Low Back Pain
There are many different structures in the back, and figuring out which one of them is the source of your lower back pain is the first step in coming up with a treatment plan. Joint misalignment is a hallmark of spinal pain, as it can cause irritation to the other structures in the spine.
The muscles and ligaments are often injured when lifting or moving the back wrong. This pain can be achy with sharp stabbing, or it can feel like a bruise. It is usually localized to the area of the painful muscle, but trigger points in the muscle can cause it to move. The muscle can also go into spasm, an uncontrolled contraction, which causes severe pain and makes you unable to move for a few seconds when it spasms.
The intervertebral discs between the spinal bones are generally affected by long term wear and tear. Disc pain is often totally disabling at first, and it often causes pain to shoot down one of your legs.
The spinal joints and sacroiliac joints can be sprained like any other joint in your body. A sprain is often a deep aching pain that becomes very sharp with the wrong movement.
Any of these injuries can compress the nerves resulting in pain down your legs. Often called sciatica, nerve pain feels like burning, or electrical pain, and can be associated with numbness, tingling or weakness in your legs.
The kidneys, stomach, gall bladder and other internal organs can also sometimes cause back pain. This pain tends to be less associated with movement, and can come and go in waves. Pain from the organs is usually accompanied by other symptoms like a fever or abdominal pain.
Serious conditions, like cancer or bone infection, are rare. Chiropractors are trained to rule out these conditions prior to treatment.
Why it can hurt even if you didn’t do anything
Muscle and ligament injuries can even start with a very innocuous motion. How can things like putting on your shoes, turning your head or reaching for some paper on the floor cause enough force to stop you in your tracks with pain? They can’t–on their own. But it only takes one wrong move to hurt your back if the spine is not aligned properly.
- How does that work? – Even the most active among us is pretty sedentary compared to what our bodies are made for. Any time spent sitting or lying is time that stiffness and misalignment can build up in the muscles and joints in our back.
- Step two – There are so many joints in the back that nearby joints can pick up the slack when some areas become stiff or out of alignment. This process works well to keep you moving and able to do your activities, but it can make the tight areas get stiffer. As those compensation patterns multiply, they set the scene for a painful episode.
- The last straw – So in the midst of your body making adjustments on the fly to keep you functioning, you innocently decide to pick up that piece of gum that fell out of your pocket. Because the movement pattern between your spinal bones is altered, your back can’t bend the way it wants to. That is the time when your muscle either develops a tear or goes into a painful spasm.
Can a chiropractor help back pain?
Yes. Treating lower back pain is Dr French’s specialty. In fact, chiropractic is one of the few treatments that have been proven effective for back pain. Misalignments in the spine cause muscles and ligaments to get irritated and aggravated. Our treatment progresses in stages from limiting inflammation to fixing the misalignments that cause of the pain to return.
When any muscular injury occurs, the body starts an inflammatory process by bringing in extra blood and fluid to the injury. This process is important because it brings nutrients and materials to repair the damage, but the swelling and pain that accompany inflammation make life miserable while it is happening.
The first step is to limit the inflammatory response and protect the injury. For mild injuries, you can try ice, compression and elevation of the injury at home. However, we would still like to see you since mild injuries can be caused by underlying joint misalignments. If those joint problems persist and worsen, repeated injuries in the same spot can result. For all types of musculoskeletal injuries, we use adjustments, some light massage, electrical therapy and sometimes Kinesio-Tape to make the healing process as efficient and fast as possible.
Once the inflammation stops and the muscle heals, you will feel better. But the stiffness in the joints can remain. If that underlying cause of the injury is not resolved, you may be setting the stage for a repeat injury. At this point, a short stint of rehabilitative exercises and joint adjustments can get your bones moving better than they were before you got hurt.
When is back surgery necessary?
At our Norwalk chiropractic office, our goal is to help you avoid surgery in any way we can. While the surgeons in our area are very skilled, and are some of the top doctors in the country, any surgery carries risks. Some people end up in more pain after back surgery than before. For that reason, it is common practice to exhaust conservative options, like chiropractic and exercise, before surgery is considered. Generally, if you have a long case of severe back pain that radiates to the leg, limits your daily activities, and the pain does not improve after a few weeks of chiropractic and exercise, more invasive procedures may be appropriate. Dr French can help you make that decision at the right time, and can recommend the right doctor if necessary.
Can you prevent back pain?
While you cannot prevent every injury, you can reduce your chances by keeping your back and neck loose. Get into a routine of light stretching and exercise every day to counteract the minor stiffness that can bloom into future problems. If you still feel stiff, or have a history of frequent back injuries, come get an adjustment at our Norwalk, CT office before it hurts. A little prevention can be worth a pound of cure!
Stretches for lower back relief
There is no single stretch that will solve all back pain. In fact, stretching sometimes won’t provide any relief, even if you target the right muscle. In general, stretching should be gentle. Think of wringing inflammation out of the muscle rather than pulling apart something stuck together. Here are some of my favorites.
The piriformis is a muscle next to your sacroiliac joint. It is commonly painful with driving or sitting on a wallet. You can stretch it by crossing the ankle on the painful side over the other knee and pulling it towards your chest.
The SI joint is a very common injury. When it is inflamed you can sometimes feel a painful nodule in the lower back over the top of the joint. A good stretch for this area is to cross the leg on the non painful side over the painful leg while standing and bend forward until you feel pulling in the painful spot. Hold this for five to ten seconds and you can repeat it three times. Remember you are trying to reduce inflammation in the joint not pull something apart, be gentle when you stretch!
For the muscles that sit on either side of the spine, we use a twisting motion to try to loosen them up. Lie on your back and drape one leg over to the opposite side as high up as you can. Switch sides.
Disc injuries can be stubborn, but one of the best stretches for disc pain is lumbar extension. The idea is to put pressure on the back of the disc. This can encourage the soft inner material to move forward away from nerves and painful areas. The discs move slowly, so a long stretch of at least 15 minutes is needed to push them in the right direction. Lie on your stomach with pillows underneath your upper body and press the hips down. Applying a hot pack during the stretch can help.
The hamstrings are in the back of the legs, but they have a very important relationship to the lower back. They attach to the bottom of the pelvic bones, so when they are too tight, they rotate the pelvis backwards, flattening the curve in the lower back. They are commonly tight in people who sit a lot during the day. Also, runners are particularly prone to tight hamstrings.
The common stretch for this muscle is a forward bend with straight knees, but I find that the muscle goes back to its former length soon after stopping this stretch. The best exercise I have found to improve the length of this muscle permanently is to combine a hamstring stretch with a quadriceps (on the front of the leg) exercise. Lie on your back and grab your leg behind the knee. Now using the front of your leg, contact and try to point the leg straight at the ceiling. Hold this for a few seconds, rest and do it again. Do about ten repetitions per day for a few weeks, and see if you notice a change.
Make an Appointment
If you need help with lower back pain, and you are near Norwalk, CT, Dr French would be happy to evaluate your condition, and come up with a plan to get you back to your life. Contact us with questions or click below to set up an appointment today.