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What Causes Achy Back Pain?

Author:  Tyler J. Tonso, DC CKTP FMSC

bigstock-Man-suffering-from-backache-28048733It’s a common problem for pretty much everyone. In fact, one half of all Americans admit to having back pain symptoms at least once a year. You may simply sit for a long time at work, shovel snow, work on the yard, or even just ride a bike for a while. The constant ache in your low back or shoulders isn’t a mystery science has yet to uncover that requires a need for NSAIDS or heavy pain meds to deal with.  There’s a reason why putting our bodies in awkward positions for an extended amount of time causes pain, and often times simply reversing that action can have profound effects on making you feel better.

When we sit for extended periods of time we get tissues that are constantly stretched. Depending on your posture, this may result in low back pain, thoracic pain, or pain at the lower neck and across the shoulders. This pain is often caused by creep. While it may seem like an awkward term it basically means there is a progressive deformation of tissue when it is under a constant stretch. For a viscoelastic structure like our muscles, if the load is maintained then there will be continued deformation and therefore worse pain. The pain from creep typically starts about 15-20 minutes after the tissue has been in the stretched position. Not only does creep cause the typical ache we get but it can also lead to further more serious injuries. When the tissue has been stretched for a significant amount of time or repetitively, then that tissue has an increased chance of “failing” or creating a significant injury. I often see this with people when they say they simply bent over to pick something up and they severely sprained their back. It may seem like such a weird thing that a simple motion can do that, but then with further questioning it’s revealed that earlier that day they had been doing something like yardwork for several hours bent over. At that point it just takes one simple unguarded movement to aggravate the back. Think of it like a rubberband that you stretch further and further. That rubberband might be stretched to the max and still be fine, but it just takes a little bit more pressure to completely snap it.

Prone Passive Extension

Prone Passive Extension

In order to decrease the pain from creep there are some simple things you can do at home. Simply put that tissue in an unstretched position and the more you do that the better the relief. Get up and walk around, take a break, or the hard one…sit with better posture. This will at least give you some temporary relief. If you’re simply sitting all day then Brugger’s posture exercise can also give you some relief. For people with the achy low back pain, passive prone extension helps decrease intradiscal pressure by 50% which can give you even further relief.

If you get more than the typical ache it’s important to get it evaluated. Otherwise, remember to work smart and to not push the limits of your “creepy” back.

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