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Crack for your Back: 10 Natural and Easy Fixes for your lower back pain Confronting the absurdity of Back Pain

As anyone who has lived with a mercurial person can appreciate, not knowing what the day will bring is part of the freight that goes along with having a temperamental back. You wake, no alarm yet. Damn. It’s too early. The hazy cue of nature calling to be fulfilled is the only excuse for your wakefulness. This would not have woken you before. You’re not quite as young and apparently, as you’re told, this is what happens as the middle years appear on the horizon. You look over at your wife blissfully sleeping and suppress a small wave of jealousy.

You conduct a systems check. What kind of day is this going to be?
The dull ache in your left butt cheek is still there. You shift to the right, trying not to wake the light sleeper next to you. As you turn, your lower back comes alive with pin-prick complaints that migrate quickly down the center of your left leg terminating at your 3rd toe (why always that toe?). You groan as you creakily return to your previous position. Now you know: ‘That type of day’.

It’s been like this for at least 2 years but it’s really hard to pinpoint exactly when you started to notice. For years, you had experienced tingles that seemed to originate in your butt running down your left leg. At first, it was a minor nuisance that barely registered as something that would develop into an issue. You put it down to nerves, the normal pressures of life or too much coffee.

But those days are past. What was previously a peripheral annoyance has taken center stage.
What is going on?

Contents:

  1. Physiology
  2. The Weak Link?
  3. The Seeds of Irritation
  4. Taking Control
  5. The Fixes



  1. Physiology
  2. Your back is a wondrous device. The spinal cord with its attendant bones, muscles and nerves. Veins and arteries carrying oxygenated blood to-and-fro. All of it in hard to believe orchestration. The range of motion of the spine allows us to achieve amazing physical feats as anyone who has seen Simone Biles perform can confirm. The fact that your spine can do these extraordinary things, any frustrated prosthetics or robotics engineer will tell you, is an evolutionary marvel.


    A healthy spine is also strong, really strong. Hafthor “Thor” Bjornsson (Game of Thrones) set a world record in the deadlift May 2, 2020 hoisting over 1,104 lbs. (501 kg.) demonstrating the absurd extremes that the human body’s central support can take. If recent reports are to be believed, he is still walking and apparently fit enough to make babies. Scientists speculate the theoretical limit a spine can bear without suffering permanent damage is much higher. So why are so many of us having trouble just getting out of bed?

  3. The Weakest Link?

  4. It may come as a surprise that 90% of earth’s animals lack a back bone. On the face of it, it seems a stunning indictment against our uprightness since animals as diverse as insects to lobsters and octopi manage just fine without one. The idea of not a having spine has appeal at 5:30am until, upon reflection, you realize all of those creatures carry their heads fairly close to the earth – sobering.

    How humans scrabbled to the top of the evolutionary ladder is of course an area of intense scientific study involving all aspects of human anatomy. And while the timeline of the evolution of upright walking is generally understood, why we took our first steps is not clear. Theories range from climatic changes to the efficiency of walking when covering long distances. It is very unlikely (short of the invention of a time machine) that we’ll ever know for sure. Like most things, dynamic overlapping influences are involved.

    What we do know is the present day ‘S’ shape of our spine is a bit of a mess when it comes to comfort. Standing up moved our spine from being a natural bow to a precarious column which puts tremendous pressure on the lower back. No wonder more than 70%4 of us complain about back pain at some point!
    Evolution, though, is about tradeoffs and compromises. The reality is, it really doesn’t ‘care’ (if such a thing were possible). Your discomfort has no bearing when weighed against the off-setting advantages of an upright spine. Your back is sore? Irrelevant. You’re uncomfortable? Tough. Can you reproduce? Yes? Well now….Ding! Ding! Ding!

    Which brings us to babies. Or rather pregnancies. For women, what could be more destabilizing than the swaying bundle of university tuition in front of you? To assert that natural selection doesn’t care may be a bit harsh, or at least misleading in light of unexpected findings that women actually have reinforced backs5 so that pregnancy and childbirth aren’t terminally uncomfortable – pregnancy is challenging enough and natural selection would certainly frown on women opting out due to being overwhelmed. Men, with their woefully inadequate spines, are spared this challenge – one could only imagine how the birthrate would plummet…
    While being uncomfortable is certainly no fun, a sore back won’t kill us. And as long as we can successfully reproduce (see “Thor” above) it’s all good and mamma nature is happy. Your back, with all its evolutionary flaws, is an amazing device. Certainly an inconvenient truth when it seems possessed by a rebellious spirit.

  5. The Seeds of Irritation
  6. So what gives? Has something changed? Your patterns have been the same for years with small variations: Wake. Gym (when you could). Drop the kids at school – well no, that’s changed because everyone is home due to COVID. But anyway your back pain had started long before you took the marketing job (a small company started by a childhood friend). You cook dinner – your wife usually works late. Occasional drinks… Nothing out of the ordinary.

