WHAT CAUSES BACK PAIN?
There are many causes of pain and these three are the ones that I get the most excited about and have given me the most benefit personally. These could be helpful clues for you in your journey whether you have back pain or pain in general!
- STRUCTURAL: PHYSICAL STRESS ON THE BODY
- Movement patterns
- VISCERAL: ORGAN HEALTH
- Unrecognized Visceral (organ) Dysfunction or inflammation
- Physical and emotional pain are the same
- Mindset effects our pain
- What is your pain telling you?
- Trauma that is stored in our neurobiology
PHYSICAL STRESS ON THE BODY:
Physical Stress on the body has to do with structural balance of the bones, muscles, fascia (connective tissue) and joints. This has to do with posture, our movement patterns and adaptation.
Posture is how we hold our body. It determines the forces and loads on our body including the spine, joints, nerves, organs, lymphatic system and circulatory system. Everything needs space in order to function optimally. Compression is often the root of pain. Our posture can cause a lot of compression. Our posture is shaped by our movement patterns, our movement patterns shape how our body adapts. The ways our body adapts to our movement patterns forms our posture.
How you move determines whether what you do is breaking you down or building you up. The way we move creates patterns in the body and those patterns shape our posture. This is called adaptation. You can move in a way that creates balance; aligning the skeleton so that force is being translated in the most efficient and supportive way and there aren’t break points or you can move in ways that create imbalances and cause break points and junctures where the communication path breaks down.
Here are some examples of moving in ways that create imbalance:
- Overusing one part of ourselves and underusing another part of ourselves.
- Using isolated muscles instead of using integrated muscle chains
- Repeating patterns that wear away at places that are already vulnerable
- Using our body in a way that creates compression
For example, if I give a shiatsu treatment and use my upper trapezius muscle, and pecs primarily, that pattern pulls my head forward and causes me to slump. This causes pain and discomfort in my neck, chest, shoulders, abdomen, lower back and stagnancy everywhere. If I work all day like that I come out feeling very tired, stuck and, on extreme days, I might get nerve pain down my arms. However, if I put my focus on using my Latisimus muscles to press, pull, push, and move the body, it actually helps me stay aligned and I can work all day like that and come out feeling good. AND having worked like that makes it easier to keep working like that the next day and the next… because I get stronger and more able to use my Lats. I am reinforcing and practicing that pattern. The body loves efficiency and will actively adapt to whatever pattern we give it. Pretty soon, my body actually starts to physically look different because the structure is reflecting my movement patterns. Our posture reflects our patterns of movement and the ways that it has adapted to make those patterns available to us.
Our body is always adapting. Your body is going to adapt no matter what because it is a beautifully wired and perfect mechanism. It will improve at whatever you are asking it to do, even if what you are asking it to do is minimally metabolic and potentially bad for it. Your body will make itself better at doing that in an effort of efficiency.
ef·fi·cient – /əˈfiSHənt/ – adjective: Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.
The body is always adapting from the input we give it or don’t give it. It is an efficient being that can learn what you’re doing and how do it better if you give it the right opportunity. If your muscles are working regularly to keep you upright and expansive and moving, your body will change over time and allow this to happen with less effort. This also means that if your muscles aren’t actively working to resist gravity, then your body will give that job to the skeletal system, compressing spaces between bones and wearing away at connective tissues. We are not given a choice around whether we adapt, but we can choose to actively adapt by building a pattern into our lives that helps us move toward balance.
Complacent Adaptation is a term used to describe us when we are passively sinking into gravity. When we are passively allowing our body to be taken into the downward pull of gravity we take smaller shallower breaths, we let our head drift forward, our shoulders roll forward, our rib cage gets smaller front to back which compresses the organs in the chest (heart and lungs) and slumps downward to press on the abdomen compressing the organs in the abdomen (kidneys, liver, gallbladder, stomach, spleen, pancreas, small intestine, large intestine, bladder & reproductive organs). With all this downward compressive force, the organs, nerves, lymph, and circulatory system cannot function properly, the joints collectively learn to rest on themselves and wear away connective tissue rather than utilizing their surrounding muscles which means the skeletal structure is not in a bio-mechanically advantageous position to function well and it causes focal points of pressure that create a cascading impact on the whole body. Our bodies start with the space and range of motion to function well. But life occurs and we change over time to meet the demands we place on our body. When we are no longer directing our body to be active against various forces, we rest into them.
