Answers To Your Back Pain Questions
You have probably found this website because you (or someone close to you) have back pain and you’re trying to figure out what is there to do for your back pain.
Like you, a lot of people are in the same boat. Your back has been bothering you on and off for a while (more on than off recently). You have gone to the doctor and taken tests, but they say that there’s nothing that shows up on the x-ray so they send you home with a prescription for pain pills.
You may have even tried physical therapy for a bit. And, things may have started to feel better. But, the pain would always come back.
You feel that, even though you have good days and bad days, nothing really seems like it works for you and having this nagging back pain is something that you’re going to have to live with for the rest of your life because you can’t figure out why it’s there or what could be causing it.
Take heart. As I said before, you’re not alone.
Health Risks of Sitting at A Desk All Day
Cases of back pain in the U.S. has continued to rise year by year, especially in people who are into their working years and beyond. According to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control within the last five years, during any given 3 month period, about a third of the adult population in the United States is going to see a doctor about back pain at some point.
Another interesting statistic that was gleaned from a survey done by the American Physical Therapy Association, called the “Move Forward” back pain survey, indicated that over half of those people with back pain are desk workers.
You may have heard that sitting is the new smoking or cancer. Well, in this case there does seem to be a correlation between being sedentary and experiencing an increase in back pain.
Sitting too long at a desk, prolonged sitting in a car or on a commute, or sitting too much once you get home from work will have effects on you that you may not be able to perceive all at once. But, the repetition of doing the same thing day in and day out will eventually take a toll on your body.
And, if you think about it, this may be the exact reason that it seems that you’re never quite able to get rid of your back pain completely. The reason being that your lifestyle continues to be fairly sedentary at work and on the commute.
Why sitting is bad for you
There are many problems related to sitting for extended periods of time. From increased weight, higher blood pressure, and increased issues with diabetes. But, one of the biggest problems that sitting can cause is the toll it takes on your musculo-skeletal system.
Poor posture, generalized weakness, increased arthritic symptoms, and the potential for muscle strains all are increased with prolonged sitting and being sedentary.
Many people may ask “What is a sedentary lifestyle?” because this term seems to suggest that a person is lazy and doesn’t want to help themselves or be very active in their lives. But, this isn’t the case at all.
A sedentary lifestyle as we’re defining it here is simply sitting for the majority of your waking hours. This has become more and more prevalent in the last few years with the increase in technology in the work place.
Most every one is bent over at their desk or work station for most of the day and then it’s off to the car where you sit down more. The average American spends 5+ hours sitting at work and that doesn’t include time in the car/bus/train, or even the time sitting when they’re at home.
While people may be working or active, computer screens keep us in a sitting position and more sedentary.
What Causes Chronic Back Pain
So, how is it exactly that sitting for long periods of time can be the cause of your back pain? It has to do with your low back muscles and other muscles that support them.
When you’re sitting, certain muscles in your body get short and others lengthen. Most importantly, the muscles along the front of your hips and thighs and those behind the knees. Since these muscles become shorter, it’s more of an effort to straighten out the hips and the knees in order to stand up straight.
Also, when you sitting, most of your lower body muscles simply turn off because they’re not working. Your hip and leg muscles hold you up against gravity and keep you from falling down. When you’re sitting, they get to take a break because you’re resting on the chair and they don’t have to work.
The longer you sit, the less they have to work. And, the less they work, the weaker they get. If this happens day in and day out, you’re actually de-training your muscles to support your body weight. It’s only natural.
Since your hip and leg muscles have become relatively weaker the muscles in your low back have to pick up the slack and do more work. So, they get over worked and you feel this as back pain.
Because of these two natural processes, when you try stand up, certain groups of muscles are tight and other groups of muscles are weak. And so, it becomes more and more of a chore for your body to stay upright and move against gravity.
This is a primary reason why most people end up with lower back pain. And, while the sitting itself may not be the cause of your back pain, it is setting you up for an injury because your back and lower body are not in any condition to put any real demands on them like lifting something heavy or walking for extended periods.
Lower Back Pain After Walking
I know you’ve seen older people using canes and walkers out and about. Most of the time, they’re bent over their devices looking down at the ground trying to make it to their destination.