    You rule out going to the doctor – you feel you are not quite there yet. So you begin your quest for answers online quickly realizing that the causes are as unique as there are people. Reviews of research provide no relief if you’re looking for clear, concise answers. The language is, well, for other scientists – not straight forward. If you didn’t know better, you’d say they get paid by the sentence with extra added bonus for complexity:

    “Methodological approaches aiming to reduce high heterogeneity in case definitions of chronic low back pain are essential to consistency and comparative analysis between studies.” 6…..

    After reading it for the 5th time, you’re still not sure you know what that means. But on your travels you discover a vast, diverse community of fellow suffers, many with pain heartbreakingly more severe than your own. Your own discomfort feels trite next to some of those shared experiences but you take some guilty comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
    You read that your ailment can be classified in weekly time frames:

    Great. You’re chronic. What does this mean? Apparently, the length of time means nothing.
    Nor, generally, does the various intensities of discomfort and pain:

    Your mind floats to a time, a few years back, when you couldn’t even get off the couch. Searing bolts so strong that you almost passed out. Your wife helping you amble to the bed where you lay for two days when, thankfully, on the 3rd morning, as mysteriously as it arrived – the intense pain turned into a dull throb. Like a phantom. No explanation. Nothing. You shudder and marvel at the resilience of those captured in the clutches of severe or debilitating pain. That’s not you right now, and for that – you breathe a grateful sigh.

    Your search begins to yield some fruit as patterns begin to surface. Thankfully, serious causes of back pain: Arthritis, fracture, infection or cancer7, as drawn out by contributors to The Lancet, are exceedingly rare. Other researchers8 generally agree that most causes are non-serious.



    The 90% ‘Non-Specific’ is a very large troubling blanket. Whenever researchers describe a big group in vague terms – that usually means one thing: ‘They have no clue’. Excellent medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic10 classify causes as: Muscle/ligament strain, Disk damage, Arthritis (joint swelling) and Osteoporosis (brittle bone).

    Such classifications are unsatisfying.

    If you are skiing and have an accident, you don’t list a broken bone as the cause of your pain. It was the skiing, and more to the point, skiing too fast for the conditions as the reason. Something (or things) caused the strains, disk damage etc.

    Although most back pain is usually benign, there are red flags. Because you don’t trigger any of these (Thank you! Thank you!) – You know if you had, you would have a hard time convincing yourself that you should not get medical help. And fast.



    Asking those of us who are coping with sore backs provides a different perspective. Surveys of back pain sufferers such as those from Statista9 point to the top 6 culprits as:



    You notice that the causes total far more than 100% confirming the notion that there are overlapping probable causes for your discomfort. With little effort it’s easy to further group Sitting and Lack of Exercise (after all, if you’re doing one, it’s really hard to do the other!)

    It’s relatively easy to see 5 of the top six are a broad umbrella that characterizes modern life. As our technology has advanced and the focus of our efforts have become less physical and more outputs from our minds, we have become anchored to chairs, computers, Zoom® meetings and Instagram® in addition to whatever distractions and stresses modern life brings. Our bodies, designed to move, are no longer used to walk to our destinations. We drive, or are driven. And we are living longer. In a very real sense, for the first time in the era of Homo sapiens, our bodies are not physically attuned to our environment.
    We’ve shifted from creatures of motion, to beings that largely sit.

    It would be tempting to point an incriminating finger at your sedentary lifestyle, however, in Angela Maria Lis’s (et al) excellent study11, the link between sitting and lower back pain has not been established. However the team did identify a likely contributing factor – poor posture.



    Poor posture is amazingly common. Everywhere we look, we see poorly designed seating and people hunched over screens small and large. You think back to your son’s teasing nickname for you: “Quasi”, Victor Hugo’s ill configured hero.

    Your hunching wasn’t deliberate. Like most things it’s become a habit you barely notice until you straighten after some prolonged time above your laptop. It’s all very benign. But not to your spine (that was unintentional).
    The forces that come to bear due to your hovering vulture-like are surprising. The average human head weighs about 12lbs (5.4kg). But just like any lever, by the time you lean out 2 inches, the effective weight on your vertebrae increases to 32lb (14.5kg). For giggles, your wife took a photo while you were working – conservatively your ‘hunch’ was measured over 3” (7.6cm). That translated to over 42lbs (19kg) of extra burden my spine had to handle – a 3½ fold increase in weight from neutral vertical!

    Your eyebrows raise when you read that leaning back slightly is better for your lower spine. You had always been told to sit up straight! But it makes sense when you think about how relaxing it to recline.




    As exquisitely shown in KenHub Online, a human spine has about 23 cushioning (intervertebral) disks lying between each bone surrounded by muscles and ligaments. Think of these disks as little water balloons between your hands. They are able to withstand moderate amounts of force. But if you exert too much pressure, the balloon will bulge and possibly burst. Now imagine your hands are the bones in your spine. The balloon, your disks. And finally your hunching, the tilting uneven pressure of your hands on those disks.
    Yikes.

