06 Apr The top 5 reasons back pain does NOT just go away (especially if more than 6 weeks)
Low back pain affects 80% of the American population at some point during their life. Fortunately, most people don’t have to live with that pain and stiffness forever if they are conscious about truly getting better. I’ve see a lot of active people who complain of either low back pain or tightness. Over the last five years, I’ve found the 5 most common reasons why it is difficult to overcome these frustrating symptoms. Along with the reasons why, I’ll explain some of the ways we help these people get over the hump and on the right road to recovery. If you’re experiencing low back pain and tightness from activities, this is the article for you. Let’s get started:
5. “Resting it” is not helping to improve your symptoms
So, your back is hurting or your having some shooting pain going into your glutes or down the side of your leg towards your knee. You’ve tried to let it “rest” for a few days and now it feels better. You decide it’s passed and you go back to your work outs or activities and then a week later you’re in TWICE as much pain. Why would it get worse? That’s because “rest” does not help resolve the changes that already occurred. When you have pain, your motor control or the way your muscles are activated starts to compensate. This compensation, if not changed by changing your movement, results in more irritation when put in stressful situations like working out or running.
Solution: During and after an episode of back pain or stiffness, do NOT keep doing the same movements that hurt it in the first place. Take some time to work on different positions whether its modified positions for the drills (doing box squats instead of regular squats) or training different movements (adding in some core control work like plank variations) to help retrain your movement system.
4. You’re only stretching (which could be making it worse)
The M (mobility) and S (stretching) words in the health industry are thrown around very frequently without true intention. Just like in the medical world when they use the diagnosis “lumbago” (which means you have back pain and they don’t know why), in the rehab world many believe the answer (without truly knowing what is wrong) is to just stretch and do mobility work. This might work for short term relief, but is not a long-term solution to back pain and stiffness. For most people, their “stiffness” comes from a lack of motor control or stability. This lack of using your muscles to stabilize your joints means that the joints must stabilize themselves! Guess where that comes from? If you guessed creating stiff, tight joints that limit mobility, give yourself a pat on the back. So how do we address this? Read below.
Solution: In addition to stretching, an effective solution is to add in motor control/ positional strengthening drills. What are those? Drills such as single leg bridges, hip hinge activation, and controlled squats are a few to get you going in the right direction to help “loosen” and protect your spine. Those drills can be found below:
3.Your symptoms are a secondary effect to a problem elsewhere
90% of back pain clients that come to us do NOT have a back problem. Unless there has been a direct injury to the back (i.e. car accident), most people have improper movements that are leading to back pain. Often, people will use their back muscles instead of their hips or shoulders during their activities, especially work outs when fatigue sets in. This results in overuse of these smaller muscles, causing compression of the vertebrae joints and often pain and stiffness.
Solution: Check the muscles and joints above and below your spine. Ask yourself these questions: Are my hips tight and cause back pain when I try to stretch them out? Do I have trouble getting my arms to line up with my ears in an overhead position without arching through my back? Do my hip joints stack under my shoulders when I am walking or running? If the answer is yes to any of them, you need to work on your movement of those joints before working directly on your back muscles.
2. You’re not truly changing your movement to change your symptoms
So, you’ve done everything up to this point correct. You’ve identified your weak points, working different muscle groups, and included some positional strength drills. But your symptoms are NOT getting better! What gives? Remember this statement if your ready to get better. DO NOT TREAT YOUR RECOVERY LIKE A DIET! That’s the real deal when I have to yell on the internet in all caps. You’ve all heard “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change to stay consistent with your nutrition”. The same thing applies to your movement. Just doing drills will not get you better.
Solution: You need to apply the movement correction principles to everything. So whether your deadlifting 225 lbs or just picking up your daughter, you better have the same mechanics. Whether your max effort squatting or getting off the couch, it better be the same mechanics. The more you can focus on the RIGHT mechanics, regardless the resistance or intensity, the faster you will train your motor control system to adapt this new movement.
1. Your current treatment is a band-aid, not a solution
Whether you’re doing self-treatment (pain meds, heat/ice, stretching, or nothing) or seeking treatment (PT, Chiro, Massage, or Injections) and you’re not seeing significant results within a 4-week timeframe, then it may be time to discuss with your provider (or your inner self) that something needs to change. If the underlying issue is a true musculoskeletal problem, you should expect to see some significant changes that are consistently better each work during this time. If you are continually getting short-term relief but not lasting effects it is highly probable you’re not getting enough of a change to your movement systems to make an adaptable change.
Solution: Be an advocate for yourself. If you’re doing self-treatment, ask yourself am I getting any change from this? If you’re with a healthcare provider, it’s ok to ask how will I know each session is helping me move towards my goal? Like any goal, there needs to be some objectified way of knowing you’re making progress to confidently know you’re headed in the right direction.
There you have it, 5 reasons why your back pain isn’t getting better. If you’re looking for more information on how to address your specific back pain or stiffness problems, download our FREE report “8 Ways to Eliminate Low Back Pain and Stiffness to Stay Active Consistently” below.