According to a recent Georgetown article on the Health Policy Institute website, nearly 65 million Americans reported a recent experience with back pain. Of the nearly 65 million, 16 million reported chronic back pain. Chronic back pain is the sixth most costly healthcare expense, and we lose around 83 million workdays per year. As you can see chronic back pain is costly in money and time, and most importantly in pain for the person.
The biggest mistake I see is we automatically think it is our back when we feel the back pain. Sadly, most healthcare practitioners think the same way which is why we think the way we do. Usually, when I try to explain to someone that it may not be their back, they are usually quick to share with me the results of an MRI or x-ray of their back. It is true the MRI or x-ray may show a bulging disc, herniated disc, or pinched nerve, which may be causing the pain at that moment. The problem here is we are not asking the correct questions. We are just accepting the damage that you see as the cause.
The correct question is, what caused the bulging or herniated disc? You were not born that way, so something had to happen along the way that led to the disc either bulging or herniating. The spine is made up of 26 individual bones named vertebrae. The pelvis is attached at the bottom and the head is at the top. If my head is in a leaning forward position most of the time, then the compression on the vertebrae in my neck will increase. Over time the discs will become dry, due to the compression, and then it can bulge, herniate, or pinch a nerve.
The pelvis can move forward or backward which can create compression on the front side or back side of the spine leading to the same drying out which can make it bulge, herniate, or pinch a nerve. These are the 2 leading causes of back pain, upper or lower. Of course, muscles surrounding the spine from top to bottom can cause compression, it is just not as common.
The question is, how do you know which area is causing your pain? In this newsletter, I will share with you some tips to help you identify possible causes of your back pain and you may be surprised how quickly you can solve your own back pain.
What is Causing my Pain?
There are simple tests you can do at home to help you identify where the pain may be coming from. Let’s start with the pelvis. The pelvis is controlled by the muscles of the thighs and hips. The muscles on the front, back, and inner thighs can affect your low back. The muscles on the side of your hips and rotating muscles of the hips can affect your low back too.
If you have low back pain when you stand up, get out of bed, or after standing for a while, but it stops hurting when you sit then the cause may be from the front of your thighs or inner thighs. Many times you may find if you lay down your back will hurt until you place a pillow under your knees. This is due to short quads on the front of your thighs. When standing or laying on your back, you are straining those muscles on the front of your thighs. The pillow and sitting take the pressure off.
If the pain is to the outside of the low back, it is more than likely the front of your thighs or quadriceps. This is Cause #1. If the pain is more in the middle, it is usually the inner thighs or adductors. This is Cause #2. Walking may reduce the pain at first, however, walking can cause the pain to come back once you sit down again. The movement forces warm blood into the muscle allowing it to warm up and soften. This reduces the pain until you sit again.
If your back hurts when sitting or it is difficult to bend down and tie your shoes, it is more than likely your hamstrings on the backside of your thighs. This is Cause #3. Sitting and bending forward fully extends the hamstrings and if they are tight, this can be painful in the low back. The caveat here is, the calves are the real cause of the hamstrings shortening, so stretching the calves is imperative to solve the problem.
If walking or twisting causes low back pain, then it is likely the muscles on the sides of your hips, the Tensor Fascia Latta. This is Cause #4. These two muscles attach at the top of the pelvis and run down to the hip joint. When you walk these 2 muscles extend as your leg moves forward and contract as it moves back. If one of these muscles becomes tight, it shifts the pelvis side to side making one side higher than the other. This tightness will cause low back pain and make it difficult to twist your body.
The neck area works the same. If you work on a computer, look at your phone many times a day, or walk with your head in a downward position, the muscles on the front of your neck, the Sternocleidomastoids(SCMs), can shorten creating pain on the backside of your neck. This is Cause #5 and it can affect the upper back.
When we think of someone with a stiff neck, sleeping the wrong way and their neck hurts, and even whiplash, they always complain of pain on the backside of their neck and upper back. Unfortunately, most people are trained to work at the site of pain. This is a mistake. Due to the shortening of the SCMs, the pressure increases on the backside of the neck.
If it hurts to rotate your neck to the right, for instance, that movement is created by contracting the back right muscle in your neck and releasing the left front muscle of the neck. If the left front muscle is tight, the pain will occur on the right rear side of the neck, and vice versa if you turn your head to the left.