    Got to fix that hunch.




    The reality is, back pain is so common that it is better viewed as something we are susceptible to because of how we are designed. Almost anything can trigger it: Accidents, strains, nerve irritation, disk damage (herniation), pregnancy, arthritis – the list goes on. And for some back pain, what caused an issue one time, may be different the next time. In addition, the mix of causes may be different – a constantly moving target. This view is supported by many health professionals13, 14 and a real shift in the way you looked at your encounters: Recurring back pain is — normal.

  7. Taking Control
  8. If back pain is normal, then what can you do about it? Rest, right? Actually – no. Or kind of no. If you’re really hurting – yes, rest your back (hopefully a day or so). After that – the research is crystal clear. Mild activity to get things moving again15, 16. Several teams in different countries all came to the same conclusion by comparing groups with back pain. Those groups who slowly exposed their backs to activity did much better than those who rested. The active groups also reduced their fear & anxiety of re-injury.



    A plan begins to emerge. Fortunately – this is where your medical team and self-study fill in the gaps and you now have the power to get your back on track. Not everyone reacts the same way to the same treatment plan – we’re all different. With experimentation, you find the things that work for you. Seeing improvements are like getting a new bed – it takes time to settle in and it may take a couple of weeks for the benefits to surface – hopefully quicker though!



  9. The Fixes: 10 Natural and Easy Fixes for your lower back pain.
Awareness – You accept that having back pain is normal.
Attitude – You stay positive! Small actions help get you into the right frame of mind. Your mind is more agile than you knew. You’re not passive. You take the lead rather than waiting for your medical team to ‘fix’ you.



Suggestions:
Visualization: Wake. Recall a time, place, event that made you happy. Focus on the sights, sounds, scents, tastes and emotions when you were going through the experience. Slow your breathing, relax your body. You stay in this place for at least 10 minutes.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: You find a comfortable position. The key is to focus on the muscle or group of muscles you are playing with, nothing else. Not work, not the kids, breakfast – nothing. Starting with your feet: Tense, count to 10. Relax. Count to 10. You work your way up tensing and relaxing each muscle group in your body on the right side: calf, thigh, buttocks, stomach etc. up to your head. Then work your way down the left side of your body.

Movement is medicine – Become Stronger. You take control of your discomfort by being active. Light and regular activity is better than nothing. This includes stretching, yoga and other activities such as Tai Chi. Lower body weight is the Ying to motion’s Yang. Better fitness and lower weight is a natural side effect so you don’t worry about weight.



While having broad goals are fine, focusing something you can measure is the fastest way to get where you want to go. Strong muscles, especially those in your butt and back, have a huge effect on getting rid of back pain. The journey always starts with the first step.

You are always sure to use your best judgement before exercising. If something doesn’t sound or feel right, stop and consult a health professional. See Disclaimer at bottom* .
There are additional video links at the bottom of this post.

Suggestions – Ladies: Select 2 exercises. Hold for each stretch or exercise for at least 10 seconds, your target is at least 30 seconds. Move for at least 5 minutes in the morning. At the end of a week, add 5 more minutes and select 2 more exercises.



Suggestions – Men: Select 2 exercises. Hold for each stretch or exercise for at least 10 seconds, your target is at least 30 seconds. Move for at least 5 minutes in the morning. At the end of a week, add 5 more minutes and select 2 more exercises.

Minimize Sitting – You break working sessions into chunks because it’s good to get something to drink and to stretch your legs. You make it social by adding a friend.


Back Support and Posture
-When you do sit, you use a chair with adjustable back support or lumbar roll17 to support your lower back at work, travel or leisure. A support that adapts to you regardless of seat is preferred.




Avoid Bed
The bed is the great deceiver. It seems like you would get better, but too much rest actually hurts – literally!


Over-the-Counter Medication
Gets you through the worst (this is fine). You always consult medical professionals when you have questions or something doesn’t feel right. Moderation is the key and treat pain medication as a necessary evil. Be sure to share what you’re doing with a health professional and a trusted friend so they can be alert for any changes.


Create Healthy Habits & Tools
You use ‘gamification’ tools like fitbit® or phone apps like Samsung Health® that come equipped with prompts to remind you to move and helps you set achievable goals. Include friends and co-workers to foster mildly competitive activities such as number of steps walked in the morning. Even better, take a walk and talk each morning for 10 minutes.


Create Healthy Habits & Tools
You use ‘gamification’ tools like fitbit® or phone apps like Samsung Health® that come equipped with prompts to remind you to move and helps you set achievable goals. Include friends and co-workers to foster mildly competitive activities such as number of steps walked in the morning. Even better, take a walk and talk each morning for 10 minutes.


Massage – Yes!

Roamers

Travelers

People on the Go

9 COMFORT CHOICES

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