Myth #3 of The Three Myths of Low Back Pain:
You “Throw Out” Your Back
While providing relief for the community I serve at The Wellness Center of Chester County in Exton PA I have taught hundreds of patients every year the strategies they need to achieve long term results in our Signature Wellness Program. However, when I talk to patients they very often attribute their pain to some significant event. Saying things like, “I was folding laundry and I lifted the heavy laundry basket when I “threw out” my back.” Or even better, someone who has been to a Chiropractor before who told them their back is “out.”
First and Foremost
The first myth I’d like to address here is that our joints, especially our spinal joints, do not “go out.” I’m likely going to get some heat from my colleagues for this but the bottom line is if your joint “goes out” it’s likely dislocated and you need to get some serious attention. That being said, it begs the question, what’s happening when you feel the tension, stiffness, or lack of mobility in a joint of your spine?
The best way to explain this without a visual aid is that the joint is simply not moving appropriately. When two bones meet each other they create a joint. The space between those bones is called the joint line and this region is filled with synovial fluid, cartilage, and metabolic waste products. Often times those metabolic waste products are released in the form of gas, or in simple terms air. Since this joint is a closed system encapsulated by the surrounding soft tissue structures, that gas can become trapped inside of the joint line (the space between the bones).
Now, in a normal situation that joint should be able to compress and expand during various movements. Say you’re turning your low back to the right, the joints on the right compress while the joints on the left expand and allows for you to rotate your torso to the right. If there is a normal amount of contents within the joint line then you should have no problem rotating your low back to the right.
However, if you have built up the metabolic waste products in the form of gas, that gas gets trapped inside the joint. Now when you try to turn your low back to the right the joints that are supposed to compress, can’t. There is too much pressure built up inside of the joint line and it is preventing you from being able to move appropriately.
Kind of like a bottle of soda. If you try and press the outside of the plastic there is some give to the plastic, right? Well try and shake the bottle up and release the gas bubbles from the sugar syrup inside. When the gas bubbles get released, they are now trapped inside the bottle building up pressure. If you tried to press the side of the bottle now there would be a significant amount of resistance and the plastic would not have as much “give.”
It’s the same with your joints. When you use your joints in your day to day, the metabolic waste products get released in the form of gas or air. When the pressure builds up over time that joint does not have the same mobility it once used to. Now that the join cannot go through the same range of motion any longer it sets you up for mechanical dysfunctions that cause pain problems. So you didn’t necessarily “throw out” your low back, you’ve just not been maintaining normal joint movement very well.
What to do about it…
There are a couple ways to fix this problem, which we will be going over throughout this blog series called The End of Low Back Pain, (subscribe for updates here) but the most obvious thing you can do today is go visit your Chiropractor. If you don’t have one, call our office at (484) 341-8598 and our office manager Sarah can help you.
The second piece of this myth that you can “throw out” your low back is that many people are tricked by the illusion of time. This is a very common logical fallacy we all make, and I am guilty of making myself. It’s called the post hoc fallacy and you can find more information about post hoc fallacy’s here.
In a nutshell, the post hoc fallacy states that just because two things happen close in time does not necessarily mean they are related. Just be cause the dog barked just as you happen to sneeze does not mean the dog was barking at your sneeze.
For many low back sufferers there is generally some physical act or even activity that precedes their low back pain episode. Patients always describe some event that they attribute to causing their problem. They say things like,” I was lifting up my kids and I’ve had pain since,” or “I was sitting a a car for X amount of hours and I’ve been in pain since,” or “I coughed and my back went out.” My patients often think, “Since i didn’t have pain before this event, the this event must be the cause of my pain.”
I say not necessarily because sometimes the event can be the cause. If you’re in a car accident and herniate a disc it’s likely that the force from the car accident caused the herniation. However, more often than not, isolated events are RARELY the cause of our patient’s conditions. As we’ll discuss later on in the posts of this blog it gets a little more complicated. I’ll try my best to keep things as simple as possible. For now, let’s continue to lay the foundation of understanding so you can follow along.
Remember in my previous posts I mentioned that there is a difference between causes and triggers. It’s important to keep that in mind as we continue this End of Low Back Pain journey together. A physical event is likely to be a trigger to a pain episode, but it’s not the “fuel” behind it. If you don’t get rid of the underlying problem, then any number of things can “trigger” the pain.