The Two Hidden Causes of Lower Back Pain
Between 80 and 90% of the general population will develop debilitating back or hip pain, at some point in their life. In fact, such pain is the second most common reason for missed work, after the common cold. When I was a younger man, every few months I would develop lower back pain that was bad enough to cause me to miss work. However, as time moved on (I am now in my early 60’s) this problem mostly disappeared. I believe I no longer have this issue due to following a theory I developed about the cause of lower back pain.
The Common Causes of Lower Back Pain
Now, back pain can be mistaken for hip pain, and vice versa. This is because the joint of the hip is located near the spine, and so hip injuries (or strain, misalignment, etc) can feel like the pain is radiating from the lower back. And, in some cases the misalignment of the hips can actually cause back, or groin, pain on the affected side. This leads to symptoms ranging from stiffness, through pain while walking or moving, all the way up to debilitating pain requiring rest and/or medication.
One primary cause of this type of lower back/hip pain is the pinched nerve. I believe that in my early years this may have been a cause of my back issues, since I would usually visit a chiropractor for one adjustment. Following this treatment with a day or two of rest, I would be able to return to work. (I will confess that during these times I would also use Ibuprofen, a much safer over-the-counter medication than Tylenol.)
A pinched nerve occurs when too much pressure is put on a nerve by the surrounding bones, muscles, or tissues. This undue pressure interrupts nerve function leading to symptoms which can include, shooting pain, numbness, tingling, and/or weakness, in the back, hip, or spine. In the case of a pinched nerve one visit to a chiropractor should be sufficient, whereas when back or hip pain is caused by a misaligned spine, repeated visits may be required.
For those of us in our later years, lower back and/or hip pain is often a result of an arthritic condition. The pain of arthritis can also be felt in the groin and thigh area, but wherever it manifests, this pain is due to the wearing out of cartilage and connective tissue in one or more of the joints.
A herniated disk (also known as a slipped disk) occurs when the “jelly” (nucleus pulposus) inside your spinal disk is pushed out through the harder exterior of the disk. This can cause local nerves to become irritated causing pain or numbness in the back, butt, hip or thigh. This is a serious structural condition that can require physical therapy, and sometimes even surgery.
Sprains and Strains
Sometimes you know what is causing your back pain, as you have clearly injured yourself. When I used to get back pain it came out of the blue: I would feel stiff and achy in the morning, for no apparent reason, and the pain would progress during the day until I was walking bent over, unable to work until the issue was resolved.
Sprains and strains, following overworking, over exercising, sports injuries and the like, occur when the ligaments are overstretched (and sometimes torn). Treatments include stretching, anti-inflammatories (homeopathic arnica being a good choice here, along with liniments (Tiger Balm, MSM cream, and of particular value here, Zheng Gu Shui) and, in severe cases, physical therapy. Hot and cold compression can also be helpful.
The hip joint, essentially a ball-and-socket, allows the leg to rotate inward or outward. Hip external rotation is when the leg rotates outward, away from the rest of your body, something that can be illustrated by a pitcher throwing a baseball. Here the pitcher maintains stability on one foot, while moving both the free leg and the torso, which activates the hip external rotators.
In a similar manner, we use our hip external rotators on a daily basis, in many everyday actions, such as stepping sideways, or getting into or out of a car. So, whenever we put most of our weight on one leg, while simultaneously moving the upper body, we are using our hip external rotator muscles. Without these hip external rotator muscles “it would be difficult to maintain stability while standing, walking, or extending either of your legs away from your body”.
Now we are approaching the crux of my thesis.
Hip surgery and injuries are common causes of weak hip external rotators, but one of the biggest causes of weakness in the external rotators of the hip is prolonged sitting. Furthermore, “strong hip external rotators can also reduce knee pain and lower back pain”. (Source)
A variety of exercises can help strengthen the hip external rotators, improving stability and preventing injuries in the ankles, hips, and knees. A series of helpful exercises can be found here. Or if you prefer to watch, here is a video of three exercises you can do to improve hip mobility.
