If you’ve ever had low back pain, you know how debilitating it can be. I write this month’s newsletter for those of us who have trouble finding a comfortable position to sleep in, have had to brace ourselves on the sink while we brush our teeth, sit down to put on our pants, and watch, filled with envy, as others around us bend over effortlessly. I hope that some of the material in here will be of use to those who suffer, and will help stir compassion among those lucky ones who are free from such discomfort!
In health and wellness,
“Maybe a year ago,” he said. He couldn’t nail it down. He was a busy guy, working up to 14 hours a day as a software consultant. But he hadn’t had an accident. There was not one singular moment when his back ‘went out’. He was a young man in his 30s who had simply awaken one morning with a sore back. Over the next several weeks, the pain worsened. Before Steve knew it, he had become one of the millions of Americans who suffer from chronic low back pain.Steve went to chiropractors and doctors, bought gadgets sold on TV, did abdominal strengthening exercises, used ice and heat, tried different sleeping positions, orthotics, different shoes, an ergonomically ‘correct’ chair. Some things seemed to help a little, but nothing took the pain away completely. He wanted his old…no, his younger….body back!
Like many of my clients, Steve came to me for help with one of the most common physical ailments in America. According to the National Institute of Health, 90% of Americans suffer from significant back pain at some point in their lives. Back pain is the #2 reason people go to their doctor, second only to colds and flu, and it is the second most common neurological ailment in the U.S., second only to headaches. Americans spend $50 billion each year on treating low back pain.
If you look at the picture above, you can imagine why Steve might have back pain (or neck pain, or tingling down his arms!). There is no support from his pelvis as his lumbar spine collapses back; as his arms reach for the computer keyboard, his neck muscles are working overtime (like he is) just to hold his head up. He could not possibly choose a worse position in which to sit and work.
Neck and low back pain are so common, in part, because these are the most mobile places in our spines. The more mobile a body segment, the more prone to injury it is. For this reason, we must find ways to move that support these mobile places. Support comes from our feet, when standing, and from our sit-bones when seated. Proper alignment can go a long way to avoid injury.
Structural Integration theory suggests that the episodes marking the onset of back pain–the moment your back ‘goes out’–are, with the exception of a traumatic accident, understood to be the cumulative effect of years of structural imbalance within the body. For instance, an ankle sprain in childhood could result in so many imbalances and compensations within the body that, years later, back pain results. A history of dancing or athletics without proper form can become strain and pain in later life. Even the way we wore our diapers can set us up for a future of pelvic distortions that result in debilitating back pain.
The ‘back going out’ is not just because you lifted that heavy box or bent to tie your shoe; your back simply took the brunt of the strain from years of unbalanced movement.
But whether your back pain can be traced back to a childhood injury or to the myriad of other ’causes’, Structural Integration systematically addresses every muscular-skeletal relationship in the body–the ankles as they relate to the knees, the knees to the hips and ankles, the hips to the ribcage and knees, etc–and the series takes people a long way towards re-balancing the whole body in gravity. After the 2nd session, where the focus is on the feet and lengthening the long spinal muscles of the back, Steve felt better than he had in a long time. He could make it through an entire day without pain. We discussed and practiced proper sitting. As he became more aware of his unhealthy habits of sitting and moving, Steve has been able to take control of his body again, and to indeed, reclaim his younger self.
* Steve is a fictional name used in this article for the purposes of privacy.