Picture of Zoo Human sat at Desk
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is an old post – for a more up to date article on back pain/chronic pain please check out this post here.

Why is it that over 80% of people will suffer from some form of back pain during their lives?  Is it some kind of fundamental flaw in human physiology? Is it some evolutionary trade off for developing the ability to walk on two legs?

In a way, the latter statement is half true, as the causes are possibly linked to our evolutionary development.

Essentially, there are two main contributing factors of modern living that may contribute to the majority of back problems:

  1. Human beings did indeed evolve to stand up and walk on two legs, but we now choose not to!  The average person will sit down to eat breakfast, before the sit down on the commute to work, where upon arrival they will sit for the best part of 8+ hours.  Another seated commute home is then invariably followed by an evening sitting on the sofa!
  2. The little walking and running that most people do partake in is done wearing shoes.  Like every other creature on this planet, we evolved, and are still born barefoot.  Although we are told that shoes are a fantastic invention that can now even help you burn more calories and tone your backside, the truth is they do more harm than good!

If you made your pet dog/cat sit in a chair all day, and wear shoes when it walked anywhere, it would very soon be in a bad way and you would probably be arrested for animal cruelty – For some reason though, we have taken to treating ourselves in this manner and think that we are doing ourselves a favour!

So what can you do to either try and avoid becoming one of the 80+ % in the first place, or if you are unfortunate enough to already be suffering (which you probably are statistically), do something about it?

In part I of this III part article we are going to look at perhaps the hardest part of the remedy – Avoiding the causes!

  1. Do not sit down for prolonged periods of time

It can take less that 20 mins for “creep” to set in (The shortening of muscles) to your hip flexors (the muscles that cross the front of your hip).

When these muscles become chronically tight from being permanently flexed while you are in the seated positing, your nervous system gets the incorrect signal that they are contracting all the time, which in turn inhibits your glute muscles.

This is due to a process called reciprocal inhibition, which is intended to stop two opposing muscles both trying to move a joint in the opposite direction at the same time.  This effectively makes you unable to fire your glute muscles (which are supposed to be the strongest muscles in your body).

This means that when you try to extend your hip (i.e. stand up/squat/climb stairs etc), the hamstrings have to try and do the job on their own. As the hamstrings are trying to do the work of two muscle groups, whilst fighting against tight hip flexors pulling in the opposite direction, people are often unable to fully extend their hips, and compensate by hyper-extending the lumbar spine (excessively arching the back) instead to “cheat” the movement.

The lower back muscles are supposed to support posture only, not produce movement. Doing so puts them under undue stress which in turn results in pain.

If you do have to sit down, make sure you stand up and walk around/stretch every 15 mins to avoid creep setting in.  Even better, avoid sitting down as much as possible – As I am writing this, I am standing up, having created a standing desk (though you can buy specially made ones too).

  1. Don’t wear shoes with any kind of elevation or cushioning in the sole.

Ideally go barefoot where ever possible.  When shoes are necessary, go for ones with the thinnest, flattest, most flexible sole possible.  Google barefoot shoes and you will find there are now a number of good options on the market, alternatively just go for martial arts shoes, ballet slippers, sports pumps or similar.

Even the slightest elevation at the heel causes a change in angle at the ankle.  This then has a knock on effect all the way up through every joint in your body which have to compensate.

Cushioning in the soles of shoes muffles the feedback your central nervous system is supposed to get through the floor.  The soles of your feet contain 1000s of nerve endings, which are supposed to relay info to all your muscles all the time via your CNS.  Cushioned soles confuse these messages and cause havock – Think about trying to do delicate tasks with gloves on all the time.

Making these two changes to your lifestyle are the two most important factors in terms of avoiding/rehabing back pain.  In parts II and III of this article I will be covering some pro-active exercises that can be done either at home, or in the gym to accelerate the recovery process and really bullet proof that back.

Thanks for reading, I hope you found this post of interest. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments below, or feel free to tweet me at @Simon_Whyatt

4 comments

  1. I had serious back pain last Xmas. I tried absolutley everything to try and ease the pain; from drinking cider vinegar to streatching so much I thought I would snap.
    I then read an article explaining that a 1/3 of back pain is caused by infection. I rooted through my supply of medicines I had not used and found amoxycillin. i started the course and within a day it had eased the pain. a week later it had almost gone. The article said tests had been taken over a 3 week period with the drug and it had worked. With me, 2 weeks and I was fixed! What a relief!
    I just thought I would share this with you if there are any people out there stuck on what to do.

    Regards
    Army Rob

    1. Interesting, not heard that before.

      I’d strongly recommend consulting a doctor before taking any medication – Antibiotics should be used wisely, there can be numerous side effects and if you take an insufficient course you can produce drug resistant strains!

      As prevention is always better than a cure, this is just more reason to live Primally – A paleo diet, short intense workouts and plenty of low level activity is the best way to keep your immune system strong and fight of infections. Lots of sugar, starch, alcohol and long drawn out “cardio” routines are a sure way to keep you making regular trips to the pharmacist!

      Glad you got yours sorted though Rob 🙂

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