The Crux of It
What I determined to be the underlying cause of my earlier bouts of debilitating lower back pain was a combination of two bad modern habits: walking on flat surfaces, and sitting in chairs (and car seats, which is pretty much the same thing). During those years during which I had repeated incidents of back pain, I was working at a vitamin store in a mall, and spending 40 hours a week walking on flat surfaces. I found that if I paid attention to the early warning signals that my lower back was acting up, I could do a very simple thing that would usually nip it in the bud. I would make a point of walking on uneven surfaces. I would walk to the side of the sidewalk on the grassy areas, and even more ideally, go to the beach and walk on sand, or go into the woods and walk on uneven terrain.
While we are at it, remember that if you take your shoes off, and walk barefoot on the sand or grass, you are doing what is referred to as “earthing” (a subject I have covered in detail in Health Secrets: Volume 2). This practice (as well as laying or sitting on the earth) brings hydrogen ions into the body which help to reduce inflammation.
As mentioned above, weakness of the external rotators of the hip can cause lower back pain. In essence, these rotator muscles are weakening through lack of use. Walking on flat surfaces doesn't allow us to use those subtle muscles required for coping with uneven surfaces. As well as walking exclusively on flat surfaces, prolonged sitting also weakens these muscles (and even worse, shortens life span: see my blog, Death by Comfy Chair).
Imagine how unnatural the chair is. In the 50,000 (or more) years that we have been roughly modern man, how recent is the advent of the chair? While chairs have been observed in use among ancient Egyptians, and Greeks, around 3,000 years ago, that is relatively recent in our history, and clearly not something used by our ancestors who were nomadic, or hunter/gatherers.
It is clearly a device of Western man, most likely based on the throne. With “civilized” people, first the king does something, then the nobility takes it up, finally followed by the commoners. That is how fashion works. Evidently Louis the 14th liked to watch his wives give birth, so the doctors laid the women flat on a table, rather than using gravity to aid in birth (as all cultures do). As the king does, so follow the nobility, until finally centuries are spent having women give birth in this unnatural, unhealthy manner.
Why do we have a picket fence in front of our (pointless) lawn? Because the king had the forest in front of the castle cleared away, in order to view potential attackers. The picket fence is a symbolic representation of the castle walls and fortifications, and the open lawn is so that our enemy cannot sneak up on us. In a similar manner, the chair began with the throne, indicating dominance and superiority, and then the rich would have chairs as a lesser throne, followed by all of us sitting at the table, and using such chairs everywhere.
Consider what portion of the world (up until most recently) sits cross legged on the floor: Africans, Arabians, Japanese, Chinese, East Indian, etc. Until Western influence dominates a culture, the chair is most uncommon. Can you sit on the floor comfortably for a length of time? If not it means your lower back is losing flexibility, and it is time to take up yoga.
Once realizing that chairs were part of the problem, I started sitting cross legged on chairs whenever possible (when eating at home or dining out, on the sofa watching t.v., when doing desk work). Between sitting this way, and doing about 5 minutes of stretches before bed, along with regularly walking on uneven surfaces, I found that I no longer developed disabling back pain.
For those needing some pain relief, along with connective tissue support for rebuilding, I would be remiss if I did not mention our JointStart products. The JointStart Supreme product has a full array of safe, natural anti-inflammatory compounds, along with a variety of elements for supporting and repairing cartilage, tendons and ligaments. For those with less pain, there is JointStart Original, which has traded off some anti-inflammatory compounds for more rebuilding agents. As a result, JointStart Original is a less expensive product than the Supreme (180 caps instead of 120 caps), and is the best choice for joint rebuilding where the pain is minimal.
I would also suggest the use of bone broth for those with osteoarthritis, who need cartilage rebuilding, and that anyone with back or joint pain also follow the blood type diet, which also helps to reduce inflammation.