Low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide however the pain experience can vary greatly between individuals. This is because there are multiple structures throughout the lower back that can contribute to different patterns of pain. So what are the reasons a back might become painful?
At Integrate Physio we have identified three common reasons why back pain occurs; an overload or overuse injury, a build up of inactivity or lack of physical activity and lastly stress. Whilst we understand these aren’t the only three reasons why back pain occurs, these are the three most common drivers we see. Throughout this blog we will shed light on how each of these three factors can bring about back pain.
1. Low back pain due to Overuse
An overuse injury occurs when a structure/s within the body are unable to keep up with or meet the demand of an activity or task. These can range from one isolated incident right up to a repetitive overuse injury where a series of events or repetitions lead to an injury.
The tissues within our body have a certain tolerance at any given time and pain acts as a warning system or limiter to potentially harmful movements. Our capacity or tolerance to activities and tasks is largely determined by what we condition our bodies to do. We condition our bodies through specific training, repetition of movement and practice.
Take a deadlift for example, initially someone in a weights program may be limited to 60kg as they have never lifted anything heavier. Yet they have a goal of attaining a 100kg deadlift. If they progressively train and condition their body through a program they would be able to improve their overall strength for that movement and achieve their 100kg goal. However if this person were to increase the weight or sets/reps too quickly, an overuse injury could occur, as the body cannot tolerate that intensity of work yet.
Overuse injuries are extremely common and can range from the example above where an individual completes a heavy lift or movement and instantly experiences back pain, to a series of repetitive movements or gradual mild overload over a period of days/weeks that brings about pain. The treatment for both injuries are very similar. The human body is an incredibly strong adaptable structure and thus can adapt to the things we want to do through the right process and time. A Physiotherapist, particularly in discussion with your coach or personal trainer is best equipped to map out a plan to reduce your pain and restore your physical capacity.
2. Low back pain due to Inactivity
Inactivity is another leading cause of back pain we see in the clinic. When we say inactivity we aren’t just referring to those who aren’t physically active at the moment, but also those who for one reason or another may have recently had a significant decrease in their activity levels. This can happen for many reasons, maybe you’re settling into a new lifestyle and struggling to find a routine that works for you, or maybe you’ve lost interest in the things you were doing previously. One way or another at times we fall off the horse a bit so to speak, and we struggle to be as active as we once were and from here may notice aches and pains pop up that we never knew were there before.
The human body loves to move and needs movement to remain healthy and in good condition, when we take away its regular routine, it is normal that we may experience pain. We can become stiff or weaker in areas and this all ties back into the age old saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it”.
3. Low back pain due to Stress
Lastly, stress can have a large impact on pain. During a back injury incident many thoughts can go through our heads and create uncertainty, especially if this is the first time experiencing these particular sensations. Conversely, stress has a considerable impact on our bodies capacity to adapt to the strains of daily life. We know that prolonged psychological stress has profound physical effects physiologically (increased inflammation, hormonal changes, immune system changes i.e.). So it can be important to take stock of the broader context of what is going on in your life when you experience back pain.
Frequently asked questions about low back pain
- Have I done irreparable damage to my back?
- What is causing my back pain?
- What things can I do and is there anything I am doing that may make things worse?
Often the uncertainty of not knowing answers to these questions can increase the stress someone experiences in relation to their condition, which subsequently contributes to their overall pain experience. At Integrate Physio we take into consideration more than just the structural cause of someone’s pain, because we know it is often deeper and more complex than this. We understand the importance of education and making sure our clients have their questions answered.
The common low back pain cycle
At Integrate Physio, we find the above 3 common reasons for low back pain actually act in a cycle.
For example someone experiences an overuse injury for the first time. They then may enter a period of stress where they are concerned about things they can and can’t do or fear of further injuring themselves which leads to a period of inactivity. Through this period of inactivity our body can become deconditioned for our usual activities and when getting back into things we notice the injury return. This occurs because we have not conditioned or prepared the body for a return to this activity or task. Highlighting the importance of exercise based rehabilitation at some point through your low back pain experience.