Lower back pain is a common problem. I have suffered from it for years non-stop, from the age of 15 until 25, when I finally started to respect my anatomy. Unfortunately, the fact that it is common doesn't make it less debilitating. That's where your nerves travel; an inflammation can soon turn into horrible nerve pain.
Lower back pain can limit movement apart from causing you pain. If you are an active person, your back pain can become as much of a mental setback as it is physical, interrupting training and undermining your confidence. So, what to do when it happens?
Understanding your back pain will help you manage and prevent it. Let's explore the common reasons for lower back pain, how to fix it, and the steps you can take to protect yourself in the future.
Understanding the spine
The spine is one of the most important structures in the body. If you have ever experienced intense back pain, you know that any limb's movement will impact your back pain.
The spine consists of joints where vertebrae meet each other in a cylinder. Your spinal cord runs down the middle of these vertebrae, and there are 'discs' between the vertebrae to keep them spread out and keep your spine healthy.
As you can tell just by looking at it, the spine can be at the centre of pain in many ways. Pain can happen when any of these structures function the wrong way. For example, when the bones get in contact with each other, the discs are squeezed too far, or the positioning of the spine overall becomes compromised due to muscular tightness or imbalance.
The lower back: Where pain is most important and most common.
The spine's four major segments.
- The Cervical spine is between the skull and shoulder girdle.
- The Thoracic spine takes up the 'middle' of the back.
- The Lumbar spine is below that and just above the pelvis.
- The Sacrum is the part of the spine that is fused into the hips. It is a part of both the back and hips—a pairing that will become very important to understand later on in this article.
Lower back pain is any pain occurring in the lumbar spine or sacrum. These lower areas of the back are the meeting point of the spine and the hips. And because we walk upright, they are carrying the stress of the higher segments of the spine (axial loading).
Many back problems result from improper care during axial loading. The discs space out the vertebrae to prevent bone damage and protect the spinal cord.
How the Back Moves
- It can flex and extend, arching and bending forward.
- It can flex sideways (laterally), bending towards one side.
- It can rotate at each segment of the spine (except the sacrum).
These movements are important because they all have their respective supporting musculature. For example, the obliques are associated with lateral (side) flexion and extension, so their strength—and flexibility— is essential in this precise area.
SI Joint: Where the Spine Meets the Hips
The sacroiliac joint (SIJ, or SI joint) is where the spine anchors in the hips. Problems in the spine may show up further down into the hips and knees. Inversely, back pain can result from problems in the knees, hips, or even ankles.
The movement of the core and hips together control the spine's position by rotating it forwards and backwards and tilting the sides up or down during lateral flexion. That's why movements of the core and hips need to be considered together. Problems in either section can cause problems in the other.
We have just covered a lot of information. Let's digest it and start understanding our spine anatomy in order to fix the pain.
In PART 2 we will talk about the different causes of lower back pain and how to fix them.