wife was to keep moving. Mine was a couple of my posture Monday exercises (gentle ones) to…keep her moving.

Once you’ve learned your trigger(s) and learned to avoid them it’s time to address the underlying problem. This is a far greater subject than a simple blog post, and this is where I repeat the sage advice mentioned above; consult a professional. If you’ve got back problems, random exercises from a posture blog is not where you start.