The lower back is a typical site of chronic pain. Most cases of lower back pain can be attributed to mechanical problems: poor posture, overuse, improper movement, lack of exercise, and maintaining a static position for too long can strain the muscles around the spine unevenly and harm the discs between vertebrae. For example, poor posture often entails a weak core that does not support the lower back muscles in holding up the body. If the back muscles are strained and the core muscles lax, then an imbalance exists. The tighter, stronger muscles exert a pull on the spine and the surrounding muscles, ligaments and tendons. This unevenness can change the pressure placed on the discs, causing them to wear, bulge or herniate.
All mechanical issues are characterized by the improper employment of muscles. Your muscles are meant to work together, and if you do not sit and move as your body is meant to, then pain will often be the response.
Surgery is always a last resort for back pain. Many conservative treatments exist for the various causes of back pain that are less costly and risky than surgery.
A common type of lower back surgery is spinal fusion. This procedure aims to eliminate hypermobility of the spine due to worn discs. Vertebrae are literally fused together during spinal fusion, with the help of screws or bone grafts, and over a period of time the bones grow together permanently.
Complex fusion surgeries, which entail the fusing of at least 3 vertebrae, are becoming more popular despite evidence of their superiority as a treatment over conservative efforts like physical therapy. Between 1992 and 2003, the rate of spinal fusion surgeries quadrupled among Medicare recipients.
The reason may be more about money than effectiveness. Surgeons receive a huge amount of money for using the products of companies like MedTronic that manufacture implants for spinal fusion procedures.
A recent study in Norway, explained in detail at DynamicsPhysicalTherapy.com, suggests that exercise in the form of physical therapy is a more effective and less risky treatment for chronic lower back pain than spinal fusion surgery.
Another study conducted by the University of Washington followed the results of spinal fusion surgery for 1,950 workers’ compensation recipients. The majority – 63.9% – were still disabled two years after the surgery. The study also compared the use of implants in the procedure, and found that, while use has risen, it increases the rate of complication and does not increase effectiveness of the surgery.
Unfortunately, public education does not include much about the health of the spine. Most cases of back pain are preventable, since they are caused by our own posture and movement.
Maintaining a static position for long periods of time will create muscle tension and starve spinal discs of nutrients. Movement and blood flow go hand in hand; when you are immobile, your blood flows much more slowly to your tissues. Muscles, which are supposed to have an amount of elasticity, can become rigid and strained from being held in the same position.
Exercising and stretching are two of the most important factors of back health; ergonomics deserves mention as well. Much of modern life involves sitting. Muscle memory retains information about the positioning and usage of muscles while we sit. Poor posture, often consisting of stooped shoulders, a tilted pelvis and flattened lumbar arch, strains the muscles of the back and disrupts the natural shape of the spine, creating excess pressure on discs. Muscle memory can transfer this habit to our dynamic posture, or posture while moving. Sitting in a way that promotes the maintenance of the lower back’s arch, either with a lumbar support, towel roll or on an exercise ball, will help to eliminate chronic strain on muscles and discs.
Some people who already have disc-related lower back pain and wish to avoid surgery are seeking alternative means of treatment from traction and decompression devices. These stretch the spine, increasing disc space and allowing discs to re-hydrate. Ideally, the discs return to their normal shape and capacity after a number of treatments.
Many chiropractors have a spinal decompression machine in their offices. The procedure can be rather expensive for you, since insurance companies often do not cover it. There are devices you can buy for your home, although they do not have the same biofeedback systems that the bigger machines do. This means your muscles may be strained by the pulling action of the machine. Inversion tables are a common type of decompression system.
Since you would be performing these sessions on your own, you are responsible for preventing injury. If you wish to try out one of these devices, make sure to read reviews by others who have used them, to follow instructions carefully and to start out slow.
For the vast majority of people with chronic back pain, there are better treatment options than surgery. Information may be out of the public consciousness, but it is easily accessible if you seek it out. Many unnecessary surgeries occur because people don’t know what their options are, and leave it to the professionals to decide for them. Don’t end up the victim of poor medical advice; inform yourself to make wise decisions concerning your health.