Why Is My Back Sore and How Can I Fix It?
Explaining Back Pain
Low back pain in itself isn't a disorder. It can be a result of any number of issues with the ligaments, muscles, nerves and the overall bone structure of the spine, neck, hips and ankles. Did you know it's the most common reason people take a sick day from work? Back pain can also stem from issues surrounding the organs such as inflammation or digestive problems.
As someone who lives with scoliosis I know all too well the woes of suffering with back pain. Before you can come to your conclusion for where your pain is coming you really need to know how your back works.
Knowing Your Back
Your back is made up of many parts including vertebrae, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and of course muscles. Your spine is surrounded by all kinds of muscle and your internal organs. Disruptions, strains and strength imbalances in any or all of these can be contributing to your lower back pain.
So why is my back in so much pain all the time?
For low back pain the most common causes are strain and dysfunctional structure. Strain occurs from sudden awkward movements and lifting heavy objects with improper form. You've heard of the term lift with your knees, not your back when picking something heavy off the floor.
You can also strain your back or key muscles around your back easily if you are structurally weak.
In most cases back pain can be alleviated with a good resistance training workout routine to strengthen the muscles around your spine.
There are several types of spinal structure dysfunctions that can be caused from bone and muscle imbalances or nerve issues.
The vertebrae or interlocking bones are stacked on top of one another and make up your spinal column. The areas of tissue between the vertebrae are called spinal disks.
These spinal disks can slip, become herniated, rupture or bulge which may add pressure to the nerves.
This can prove to be very painful. It may cause sciatica, which is a tingling, numbness or pain in your leg.
The structural dysfunction that I deal with called 'scoliosis' is when your spine curves to the side. This can occur as a birth defect or more commonly as a muscular imbalance.
I'm the unfortunate soul who has to deal with both issues. That sort of imbalance can lead to or be caused by an imbalance of how your hips sit. In my case my right leg is longer than my left leg.
This causes my right hip to sit higher and resulted in a very slight bend in my spine. As I grew older my muscles started to grow stronger on the left side of my back which slowly worsened my scoliosis.
If you believe you have a similar issue, thankfully there is something I use that drastically helps my scoliosis. I'll tell you more about that when I get into the solutions.
Other possible causes for your back pain
Back pain can be caused by any number of problems from your neck to your ankles. If you suffer chronic back pain you must see your doctor or physician. Your doctor will rule out the common issues and if necessary will test for the rarer causes. These can be:
Spinal Stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal
Fungal infection or bacterial infection of the spine
Cauda equine syndrome or loss of never function at the lower spinal cord
Displacement of vertebrae
Cancer or tumor within the spine
What does back pain feel like?
Symptoms of back pain caused from a strain usually heal within days or weeks at most. This kind of back pain may include:
Slight ache in the lower region of your back
Less range of motion in your back
Unable to stand tall without soreness
Stabbing pain that shoots from the back down the leg
If you suffer any of these symptoms you should see a doctor ASAP
Development of fever at the same time as developing back pain
Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
Constant but severe pain that may or may not get worse when laying down
Numbness or weakness in either of your legs
Factors that may increase your chance of developing back pain
Office work or other sedentary type work that involves sitting all day
Sitting for extended periods of time can lead to obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol levels. It also may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
This is an issue for office workers, courier drivers and truck drivers.
It causes the slouched posture many people have in todays society and that will create back pain.
Intense impact activity without proper warm-up (Heavy resistance training, sports etc)
Warming up will prepare the mind and the body for your training. Raising your body's core temperature and increasing blood flow allows more oxygen and blood to reach the muscles.
You're much more likely to strain or pull a muscle when jumping straight into exercise.
Back pain is much more common as people age. The muscles and bones weaken and the basic structure degrades. It is important to commit to a strength training program to prevent muscle loss and strengthen the bones as you age.
Body weight (Too much or too little)
Too much body weight as in being overweight or obese is a very common cause for lower back pain. The additional weight carried by an obese person puts a lot of added pressure on the spine. Having too much belly fat will pull your centre of gravity forward and can create postural issues.
On the other hand being underweight can also cause back pain. A common cause for being underweight is malnutrition or not eating enough nutrient dense foods.
This causes muscle degradation and wastage and affects the ligaments and joints all over the body.
