CARVILLE: Lower back pain: Why you have it, how you might get rid of it
This is the second part of a two-part series on lower back pain. Why you may have it. How you might get rid of it. Part one of the series was published May 3.
Millions of elderly people have no idea that their lower back and leg pain is due to certain muscle groups. There are many possible causes of your back pain. Some sources are structural or related to nerve damage. You need a medical doctor trained in those disciplines for treatment.
A major cause of back pain
Many people believe that their ‘lower back pain’ is caused by a problem in the ‘lower back.’ This is understandable because most movements in daily life require the spine to move. We move. We feel pain. Hence a problem with the back? Well, not necessarily.
A large percentage of lower back pain is related to poor physical conditioning and weak muscles in your gluteal complex, otherwise known as your “butt.” The movements of daily life require the spine to move: forward, backward, side to side and in rotation. When you walk, pick up groceries, golf, play tennis your spine flexes and rotates. When the spine rotates there should be accompanying rotational movement in your legs and hips to dissipate forces in the entire body. Think about your golf or tennis swing without leg movement. The same forces exist, to a lesser extent, when lifting your grandchild or opening a car door. Your body is a holistic unit.
A solution for back pain
If your spine is forced to accommodate all the stress of movement, you will eventually have back pain. The gluteal complex of muscles plays a major role in taking the stress off the spine, because this complex helps to control the torso, pelvis, hips and legs. When you bend forward to sit on a toilet or chair, your hips bend backward to counterbalance the forward motion of your body and help you stay upright. Your gluteal complex works to decelerate the flexions of your hips and counteract the downward pull of gravity and prevent your lumbar spine (lower back) from rounding forward. Sounds complex, but it isn’t. You do these hundreds of time each day.
Simply stated, a weak gluteal muscle complex does not support your spine and your daily movement as it should. If your spine will be stressed, you will develop back pain. But a strong gluteal complex (butt) will allow your body to function properly and without pain throughout your day, almost regardless of what you are doing.
One size does not fit all
There are many types of exercises to strengthen and loosen gluteal muscles. Specific exercises work on specific sets of muscles — one size does not fit all.
Let’s say you suffer from Piriformis Syndrome which is caused by a weak, inflamed or pinched piriformis muscle. Think ‘butt’ complex. It attaches the tailbone (sacrum) to the thigh bone (femur). It lies next to the sciatic nerve (the longest and thickest nerve in the body). A short, tight piriformis muscle can pinch the sciatic nerve. That can result is excruciating pain.
A simple solution is to stretch regularly. A great exercise for a short and tight piriformis muscle is the Yoga Pigeon pose. Just place a pad on the floor, lie on your back with knees bent, then cross the ankle or shin of one leg over the knee of the other at the knee (not critical). Then pull the non-bent leg toward your chest, stretching the piriformis muscle. People have been doing this stretch for thousands of years. They may not have known why, but they did know that they felt better after doing it.
First of all, see your doctor if the source of your pain is structural or related to nerve damage. If she/he says the answer is to exercise and get stronger, then you may be on your way to the elimination of back pain for the rest of your life. There are scores of exercises for all sorts of aches and back pain.
Pull out your old and dusty Yoga book. Begin a daily walk at Empire Mine Park. Drop by the gym and consult a certified trainer who can set up an exercise schedule that will treat your specific issues. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking every back pain should be treated with pills or shots. These merely mask the pain and do not treat the problem. Heal thy self — with exercise.
Phil Carville specializes in senior fitness. He is a co-owner of the South Yuba Club and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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