Why Does My Back Ache? - Breakaway Physical Therapy
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Why Does My Back Ache?

Back Pain

No one likes back pain and yet it is the number one thing that we suffer from as we go through our life. It is the most common symptom that all people will deal with and seek out healthcare for. Our spine starts to deteriorate at the young age of 23 where we can sometimes even see visible signs of aging on imaging. Crazy to think that our body starts breaking down so young.

That being said, we were not meant to live forever and one of the most important things is to take care of your body. But how can we take care of our body if we do not know what is wrong?!

Back pain is such a general term and you may now be thinking about how your back (and legs) feel…achy, sharp, stabbing, shooting, numbness, tingling, dull and more.

BUT what does all that mean in relation to what is wrong with your back?

Understanding the spine is the first thing. Our spine is made up of 33 vertebrae that fuses to about 26 once we are an adult. I say about because we are not all exactly the same and some people have an extra vertebrae in their spine.

Each vertebrae is a bone that sits on top of each other and are all shaped a bit differently to make up the curves in our spine. They protect all the important nerves that run down the middle of all the bones.

In between each vertebrae or bone there is something called a disc. You can think of our discs as jelly donuts with the jelly being made partly of water to give our spine flexibility and strength. The outside of the discs helps to hold everything in place providing more stability along our spine. Our discs overall act as shock absorbers for all movements.

Our spinal nerves run through each vertebrae so that they have a layer of protection starting at our skull and running all the way down to our lower back. The nerves can exit on the sides of each vertebrae to carry information from our brain to our muscles.

Our spine is so important and sometimes things can go wrong with our vertebrae, with our nerves, with our spinal discs, with our muscles or a combination that can ALL cause back pain.

If you want to see a spine model, come by Breakaway Physical Therapy for us to further explain and call us for a FREE Breakthrough visit at 410-721-6333!

So what are some of the things that can go wrong with our spine and cause back pain?

Pulled Muscle

  • This will feel like a tightness or spasm in your back
  • This can be from poor posture, sleeping in the wrong position, lifting something too heavy, repeated bending or twisting of your spine
  • Overactivity can cause us to overstretch our muscles – not warming up, not cooling down, not slowing into new activities
  • Overactivity will lead to stiffness and soreness
  • You will have more back pain with continued activity that stresses that area
  • Rest, stretching, heat and ice will typically reduce your back pain

Spinal Stenosis

  • Narrowing of the spinal canal around the spinal cord
  • This can put pressure on the spinal nerves
  • You will typically have more back pain in standing and walking
  • You will typically feel better with sitting or when driving
  • You sleep best with something under your knees or laying on your side with a pillow between your knees and ankles

Slipped Disc or Disc Herniation

  • This happens when the center of the disc or jelly part pushes against the outside of the disc and sometimes the center part can leak out (that is a very sharp pain when that jelly comes into contact with your spinal nerves)
  • This in turn puts pressure on the spinal nerves and commonly occurs in the lower back. This causes pain down the back of the buttock and leg
  • Your back pain will typically be worse with bending over, twisting, lifting, coughing or sneezing
  • You typically get relief with standing

Pelvic and SIJ Dysfunctions

  • The hip bones meet the sacrum forming the SIJ at the base of the spine
  • Sometimes things move and shift so that they are not in proper alignment
  • This commonly happens during pregnancy, postpartum, after a fall, car accident, trauma to the pelvis or back and more
  • Your back pain will typically be worse with prolonged sitting and when you transition from sit to stand or stand to sit
  • Your symptoms will typically be better with walking and moving more

Degenerative Disc Disease

  • Our spine was not meant to live forever and our discs start to break down as we age
  • Our discs lose water as we age and wear down making it difficult for our spine to properly transfer forces
  • Your symptoms will be worse with bending, lifting, twisting and sitting
  • Your symptoms will typically be better with walking, moving, lying down with your legs supported and changing positions often

Those are just the most common causes of back pain to name a few. Now that you are starting to understand what may be going on with your body, there are some simple rules to follow.

Think about what makes your back better and seek out those activities. Also think about the activities that make your back pain worse and avoid those things. Especially when you first injure your back and are having that acute, sometimes intense back pain, it is important that you prevent your pain from worsening.

This is one of the first things that we focus on in physical therapy is to reduce your symptoms in Phase 1 of healing. It’s important to have your entire system calm down for healing to be able to occur.

Making sure that you are doing the correct exercises to reduce and minimize your back pain is essential. If your back hurts worse when you stand and walk, then we want to start exercises in a seated position or with your knees bent.

Once that acute pain has lessened, it is important that we get to the root cause of the problem – Phase 2 of your journey. If you do not know what causes your back pain, then it’s impossible to fix it and you will only be treating the symptoms.

Some of the causes listed above can be the problem and there are more dysfunctions that lead to back pain. Then understanding how your back pain has impacted your hip muscles, your hamstrings, your quad muscle, your abdominals and more is important to check.

I always say that it’s amazing and awful at the same time that our body compensates. The longer that our body lives with back pain (or any type of pain for that matter), the longer that the surrounding muscles, ligaments and tendons jump in to help out. Meaning that over time, it is not just our back that is affected.

If you are getting help that is only focused on your lower back, something can be easily missed for you to not only get better, but not have the back pain come back.

Once your symptoms are relieved or reduced, the underlying problem has been identified and fixed…then you get to the best part in the healing process, Phase 3- get back to doing what you love.

This is when it is important to try all the activities (within limits) that you have been missing out on because of your back pain. Being able to try these different things will allow you to see what is working and what still needs some tweaking so that you can enjoy having fun with your family and friends.

This is the most rewarding part of the process when you can go hiking, running, fishing and more with the people that you love most without your back pain standing in your way.

So it all comes back to understanding what is going on with your spine, your symptoms and what that means in relation to what is going on with your back.

Thank goodness you have a team of healthcare providers standing with you to help you figure out what is going on with your body, prescribe you the right exercises for you to improve and support you in your healing process.

Physical therapists are the muscle experts and trained to be able to listen, take measurements, complete testing and put together ALL the pieces to understand and explain to you what is going on with your body. We are blessed to be able to have the time to sit down with our patients and make sure that we are on the same page. The body is complex and our anatomy can be confusing, so we make sure that it all makes sense what is happening to YOU!

  • Are you ready to find the best exercises for your body?
  • Are you ready to make the best change in your life?
  • Are you ready to start living your best life?

Then stop waiting and take the initiative today to change your life!

Give us a call at 410-721-6333 to set-up a free Breakthrough visit so that we can sit down and chat about what is happening with your back. You can make the decision that we are the best people to help you. If you would like some more information, feel free to download our FREE tips guide on Ending your Back Pain https://www.breakawaypt.com/back-pain/

You only get one body and one back. We all have injuries, soreness and aches along the way, BUT don’t let that prevent you from enjoying all the things that you love most about life. Can’t wait to talk with you more soon!

Shaina Clemons

Shaina Clemons

Shaina is the founder and owner of Breakaway Physical Therapy.  She received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Maryland Baltimore, along with a Bachelor's degree from Towson University.   Shaina is an Ironman triathlete, with a love of all sports. Exercise is her passion, which plays an important role in both her personal and professional life.  In her free time, Shaina enjoys spending time with her husband and three young children.  Shaina's love of snowboarding led her to her career choice many years ago. 
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