Postural imbalances come from our adaptations. It’s not because of shoes or because of sitting, it’s because our body is adapting to the shoes or to the positions we are in. The body is going to get really good at what you do on a daily basis. This adaptation process doesn’t change as we get older. The body is still able to adapt, but what does change, is the desire, the movent, the inertia, and the personal “want” to adapt get’s diminished. The body is adaptable while we are alive.
Anything that doesn’t address posture and movement patterns is a short term fix. Addressing our posture and our movement patterns is a huge way to take a more active role in our healing process.
VISCERAL: ORGAN HEALTH
A couple of years ago I tried my first 5 day fast. I chose to drink only water during that time. Around day 2 and 3 I started to notice that my body was changing. The pain in the right side of my pelvis that sometimes expressed as sacroiliac joint pain, sometimes sciatica, sometimes a painful right ovary during ovulation, sometimes a stuck ilio-sequal valve with a glob of something palpable there, and sometimes a really tight psoas muscle, were all disappearing. The shift in my pelvis was leveling out and my practice was disentangling my entire body in a dramatic and euphoric way. For many years I had been thinking this pain was coming from a surgery I had on my right foot (I dislocated all the metatarsals in a fall during a rock climbing trip in Yosemite and had surgery to put the food back together, including several screws that I have never wanted to take out because disrupting that foot again feels scary). I had also broken my tailbone and torn the right hamstring attachment so… I just thought the pain in my right hip was coming entirely from these injuries and that I needed to work it out by focusing solely on my posture, movement patterns and doing self myo-fascial release work on the connective tissue (fascia) and muscles to heal the remnants from those injuries, but here I was, fasting and experiencing the entire thing disentangling itself… and my physical practice of foundation training was working for me and had been making me feel phenomenally better, but now when I was practicing, it was like I was capitalizing on something and the results were epic.
I knew certain foods didn’t make me feel well but this woke me up to the idea that although I was successfully avoiding those foods, I hadn’t actually healed the issue in my guts entirely.
Then, a few months after that fasting experience I went to see one of the two osteopaths I love getting bodywork from and he first held a place in my lower spine that I felt a huge release going down my leg and even some movement in my abdomen happening and then he started doing some visceral (organ) manipulation around the area in my abdomen that I was feeling all that activity happening. He worked where the small intestine and large intestine meet and I felt not only my right leg and pelvis respond but all the other little patterns that are a part of that pattern responding, my right shoulder and my neck were also changing.
The sciatic nerve branches out from nerve roots all along the lumbar spine (lower back). Many of those nerves branches also swoop through the abdomen innervating the organs there and then the nerve branches swoop downward and unite into one big nerve through an opening in the pelvis called the Greater Sciatic Foramen, near the sacroiliac joint, then it travels down the leg all the way to the toes.
THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG:
If you have compression between the vertebra along the lumbar spine it can affect the organ function in the lower abdomen as well as give you sciatica down the leg and pain around the sacroiliac joint as the nerve moves all through there. OR if you have inflammation or dysfunction in an organ there like in the digestive system, that chronic inflammation can affect the nerve roots causing the body to contract along the lumbar spine and compress there or simply affect the nerve causing sciatica down the leg. Inflammation affects everything around it. Imagine a bathtub full of water with a rubber ducky floating on top, if that water represents inflammation and the rubber ducky represents a body part and the water is rising, then the inflammation will affect the rubber ducky; the inflammation in the local body part will also rise up.
This led me to realizing why I love shiatsu and osteopathy so much! They both work on the visceral level with attention to the organs as well as on the systemic level looking at the body as a web of interconnected parts, not isolating one place and calling it bad and other places good. They seek to see how this web shifts, starts to break down and tighten, and how these compensations create imbalances and to understand where symptoms are coming from, their origin, and how the imbalance that creates those symptoms occurs.
I still haven’t found the answer to my gut inflammation issue but I am changing what I eat, how I eat, the timing of eating etc.. and as I pay attention to what causes the pain there and what helps it feel good, I pick up clues and I am steadily feeling better.
PHYSICAL & EMOTIONAL PAIN:
I have seen a pattern in my practice that many people recognize their physical pain & have no problem asking for help with that but if they are experiencing emotional pain, there is a divide. Some come in really open to digging deep, having a big emotional release & feeling their physical pain diminish or transform to mirror that emotional shift & some come in w/ emotional pain & not only refuse help, they may resist even really feeling the pain.