It’s a misconception to think that their problem is strictly due to “old age”. I would suggest that it has more to do with them being retired and therefore are in a sitting position most of their waking hours.
You see the same thing with people at the grocery store draped over their shopping carts. For the most part, these people aren’t retired. They’re probably just on their way home from work. In fact, you may even be one of them!
The reason that people lean on their shopping carts is because they can’t walk for long periods of time without their back hurting.
When you’re out at the store or the mall and you have to keep your body upright to see where you’re going and what you’re buying, it demands a lot of work from the muscles in your lower back and along the back of your legs and hips.
If you’ve been sedentary for a long time, it’s going to take a lot of work for you to stay in this position. Unfortunately, the longer you’re walking, the more lower back pain you’re probably going to have and so you’ll be looking for a place to sit and rest before you have to finish shopping.
Sore back from walking
And, once you get home from your shopping excursion, what’s the first thing you do? Probably collapse on the couch or your comfortable chair. Because, by this time your back has probably become pretty sore and you want to treat yourself to a longer rest.
This is really common for sedentary people who are having back pain after walking all day. And it may take a day or so and some Motrin to recover enough to feel like your normal self.
But, keep in mind, if spending more than 30 minutes or so on your feet is causing you low back problems, this isn’t normal for most people. You should be able to do a lot more than that if needed.
Two Common Myths About Low Back Pain
Most people who have to deal with back pain from sitting all day hold onto a couple of ideas that send them in the wrong direction when they try to get treat their pain.
Myth #1. It’s weak core muscles causing lower back pain. While there may be some weakness in
the “core” muscles this is not the primary cause of your problems. In fact, most people don’t know what or where their “core” muscles are. And so wouldn’t even know where to start if this was the real issue.
So many people think that their back pain is due to “weakness” that they think that the best treatment is to “get stronger”, whatever that means.
So, without knowing what’s actually causing their problem, they hit the gym and start lifting weights and potentially setting themselves up for an even worse injury.
Myth #2. A bulging disc is causing your back pain. Unfortunately, most people think that this is the only thing that causes back pain. It’s a misconception to think this because studies have shown that many people actually have bulging discs AND DON’T HAVE BACK PAIN!
A bulging disc is a normal and natural occurrence. It a herniated disc that causes severe cases of back pain. A herniation is actually a tear of rupture of the vertebral disc which presses against the nerves and can cause a lot of problems and discomfort.
Bulging and herniated discs are fairly easy to see on MRI films and can even be picked up on x-rays. The difference is this: your doctor will recommend surgery for a herniated disc. But, for a bulging disc, you’ll be given some pain pills and sent home. This is because a bulging disc is rarely cause for concern.
The Cause of Back Pain
So, what’s causing your back pain?
No one can really give you a good answer, but think about like this: if you’ve not been hit by a car, fallen off a horse, or tried to lift a 1965 Cadillac recently… If you haven’t really had any trauma or been overly active…. If all you basically do is spend time at work sitting and then sit when you get home… If your doctor can’t really pinpoint the exact cause of your pain… What could the cause actually be?
Is low back pain a repetitive strain injury like carpal tunnel? A repetitive strain injury is doing something that in an of itself is none traumatic. It’s just that you do it over and over and over and over and over….. again.
A repetitive strain is an over use injury.
Couldn’t sitting and standing and sitting and standing and sitting and standing be an over use injury also? Especially if certain muscles are weak and other muscles are overly tight?
It’s just a question that I ask because it just makes sense. If you haven’t had any trauma to your back then it shouldn’t hurt, right?
Treating Back Pain From Sitting Too Much
The best way to treat back pain that’s caused by sitting is to address the understand the underlying cause and to address it or them. As pointed out previously, prolonged sitting causes some muscles to get tight and others to get weak.
Starting a stretching program to target the tight muscles is probably the easiest way to start. This is because, done right, it’s has less of a potential to cause other injuries than starting a strengthening program at the gym.
And, starting a stretching program is more convenient because you don’t need any equipment to do it. Stretching can be done easily throughout the day at work and at home.
And finally, by starting a stretching program, you’ll be able to tell fairly soon if you’re making progress or not.
When you start your stretching program, you’ll target 3 specific muscle groups that tend to get really tight with prolonged sitting. We’ll point these out on following pages.