Back pain is a growing problem. About 80% of adults will experience back pain at some point in his or her life; 20% of these individuals will experience chronic back pain which is pain lasting 12 weeks or longer.
Many people blame our sedentary lifestyle for the rise in chronic back pain. While that does have something to do with it, it is not the only reason. James Steele Ph.D, an exercise physiologist from Southampton Solent University in the UK claims that after looking at several indigenous cultures who live very active lifestyles, back pain was just as prevalent as it is in the United States and other “sedentary” cultures.
Lets take a look at the basic physiology of the lumbar spine (lower back). The lumbar region consists of 5 of the largest vertebrae in the spine, separated by discs which act as cushioning to absorb shock during day to day actives. Between these discs are sensitive nerves which carry motor, sensory, and autonomic information between the brain and spinal cord.
There are also very important muscles in the lumbar region, namely, the multifidus muscle. The mutifidus muscles are divided into two groups; the deep multifidus muscles which help take pressure off of the vertebral discs so that our body weight can be well distributed along the spine, and the superficial muscles (closest to the surface of the body) keeps our spine straight.
Over a long period of poor nutrition and lack of muscle stimulation (exercise) these muscles begin to atrophy or shrink. When they become too small and weak to carry out the function of supporting the spine, the discs in the spine carry too much pressure. Over time, this will result in degenerated or slipped discs which press against the sensitive nerves we talked about and send powerful signals to the brain that something is wrong… PAIN.
So, if shrinking muscles are the problem due to lack of exercise (and diet which I will get into soon), it is apparent that we must make these important muscles grow stronger. This can be done with properly performed resistance training or weight training. It is a wide misconception that you need to “isolate” a muscle or a problem area to get it to improve. This is completely false. When you train the entire body, ALL of the muscles grow and strength as a response because they’re all attached. A basic 5-8 exercise resistance training program performed 2-3 times per week for just 30 minutes is all you need. This is what we practice at BioFit.
Okay so we need to exercise. We all know that. BUT, not so fast! You’re not off the hook just yet. Many of us eat like crap and that contributes heavily to muscle atrophy and here’s why.
The western diet consists of a high amount of grains and refined carbohydrates. Pretty much because its cheap and the food industry can make a bunch of money off of us, but thats a conversation for another time. Anyway, refined carbohydrates cause a rapid rise in blood sugar when we eat them since they diffuse right into the blood stream with little effort. This causes our pancreas to secret a huge amount of insulin. Insulin basically transports the glucose from the carbs into muscle or into fat, depending on the demands of the body. In layman’s terms, if you don’t exercise or place a demand on your muscles, the body will start sending most of what you eat to fat tissue since it sees your muscle tissue as sort of a waste of energy. When this happens, the muscles receive less energy though food and begin to atrophy or shrink. All of your muscles shrink, including the sacred multifidus muscle which aligns the spine and takes the pressure off of the discs in your back. Enter chronic back pain.
Lets reverse this rise in prevalent back pain by making a FEW lifestyle changes. Practice a slow motion, high intensity resistance training regimen for just 30 minutes twice a week to rebuild those shrinking muscles. Combine this with a diet high in protein, fats, and vegetables and AVOID the grans and refined carbs. Over a relatively short period of time, your body will adapt, become stronger, and the back pain will be relieved forever if you continue to exercise and diet properly. Keep in mind, this is a life change. Not something you do for 6 months and feel it is safe to go back to your old bad habits. Think of it like brushing your teeth; we don’t necessarily like to do it but we do it because we know its good for us!
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