Why does my back hurt? A Chiropractic view


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Back and neck pain can seem like a mystery to sufferers much of the time. In fact 85% of back pain is classified as non-specific, meaning no disease or attributable pathology can be found*. In many cases spinal issues such as lower back pain or neck pain seem to come on out of the blue, with no history of trauma or disease. That being the case, why does my back hurt? What is causing my pain? Contact our team today.

Function vs Structure

Since only 15% of back pain is attributed to disease or pathology like arthritis or inflammation,  what is causing the other 85% of back issues? It comes down to how well your brain and nervous system are coordinating your joints and muscles. The issue is not so much structural, although that does play a role, but functional. So rather than looking for pathologies or disease, chiropractic asks the questions, ‘How is your muscle and trunk activation?’ ‘Are your postural muscles activating and stabilising your spine?’ ‘What’s your joint range of motion in the spine, hips and pelvis?’ This is the chiropractic approach to uncovering the cause of your back or neck pain, and solving why your back hurt. In this way we can get to the root of the problem, which is far more beneficial than treating the symptoms. 

Coordination 101

Chiropractic is concerned with how well the nervous system is controlling and regulating the body. Without proper signals, the muscles, joints and organs won’t get the right information to function optimally. A principle of chiropractic is:

The nervous system adapts forces and matter for use in the body, so that all parts of the body will have coordinated action for mutual benefit’. 

What this means is the body is constantly having to adapt to stress. Sitting, lifting, carrying, driving, all these things exert a pressure and stress on the spine. To balance against this, the nervous system must coordinate the joints and muscles to resist these external forces.  

External forces <——–> Internal resistive forces

If the nervous system can balance the body against these strains and stresses, we can maintain good function in the body. The joints won’t be overloaded and the muscles won’t be subject to too much strain or tension.

The last straw on the camels back

Over time the demands on the body can accumulate, whether that be postural, toxins from what we eat and breathe in, and emotional or mental stress. Add in the mix previous traumas and injuries, then suddenly we can reach a tipping point, where the nervous system can’t maintain the internal resistive forces against the external forces, potentially causing the back to hurt.

Thus begins the incoordination in the body. This can lead to:

  • Loss of joint movement leading to restriction and tightness
  • Contraction and shortening of muscles and soft tissues
  • Lack of muscle activation involved in postural control 
  • Lack of trunk activation with bracing, lifting & carrying, leading to a ‘weak core’

These adaptations take place long before your back starts to hurt, or other symptoms start to develop. It is only when these changes reach a certain level that we reach the ‘last straw on the camels back’.

Pain is not the Problem

Whilst most people visiting a chiropractor do so because of the pain, we must remember that pain is the consequence to poor function. It indicates that there is an underlying problem, just like an alarm.  So it makes sense to find the underlying imbalance and dysfunction that is causing the back to hurt, not suppress the pain signals with strong painkillers that have potential side affects. 

“When a fire alarm goes off, it’s a signal that there’s a potential fire. We wouldn’t simply take the battery out of the fire alarm and ignore the problem. Likewise, we don’t want to mask the pain with painkillers thinking that this solves the problem”. 

How can Chiropractic help?

By thoroughly assessing this loss of incoordination, we can pinpoint precisely where we can access the nervous system in order to restore proper nerve signal function. This involves three aspects of nervous system function:

  • The whole body posture: Are the hips and shoulders level, is the head tilted or forward, are the legs equal in length?
  • Where is the joint movement reduced in the body? Is the neck moving freely in all directions? -Does the pelvis move fully on both sides? Do both shoulders move freely all the way to the ears? -Does every vertebrae in the spine move fully as it should? Or does it feel restricted?
  • How is the tone and tension in the musculature? Is is symmetric and even? Is their undue tension and constriction in the muscles? 
  • Is there weakness in certain muscles, particularly those that brace and protect the spine? 

By piecing together all these elements during our assessment of the body, we can pinpoint the area’s that need adjusting. For more information get in touch with Innate Health Chiropractic.

Adjusting the Spine

Chiropractic uses a fast highly controlled trust to free up vertebrae and other joints that are locked or not moving correctly.  As soon as the correct proper movement is restored, the muscles attaching and surrounding that joint can immediately relax and soften. Muscle tone and tension comes about when the joints they attach to are not moving properly. Restore the joint movement, restore the muscle tension. Over time, as the chiropractor reduces the nerve interference and restores proper movement in the spine, the posture will adapt and improve. Normally the pelvis and shoulders balance out more, the leg length becomes equal, and the weight distribution in the pelvis improves. 

In summary

When we assess the body thoroughly and have understanding about what we are looking for, we can pinpoint area’s of dysfunction that represent incoordination in the nervous system. The pain or back hurt is simply the end result of built up incoordination, namely restricted joints and tight muscles. Using chiropractic treatment, what we call the adjustment, we can progressively restore proper nervous system coordination to bring the body back to ease. When we restore good function to the body, symptoms such as pain are resolved. 

For more information, including Scoliosis, click here.

*Koch, C & Hänsel, F. Non-specific Low Back Pain and Postural Control During Quiet Standing—A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Psychology; 10 , 2019. LINK on 05/09/2022.