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Why does my back hurt? We’re vicims of our own luxury. That’s why!

The most common question i get in my practice is “WHY”?  “Why do I get headaches”? “Why does my back hurt when I get up in the morning?”  “My fingers are numb.  Why?”  I do my best to explain biomechanically and chemically what’s going on, but that rarely answers the question “Why?”  The exception, of course, being direct trauma — i.e. ” Your back hurts because you fell off a ladder onto your back and injured the tissues of your back.”  The causes of most back problems, however, are not so simple to explain.  You can have back pain, headaches, morning stiffness, etc., etc., even though you’ve never fallen out of a tree or been in an auto accident.  Then the logical mind will just assume that it’s “genetic.”  Plenty of people are satisfied thinking that they have “bad genes” and there’s nothing they can do about it, so might as well just stay high on narcotic pain killers and avoid exercise at any cost.  Some people are just not satisfied with that verdict and sentence. (Not to diminish the importance of genetics, but genetics are only PARTLY responsible for the fate of your musculoskeletal system).

So here’s a possiblilty.  We were born to walk barefooted on the soil, and we almost never do that. Think about it.  Why do we have flexible feet and controllable toes?  If we were made to be on concrete all day, shouldn’t we have wheels instead of feet?

When we walk on a soft surface such as a grassy field or a sandy beach, two things happen.  1)  We leave a footprint, and 2)  Our bodies have to use their sense of balance to keep us from falling over.

We leave a footprint.  Footprints are evidence of a compliant surface, meaning that surface absorbs shock or impact as the force of our bodies lands on that surface.  Every time we take a step, the force of that motion must be dissipated, or cushioned somehow.  On a softer surface, a great deal of the force is dissipated externally, or outside the body.  Blades of grass bend or break.  Grains of sand separate.  A slight indention is left in the surface.  On a non-compliant surface, however, nothing changes.  Concrete granules do not move farther apart.  No indention is apparent.  The question is, then, “where does the impact go?”  The answer would be YOU.  That’s where the impact goes.  The ligaments and joint cartilages absorb most of that extra impact — which is exactly what they were meant to do.  However, they were meant to have some help from the ground we walk on.  All of this extra stress leads to tears in the fibers of these connective tissues. (references to come)  Years of the abnormally high impact can lead to a high volume of these “micro-tears” which can have a negative impact on the integrity of the tissue, and thus lack of joint stability and strength.

On a softer surface, our bodies have to work harder to stay balanced.  This is where a good dose of neurology is appropriate.  It take quite a network of nerves and brain-firing patterns to keep us upright.  Compare it to chewing food.  How do you know when it’s safe to bite down without biting off your tongue?  There are thousands of nerve endings in your tongue, called proprioceptors, that alert your brain as to the exact location of your tongue.  The signals are processed in the brain, creating the proper motor signals to bite down and move your tongue out of the way at the same time.

We stay upright by a similar process.  The muscles of our back, particularly the deepest layers of muscle that are fitted snugly against the spinal column, are heavily embedded with these proprioceptors.  When we move, constant signals are generated by these nerve receptors and sent through the spinal cord to the brain.  This way, your brain has a good “picture” of the exact location of your back based on the length of certain muscles and minute changes in the length of these muscles.  These signals are processed by several areas of the brain and spinal cord to produce motor messages from the brain that coordinate the motions of the larger muscles that control gross movement of the spine (and other joints).

When we are on extremely stable surfaces, such as concrete and most flooring, that system no longer has to work very hard.  As we all know, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”  The small, unexercised proprioceptive muscles in the deep back lose their tone.  As a result, we lose CORE STABILITY. [ “Core” is such a buzzword and quite misused these days.  That is for another blog.  Stay tuned.]  We are essentially left with weak & injured, lazy backs that have lost their ability to move correctly.  There are even professional athletes with weak, lazy backs –they just don’t know it.  Yet.

So how does a chiropractor “fix” this?  These poor motion patterns cause certain segments of the spine to either “lock up” or move abnormally.  A good chiropractor will pick out these joints, and through a series of “adjustments,” re-establish proper motion into these joints.  (Beware of the chiropractor who just “pops” every bone in your spine.  It feels good for a few minutes, but you certainly don’t want to introduce too much motion into joints that don’t need it).  Once we start to get the dysfunctional joint moving again, we have a series of exercises to help build the “core strength” of that joint (Core strength training does not mean doing 4000 crunches, by the way).  It involves mostly some stretching and balancing techniques that we teach you in our office and encourage you to continue doing them at home or at work.  In my practice, we refer to this process as Spinal Reconditioning.

Alternatively, you should pack up (and get rid of) 96% of your “stuff” and move to a quiet sandy beach somewhere and live barefooted.  Keep a garden to grow your own food, plus the exercise of bending down (a heavy-user of core strentgth) to pluck weeds.  Probably not much need for a chiropractor in that environment.

By on October 11th, 2009 | Tagged with: | Comments Off on Why does my back hurt? We’re vicims of our own luxury. That’s why!