You smoke too much
There have been studies to show that smoking can increase brain activity to cause reduced resistance to chronic back pain. There are two regions of the brain connected together, the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens.
The stronger the connection between these regions the more resilient you are to chronic pain.
This research shows smoking will cause a disruption in the connection between those regions, therefore will increase the risk by up to 3 times of developing back pain.
You drink too much alcohol
Alcohol has a big list of bad effects, one of which is dehydration. I don't just mean the feeling of being extremely thirsty. When your body is dehydrated your joints, muscles and tendons are all affected.
Have you ever noticed your back pain get much worse after having a few too many drinks?
Cutting back on the alcohol will do a lot to help alleviate chronic back pain.
This is another common cause for low back pain. Yes a bad diet will lead to obesity and may cause back pain from that, however even a fit and strong individual can suffer from back pain from a bad diet.
The digestive organs are all very close together near the spinal column.
Eating processed or hard to digest foods can cause bloating and inflammation in the gut which can put unwanted pressure on the nerves around your spine.
It may surprise you that even some healthy foods may cause this too.
Many people have food allergies without realising.
I myself am somewhat allergic to dairy so too much cheese or greek yogurt will give me grief.
Eating small amounts doesn't bloat me at all and I feel fine energy wise however my low back definitely feels it.
What tests to expect at your doctor
Usually you will just be tested with a physical, you may be tested on:
Your ability to stand and walk
Your knee reflex
The strength of your legs
Feelings in your legs
Range of motion of your spine
If your symptoms are serious you may have other tests such as:
Bone scan to check for complications in bone tissue
X-ray of spinal cord to check for structural damage and alignment
Blood and urine tests
CT scan or MRI to check nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, disks and muscles
An EMG to test your nerves
How to deal with your back pain
Although I recommend seeing your doctor to see the origin of your back pain, I don't necessarily recommend always following their advice. A doctor's job is to lower your symptoms not fix the cause. They will most likely prescribe you medication to take such as ibuprofen or naproxen.
This can relieve some pain but it won't fix the issue. Here is how to you can fix your back pain for:
I'd say the easiest cause for back pain to deal with in my opinion. When you have strained your back I recommend you get daily exercise in the form of walking. Getting the blood pumping in your body will increase blood flow and allow more nutrients reach the muscle.
When your body is warmed up from your walk I then recommend you do various back stretches.
Go easy on yourself though, if you lift weights I recommend you stop since you can potentially make things worse by creating more inflammation.
To help prevent strain in the future you should start a resistance training routine in order to strengthen your muscles and lower the risk of straining.
Just be sure to warm up properly before your workouts.
An excellent exercise you can add to your day is the plank.
Planking each day can greatly improve your core strength and reduce low back pain and it can be done easily from home.
The best overall back exercise to do in the gym is the deadlift.
The deadlift incorporates all of the muscles in your posterior chain (lats, traps, hamstrings, glutes, etc) and is the best overall strength builder for your back.
I highly recommend to invest in a personal trainor to help show you the corrent form for any exercise your attempt in the gym.
The Warm Up
Before intense exercise it is incredibly important to prepare your body for your workout. Anything low impact that gets you moving and your blood is great. Things such as walking, light jogging, rowing machine, cycling and bodyweight squats are all great forms of warming up.
Many people ask me should I stretch before I workout?
There are studies that show you should stretch to decrease risk of injury, but there are also studies that suggest stretching isn't necessary at all if you warm your body properly.
A warm-up in the form of bodyweight squats is essentially a dynamic stretch in and of itself.
Personally I need to stretch at least a little bit before my workout because of my scoliosis.
It's incredibly important for me to loosen my muscles but I've known many athletes that are just fine with dynamic warm-ups.
In my mind unless you have a more severe issue like scoliosis, you should be okay with just your dynamic warm-up.
As you start to age it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain your strength as your muscles break down and degrade. The most common issue is the degeneration of your discs and joints in the spine.
Aging also increases your risk of calcium deficiency which can cause degeneration in your bones.
It is important to keep active especially as you age, make sure to at least go for a walk every day for at least 45 minutes.
I also highly recommend weekly resistance training to keep your strength up. Regular resistance training will drastically slow down the degeneration process through aging.
