Identifying and Treating Low Back Pain

Low back Pain:  Causes and Treatment

Low back pain (LBP) is the most common musculoskeletal complaint in the US, and the condition most commonly treated in the chiropractic office. Though almost everyone has dealt with low back pain at some point in their lives, the cause of the pain, in each case, can be different. With the athlete, the causes are often predictable and can be narrowed down to a few diagnoses. This article will discuss some commonalities in low back pain & measures that can be taken to keep your back healthy.

Herniations

Possibly the most troubling cause of low back pain is a disc herniation. This can cause crippling pain that may radiate to into the butt and down the leg. It may also cause muscle spasms and negatively effect your posture and range of motion.  Anatomically, discs lie between each vertebrae and act primarily as shock absorbers. With repeated stress on the spinal column, these discs may become damaged. When the outer portion of the disc tears, the softer portion of the disc, the nucleus, may protrude out. Only the outer third of the disc has pain receptors, therefore you can have some herniation without pain. This means that there can be serious structural problems in your spine and you can have zero pain. It is so important to listen to your body and seek therapy before you have been incapacitated. Herniations do not discriminate based on your sport or activity level. Yogis may sustain herniations from sustained poses in hyper flexion or extension, weight lifters from poor form or repetitive flexion, and high impact athletes from trauma. These are just a few of the many examples.

Piriformis Syndrome

Though herniations may cause numbness, tingling or shooting pain into the leg. It is not the only cause, as irritation of the sciatic nerve may also be the culprit. The sciatic nerve courses down the leg to the foot and enters the posterior leg just below the piriformis muscle. When this muscle becomes tight from overuse or increased strain, as it often does in athletes, it can irritate the sciatic nerve, resulting in this pattern of pain. Preventatively, this muscle can be tough to get at on your own, but using a mobility ball to release the glutes is helpful. Soft tissue work and manual release is the ideal course of treatment for an exacerbated issue.

The Iliopsoas

A main flexor of the hip and trunk, the iliopsoas runs from the lower spine to the femur. This muscle is shortened and hypertonic in many individuals and can pull the pelvis forward, increasing the strain on the hamstrings and muscles of the low back. Chronic psoas tightness can cause a ‘sway-back’ appearance and decrease the stability of the spine, especially in overhead positions. Today, many people have tight, weak psoas muscles because of time spent seated. Sitting puts the psoas in a shortened position and, unfortunately, a short muscle is a weak muscle. Aside from decreasing time spent on your behind, the best way to combat psoas tightness is to release the psoas on a regular basis. This can be done on your own or by a professional. The latter may be a better option, as this muscle can be very tender and will put your mental toughness to the test if you decide to tackle it on your own.

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