Why did I throw my back out?
One of the first things my patients want to know is, “Why did my back start hurting all of a sudden? I wasn’t doing anything crazy or dangerous, then out of nowhere it hit me, and now I can barely get up from a chair!”
In this post we’ll talk about what I believe triggers most back pain in the first place, the underlying causes, and how the right therapies can fix them.
First thing to know is, you don’t need a big injury to cause back pain. In fact, most people have no idea what caused their pain – they just woke up with it one day, or felt a sudden “jab” of pain after bending to pick something up – even though they’ve done the same thing a million times, and it never hurt before.
And this is how most back pain happens – the huge majority, like 90%.
But even though the pain may feel like it “came out of the blue”, there’s always a reason.
The most common cause of low back pain
The biggest reason that I see is lack of flexibility. Especially tightness in hips and legs.
Now let me be clear – there is never just one cause for pain, always multiple *contributors* to it. Meaning, if for example you’re dehydrated, or low on sleep, or too stiff, or too weak – all of these things can make it more likely for back pain to happen.
But the way we make it simple is by looking for the biggest contributors to YOUR back pain, then attack them first. That way we can get big results, fast. Then we can always address some of the smaller contributors later.
And in my experience, tight hips and legs are the #1 reason for the huge majority of the back pain I see and treat every day.
By tightness I mean, muscles that are shorter ropes than they should be. And the reason tight muscles matter is because they limit how far you can move. If they were too stiff, you’d just be locked in place. So you need stretchy muscles to allow normal movement to happen.
If you’ve ever had trouble doing a toe-touch, for example, it’s often because muscles in your legs are too tight, and preventing you from bending forward very far.
A muscle is basically a “meat rope”, if you think about it. And that meat rope needs to have some elasticity, some stretchiness, so that we can move our bodies. (walking, bending, squatting, lifting, etc.)
And if they’re stretchy enough, it means that we can move safely. But if they’re too stiff, they limit our movement, and it forces us to do life in a less safe way, that can hurt.
Also, tight muscles can pinch nerves! All of the nerves in your legs come from your back. And if there’s not enough room for the nerve as it runs down your leg, it could be getting pinched, and giving you pain that runs down your leg – like sciatica.
The reason tight hips & legs matter so much to low backs is because, if your hips aren’t flexible enough to “help out” when you squat or bend, it forces your low back to do all of the work.
And that’s why tight hips and legs can “overwork” low backs, and cause all of our pain.
Back pain can be excruciating, with ZERO damage.
Interestingly, most of the pain you feel when your back hurts isn’t from “damage” at all. Most of the pain is from our body’s “overreaction” to a perceived injury.
What I mean is, if you “tweak” your back from bending in a weird way let’s say – not even any actual damage – but your body senses there’s something not quite right with your back, your body tells the muscles around your back to tighten up protectively.
It’s trying to help you by immobilizing your back.
But the problem is, cramps hurt – and they DO immobilize you. And those cramps can hit you suddenly – like an electrical shock feeling, running up your back, or down into your butt; or they can slowly tighten up and make your back super hard to bend and move. Or it could just feel like a knife jabbing you back there.
And guess what – all of these are the most common symptoms you’re likely having with your back pain.
And all this pain is not even from being “damaged” – it’s from your body overreacting and giving you tons of that “protective” cramping.
But – if we remove the cause for your body’s concern (by improving your flexibility), it figures out hey – everything’s actually okay – and it releases the cramping, and your pain goes away.
Back pain can SEEM scary, even when it's not.
I routinely see patients who are “crooked” – leaning off to the side, or slightly bent forward. And it’s very difficult and painful for them to straighten up. This can freak people out. But it’s not a scary thing.
What often happens in these cases is simply that the muscles on one side are cramping harder than the muscles on the other side, and the tighter ones pull you off to one side.
Patients will say, “Doc, I looked in the mirror today and one of my hips is clearly higher than the other one. And it feels like my hips aren’t even, like one of them doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. I feel crooked.”
Seeing this “crookedness” in yourself – especially when it was never there before – can be very disturbing. Make you worry that there’s some structural problem inside you, creating this “deformity”.
But don’t worry – this is super common, and not a big, scary thing! Just one of the things that can happen if you have regular ol’, plain-vanilla back pain. I see it all the time with my patients in clinic, and see them get over it with no issues.
But what if your pain…moves around? Or what if it changes from day to day, or even during a day? This is also extremely common, and not alarming.
For example, let’s say that today your back pain feels like sharp jabs, it takes your breath away if you make a wrong movement, even a small one. But tomorrow, it’s not sharp anymore, it feels like a dull ache, or maybe stiffness.
What if your pain is usually on the right, and then one day it’s on the LEFT. What does that mean? Nothing, actually!
All of these changes to the character of your pain (like dull, shooting, sharp, sudden, stiff, sore, electrical) – really don’t mean much. I call them the “noise” that goes along with all back pain.
If your back isn’t happy, it’s totally normal to feel it change over time, whether that’s your pain moving from right to left, or going from dull to sharp, or moving from your back down into your glute – all of these are just the kinds of things I would expect to see with anyone who has back pain.
None of them mean you automatically have a “difficult” kind of back pain, that might take longer to heal, or require some kind of fancy surgery or procedure.
Fixing low back pain can be simple and fast.
So just as a summary – 90% of the back pain I see is because of stiff hips and legs. Which is great, because these things are super easy to fix, and quickly.
And the most powerful fixes for tight hips and legs are: stretching, and massage.
We’re familiar with stretching, and in this course I’ll be showing you the the exact stretches I give my patients.
And you don’t even need to see a massage therapist – you can do the massage yourself, using a foam roller or a softball (I’ll show you how), and we’ll even be going over some “buddy” massage that you can have a friend or spouse do for you – and don’t worry, it’s super easy!
In this course, we’ll go step by step over how to check yourself out, find the biggest contributors to YOUR back pain, then “plug-in” the most effective therapies to fix them.
And once you’re feeling better, then you only need to do occasional “touch-ups” to keep your pain from coming back. That’s the BIG win – because it takes very little effort or time to maintain your flexibility for life. All the hard part is in the beginning. Then it gets easy.
Interestingly, science and research have no idea why back pain happens. In fact, doctors call it "non-specific" low back pain -- meaning, they don't know what causes it, or how to fix it.
Which is why I decided to figure it out on my own.
With my patients in clinic, and in these blog posts, I explain my theories about why pain happens, and how to fix it. And even though science may figure out WHY this approach works sometime in the future, until then, I'll keep using this approach, since it beats the pants off every other method I've found.
If you're tired of hurting, come see us! I'd love the chance to get you feeling great again.