Whether you are overweight or underweight there are some lifestyle changes you need to make.
If you are overweight you must:
Stop eating sugar and processed foods
Processed foods contain a lot of chemicals to help increase their shelf-life and give food certain colouring and texture. These chemicals are toxic to your body and slow your metabolism right down. What happens to the toxins?
They are stored within your fat cells!
This is bad because when you finally decide to go on a diet and begin to burn fat as those toxins are released into your body slowing your metabolism further.
This is commonly why people stop losing weight and give up on their strict diets! It's important to kickstart your new lifestyle with a good detox.
Lower carbohydrate intake and eat only low GI carbs
Another great reason to stop eating sugar and lower your carbohydrates is the effect sugar has on your insulin production. Insulin is released when you consume foods that contain sugar and its job is to open your cells up to absorb the sugars for energy.
However when you live on a diet full of carbohydrates and processed sugary foods, your cells start to resist the insulin.
Your body tries to make up for this by producing more insulin.
This is called insulin resistance and this will cause severe sugar cravings, great lack of energy and severely reduced metabolism.
You should consider doing a keto fast to reset your insulin sensitivity. This would also help you manage the toxins in your body too.
Take an enzyme supplement
Our body's have certain enzymes to help digest the food we eat but not enough. The food we eat contains enzymes too however the food we eat today is full of nasty chemicals like I mentioned earlier.
These chemicals do a great job of killing essential enzymes within our food.
Taking a quality enzyme supplement will drastically increase the amount of nutrients your body digest from food.
The highest quality enzyme supplement I have found is P3-OM by bioptimizers.
Do cardio daily even if you just go for a 30 minute walk
Our bodies are built to move around, not sit down in an office all day. If you go even 1 day without moving around and increasing your heart rate your basic body functions begin to slow down.
Things like hormone production that is essential for maintaining metabolism, general sense of wellbeing and libido are affected.
I've never met a person who went for a walk and felt worse afterwards (unless they were rained on or pooped on by a bird haha).
Have a look at my article here to learn why you should be moving more.
Commit to a weekly resistance training regime
It's a well-known fact now that lifting weights helps you lose weight. When you tear down your muscle fibres from resistance training, your body's response is to increase your metabolism in order to repair the muscle.
When the muscle is repaired it is adapted to be stronger than before. Before going that far though let's go back to the increased metabolism.
This is due to something called the EPOC effect or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
Your muscles require more oxygen and more nutrients so your blood flow is increased by up to 38 hours.
Consider intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting has so many great health benefits but most use it as a tool to lose weight. A typical method of intermittent fasting is the 16/8 method.
You fast for 16 hours every day in which you have 8 hours to eat your meals. This can easily be achieved by skipping breakfast.
Your body goes under many physiological changes while fasting.
Your hormones reset themselves which includes your insulin sensitivity and production. Production of the hormone that controls how hungry you are is also reduced.
This hormone is called ghrelin. For most people this is the biggest key to weight loss success, since you feel more satiated from your food and have less hunger cravings.
Human growth hormone (HGH) production is also increased while in a fasted state.
This hormone has a positive effect on your metabolism and cell regeneration. Simply put the more HGH you have the younger you look and feel.
But don't starve yourself
There is a key difference between fasting and starving and that is how much you eat. Fasting is not dangerous because when you break your fast you eat enough food to sustain you until the next day.
When you starve yourself however you aren't getting enough nutrients in.
Not consuming enough micronutrients will have a big negative effect on your entire body including metabolic shutdown.
This will stop any weight loss and in fact promote weight gain.
General recommendation is to use a TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calculator.
Work out what your approximate maintenance requirement is and consume 200-300 less calories.
If you are underweight:
Being underweight may be a sign of nutrient deficiencies. Do you eat a diet of mainly processed foods such as junk food and fast food? These foods are severely lacking in micronutrients which can be detrimental to your health.
If you eat a well balanced diet with enough fruits and vegetables it may be a case of malabsorption of nutrients.
Your digestive system may not have enough digestive enzymes to absorb the food you eat.
I would recommend trying an enzyme supplement such as P3-OM to help your body digest enough nutrients.
Make sure you eat enough food in the day.
Use a TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calculator to work out your calorie maintenance, and start eating 400-500 calories more than that.
I would also like you to ask yourself how often you go outside.
