I often get asked by people why do I have back pain but my friends and family don't? What is it about my back that is different? There are many factors that contribute to back pain - genetics, activity throughout life, nutrition, stress and rest ratios, how you perceive pain and threats to your body. In my clinical experience, I have found that lack of movement and poor posture are common with back pain. In this article I explain a theory called Ligamentous Creep, how it occurs, how it makes the spine more vulnerable to injury and pain and what to do to minimise the chance of it happening to you. Read on to find out more...
The Poisonous Weed of Inactivity
Sounds scary right? It is true that inactivity is like a weed. It sprouts one day quietly and then before you realise it's everywhere throughout your life. You stop going to the gym, you stop cycling to work, playing frisbee with your friends in the park and then the couch becomes the love/hate friend you spend most of your time with.
A typical inactive work day includes getting up and sitting on the tube to work. Then sitting at work for 7 hours with minimal movement throughout the day, followed by more sitting on the tube home and then sitting to watch TV on your couch. Noticing the trend here? Sitting - it's the fertiliser for weed growth.
Ligamentous Creep - How it occurs
In the spine you have the bones (vertebrae), intervertebral discs, connective tissues (ligaments, tendons), muscles, nerves and blood supply. Ligaments are super strong cables that connect bone to bone. They respond to tensile loading - being pulled apart. When they are lax, they give no support.
In a poor sitting position (see picture right) the ligaments at the back of the spine are being stretched and the ligament at the front of the spine is lax. Ligaments can be stretched but they do not return to their original length. If you sit like this throughout the day your ligaments will gradually 'creep' - or stretch over time. Do this for long enough and it will create an imbalance and leave you susceptible to pain and injury.
Why it leads to injury and pain
When the ligaments are overstretched it changes the posture of the spine. Remember the body adapts to it's environment. Instead of the spine maintaining a neutral alignment that helps keep all the discs, nerves, vertebrae in place the spine warps into poor posture. This poor posture can encourage the discs to push out onto the nerves. It can cause impingements (pinching) of the nerve roots. It also changes the length-tension relationships of the surrounding muscles - so muscles that help maintain good alignment become weaker or tighter, the spine can become unstable and more susceptible to injury and pain.
How long does it take to 'creep'?
Liagmentous creep happens over years. Often in my practice, I see clients in their mid 30s to mid 40s with 'unexplained' back pain. One day they just crouch down to put their socks on and their back 'goes out'. The socks are the last straw. Chances are that if you are inactive and sit for work all day, ligamentous creep will occur without you even knowing over a number of years. Serious painful problems generally occur after 10-15 years of inactivity and poor posture.
What to do about it
I am starting to think I sound like a broken record when I say activity throughout life is a big factor in keeping pain away. The body loves movement and it should become a regular part of your life - a lifestyle choice. The best type of foundational movement if you are desk bound is a gym session which blends corrective remedial work to maintain good core and back stability and alignment and functional strength training. Other activities such as running, cycling and sports are also brilliant and you'll see these improving when you are aligned, stable and strong.
Top tips for keeping the 'creep' away
1. Invest in a Corrective Exercise Specialist or an experienced and knowledgeable Personal Trainer who can identify your weaknesses, correct postural alignment and teach you the fundamentals of functional strength training.
2. Stay active throughout your work day by walking a few tube stops to work or cycle.
3. A lunch time workout is a good choice if you have family commitments.
4. Don't forget your weekends - you can take a walk or a cycle in the park or the countryside.
5. Kids are great for more activity. Try to get involved in what games they are playing - whether its 10 mins in the garden or a whole day of kite flying on the beach.
At the first sign of any discomfort in your back, especially upon waking or with extended periods of sitting speak to your GP about getting a referral to a physiotherapist. Also tell your Exercise Therapist or Personal Trainer so they can advise you and adapt your training programme accordingly.
For more information about how Precision Movement can help you with back pain or other discomforts from sitting at work all day please contact KT at KT@precisiononmovement.co.uk. We are highly experienced in dealing with and helping the recovery process of all kinds of discomfort, pain and injury.