As the second most common reason for sickness absence in the UK, low back pain is far from uncommon. With a third of adults experiencing symptoms at any point in time, chances are you or someone you know have low back pain right now. My own experience of idiopathic thoracic scoliosis (check out my wonky shoulders!) has taught me how frustrating and debilitating it can be. The causes of low back pain, and all musculoskeletal complaints, are manifold, but luckily around 95% of cases are completely harmless and can be improved through gentle and targeted movement, all it takes is time and a good amount of perseverance.
Gone are the days of the prescription for bed rest and taking it easy, which only served to embed fear-avoidance behaviours that can cause pain to become chronic. We avoid those activities that make our pain worse, causing the back to become weak and deconditioned, thus reinforcing our beliefs. A healthy back needs movement to build muscle and supply structures with oxygen and nutrients, both of which are helped along by regular physical activity.
Hurt does not mean harm. Most likely it's the result of imbalanced and inefficient muscle recruitment, determined by the way we sit, stand or move. Old injuries can make us adopt a protective, compensatory posture which pulls our bodies out of alignment and results in further problems down the line (after an initial incidence of low back pain, three-quarters of us will relapse).
Not all deviations cause problems, however, and many of us go about our lives completely unaware of a low foot arch or wonky spine (I didn't find mine till I was well into my 20s when it showed up on a chest x-ray).
Strategies for long-term relief
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for mechanical back pain. Medication, massage, heat treatment and chiropractic may help in the short-term, but any lasting solution requires re-education of the muscles which have been under- or over-used, preventing them from functioning effectively.
Detailed postural assessment can identify potential triggers for low back problems - which may actually originate from elsewhere in the body such as a misaligned pelvis, weak gluteal muscles, scoliosis or flat feet. We must therefore look beyond the low back get a true picture of what might be going on. This helps identify the right movements needed to bring the body back into alignment and begin building strength and flexibility for optimal movement.
As I progress with my Pilates career, not only am I experiencing significant relief of my own musculoskeletal pain, I am helping clients to understand their own postural deviations and develop the confidence to move again. Mobility can be improved surprisingly quickly but we must apply the principles to all aspects of our lives if we are to achieve lasting results.
Of course, in a handful of cases, low back pain can indicate a more serious pathology, particularly where there is neuropathy, when medical attention is vital.
For more information and advice about how PilatesHD can help with low back pain, please get in touch.