Vitamin D is essential to the body's hormone function in fact it isn't even a vitamin but a Pro-hormone. This means it is a precursor to other hormones. Vitamin D helps produce and regulate calcium and the sex hormones.
A vitamin D deficiency will cause a testosterone deficiency in men and oestrogen deficiency in women.
This may cause all kinds of negative issues such as depression, anxiety, loss of focus among other things.
It may also be a calcium deficiency that causes your back pain issues so getting more sunlight will do wonders to help.
Do you weight train?
Heavy resistance training will do some positive things for your body. Lifting heavy weights will stimulate growth hormone production which will help your body develop and grow.
Women don't be afraid of this it is a complete myth that women can lose their femininity and start to look man-ish by lifting weights.
The women who look overly muscular are athletes or fitness models that take drugs to achieve that physique.
Make sure you eat more food along with a good resistance training regime, but ensure that food you eat is quality and full of nutrients. Avoid processed foods.
How many hours of sleep do you get?
Lack of sleep can be a huge factor for being either under or overweight. Insufficient sleep will disrupt your hormone levels and increase stress in your body.
It is recommended to get 8 hours of sleep within the day. If you can't get it all in one go you should have naps throughout the day to compensate.
Supplements to Take
Supplements may help reduce your back pain but keep in mind they do not replace a good balanced diet. They serve to 'supplement' a well balanced diet. Here are some supplements to help with your back pain:
Glucosamine + Chondroitin
Both are naturally produced compounds within your body. Glucosamine is a fluid that surrounds your joints and chondroitin is within cartilage around joints.
There are studies that show that supplementing with glucosamine and chondroitin may help reduce back, knee or any other joint pain in some individuals.
Although it's important you get more sunlight you can also supplement with Vitamin D to increase your daily dosage. Vitamin D deficiency will cause further deficiency in calcium and lead to weakened bone mass.
As I mentioned before, the food that we have access to today is filled with chemicals and pesticides that harm the natural enzymes in it. I'm referring to our 'natural' food since processed food doesn't even contain enzymes to help with digestion.
A lot of people live with food allergies too, many of which don't even realise. Dairy is a big one which may cause bloating and gas.
A quality enzyme supplement will greatly enhance nutrient absorption and reduce or even eliminate the bloating or inflammation that food allergies can cause.
I recommend P3-OM by bioptimizers. You can click here to learn more.
If your goals are strength and muscle gain along with weight management and overall health I recommend looking into bioptimizers Masszymes.
The devils claw extract originates from and African plan known as Harpagophytum procumbens. That's a bit of a handful to remember.
Research shows that 50mg of the active ingredient in devils claw 'harpagoside' can help reduce low back pain. This is due to a reduction in swelling and inflammation.
Turmeric is another great supplement to help reduce inflammation. I put a good dose of turmeric as a seasoning in most dishes I prepare for dinner
An essential fatty acid, Omega 3 will help reduce inflammation. You can get a great healthy dose of Omega-3 and quality protein by eating fresh caught salmon.
Invest in a Back Traction Device
This point I strongly recommend for anyone who deals with any back, hip or even knee issues. Quite often knee pain can stem from an issue in the spine or neck.
Back traction is a form of non-surgical spinal decompression.
These come in the form of inversion tables and also something I highly recommend called the Nubax Trio.
With a quality traction device like the Nubax Trio you can greatly relieve low back pain and strengthen and support your spinal posture. The Nubax device has helped me so much with dealing with my scoliosis.
I use it 3 times a day for 3-5 minutes each time.
Stretching on it before my workout really helps to remove any pain in my knees or back that may occur when squatting and deadlifting.
What it does is elongate and stretch the spinal cord to allow more blood flow into the disks between.
People have stated they went from being unable to walk with debilitating back pain, to walking relatively comfortably for over an hour within just 1 month of use.
For most people simply living a healthier lifestyle will eliminate their back pain. Eating healthier and nutrient dense foods combined with daily exercise and strength training will cure most cases of back pain.
For those that need the little extra help you may supplement with omega-3 and a quality digestive enzyme.
I highly recommend looking into purchasing a back traction device such as the Nubax Trio to allow more blood flow into the disks between your spinal vertebrae.
You will feel better than ever with daily use of it.
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