What is interesting is, the outside chest muscle, the Pectoralis Minor, will cause your head to lean forward so the shoulders round from sitting in front of a computer or driving. Even more surprising is, the four calf muscles can be the main source of the shoulders rounding and causing the back of your neck to hurt. This is Cause #6. When the four calf muscles are tight, you will take a shorter stride and most likely will walk with a little head forward posture. Over time, this posture will get worse. Most calf stretches we have all been taught, will not solve this problem.
When dealing with whiplash, the injury usually happens when the head popped back, especially in a rear-end collision. Why? Again, we rarely look up so the SCMs are not used to being fully stretched out. Once the head pops back, the SCMs are hyperextended and go into a spasm. So why is the pain on the backside? When the SCMs go into a spasm, the muscles on the backside must overwork to hold the head up in a level position. The muscles on the backside remain in a contracted state and soon fatigue, causing pain.
In all of these scenarios, the muscles can create bulging and herniated discs, and pinched nerves. Since the bones cannot move on their own, it is the muscles that create most of the problems that later lead to bone damage
How to Solve the Problem, Before and After an Injury
As you can see, there are many causes of chronic back pain and it takes a little investigation to figure out why it hurts. Using my Stretch n’ Release Technique you can prepare your muscles to avoid most injuries or reduce and stop the pain from the injury once it occurs. My Stretch n’ Release Technique will help figure out what areas are tight and where to work to stop the pain. Below I have added a stretch for the lower body and one for the neck and shoulders. Doing these each day at least once a day can help you avoid the most common aches and pains that your friends are feeling. The best part is, if something does happen to you, your recovery can be much faster. Many of my clients have recovered from an injury in half the time of their friends and family, if they follow the Stretch n’ Release Technique protocol at home. We have all grown up in a world that led us to believe we get sick or hurt, go see a doctor, they fix it, and we need not do anything. The truth is, we have work to do if we want to age more gracefully and pain-free. I wish I could touch you and heal you instantly, but it just doesn’t work that way. You need your help, with my guidance, to solve your pain
Tips to Improve Stretching Chronic Back Pain with Stretching
All you need is a yoga strap and a tennis ball for the tennis ball massage. Give yourself about 15 minutes twice a day and you should see better results within 2 weeks. This, though, is a lifetime event. Think of your pet. they stretch every day and several times a day. Stretch when they stretch. Follow the videos below and free your knees. In my opinion, the calf stretch is the most important stretch a human can do. It will solve many issues of the body.
Stretching is more about feeling the muscles letting go than forcing them to stretch. If you are forcing the muscle, you could be doing strength training, not stretching. Make sure you are feeling the intended muscle stretching. If not, the form could be wrong. Holding for 5 seconds allows the brain to release the muscle before it senses any danger. Repeating the stretches 10 times allows the brain to learn it is safe for the muscle to move that way.
Hip Flexors Stretches
Don’t forget the Tennis Ball Massage!
Softening your hips and back is easy when you use the tennis ball. Just lean against the wall and apply enough pressure to feel the painful area. The temptation is to press harder but resist it. Instead, breathe out and allow the muscle to soften under the ball. Then move to another spot and repeat. Continue doing this until most of the painful spots are gone. Check out previous newsletters to see the video.
Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for access to free videos as I post them.
Want to Talk with Me Directly? Start Here
We’re happy to offer you a complimentary 30-min virtual consultation so you can experience this for yourself. Schedule your introduction to Stretch n Release now.
About The Muscle Repair Shop
Drawing upon his personal experience as a former competitive athlete turned wheelchair, obese, and chronic pain sufferer, Muscle Repair Shop Founder Butch Phelps decided to take his health into his own hands when at the age of 36 he was told he might not make it to his 40th birthday. Applying balanced nutrition advice from his doctor along with a sound exercise program, he went from 315 lbs. to 180 lbs. Motivated by his experience, he then acquired degrees in advanced therapeutic massage and aging sciences to help people eliminate chronic pain. This included applying his expertise in how people age, including the effects of dementia, anatomy, psychology, and the day-to-day struggles living as an older person to his practice and development of The Muscle Repair Shop’s one-of-a-kind Stretch n’ Release Technique.
Available through in-office and virtual coaching treatment sessions, this unique combination of stretching and breath work teaches the brain to release the emotional side of muscle tension and pain allows clients to find lasting relief and healing from stiffness, aches, injuries, and chronic pain. The at-home exercises come with customized instructional videos and virtual or in-office support, allowing clients to enjoy and experience life and sports as they did before limitations slowed or curtailed activities.