What is causing my lower back pain?

In the 10+ years that I have been a chiropractor and sports injury specialist, I have found that 90% of people with lower back pain do not have back pain because of a joints problem, a spinal disc bulge, a disc protrusion, or a disc herniation.

Let me say that again. The joints and the discs are most often NOT the problem.

90% of the time the problem is MUSCULAR.

That’s right! The majority of the patients who come to my office experiencing lower back pain have serious TIGHTNESS PROBLEMS with the muscles. That tightness is causing the pain.

90% of the time the following muscles become too tight:

  • All of the gluteus muscles, especially the glute medius and glute minimus; and quite often one side is tighter than the other.
  • The hamstring muscles; and usually one hamstring is tighter than the other.
  • The mid-back muscles; and usually the side that is tighter is on the opposite side of the glute that is tighter.

SO WHAT IS HAPPENING TO CAUSE MY LOWER BACK PAIN?

First and foremost, your muscles have likely been too tight for too long. When muscles are tight for too long they become fatigued. When muscles are tight and fatigued for too long they become painful.

If you are experiencing lower back pain right now, it’s because you have reached a final stage where your muscles have been so tight and so fatigued for so long, they essentially get locked into a mild state of “spasm.”

Let me give you an example:
Have you ever had a muscle cramp? I compare the lower back pain you are feeling to a cramp, except the “cramp” is about 20% to 40% contracted. A true cramp is when your muscle independently decides to contract at 100%. A muscle contracting at 100% is excruciating. But at 20%, you only feel a dull ache that either comes and goes, or just seems to stay there and never go away. It’s not excruciating, and you can actually handle it for a long time, but eventually, you get tired of feeling a constant low to mid-level of pain.

WHAT ELSE IS CAUSING MY LOWER BACK PAIN?

The other thing that is causing pain is the fact that your muscles are tight and fatigued asymmetrically. Most people tend to feel slightly more pain on one side of the lower back than the other.

Let’s say you have lower back pain on your right side. What I have often found is that your mid-back (thoracic postural muscle) is too tight on your left, your lower back is too tight on your right, your gluteus muscles are too tight on the right, and your left hamstring is tighter than your right hamstring.

Think about that. Your body is in this asymmetrical state of tension which torques your body unevenly, spreading forces throughout your body unevenly. This type of muscle imbalance causes pain.

BUTT ;) WHAT IF I ALSO FEEL PAIN GOING DOWN MY LEG?

Again, this is a muscle problem in 90% of the cases I see in my practice. The pain going down your leg is caused by a muscle (or chain of muscles) that have become too tight. The muscles most often involved are your glutes.

Most practitioners will tell you that you have “Piriformis Syndrome,” but your piriformis muscle is only one part of a bigger problem. Not only is your piriformis too tight, so are some of your other glute muscles. What I have found is that your glute medius and glute minimus are more likely the problems.

SO WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE MAKE MY LOWER BACK PAIN GO AWAY?

The good thing is, it’s easier than you think, and there are two ways you can approach this problem.

Approach 1 – Use a Foam Roller: If you want to save time and money and try to fix this problem yourself without going to the doctor’s office, then you are absolutely going to have to foam roll.
Yea! I know! You’re saying, “Ugh! Really? Do I have to foam roll? I hate foam rolling!”

Just do exactly as I demonstrate in the following foam rolling instruction video, and I can virtually guarantee that you will get some relief:

 

Approach 2 – Make an appointment with me: Sometimes using the foam roller enough can reduce the pain so much that you don’t need to see me. But other times it doesn’t eliminate the pain completely. That’s where I come in.

I do very specific pressure therapy and myofascial therapy to the muscles that are causing the problem. The difference between the foam roller and me is when you lay on my table, and I apply pressure to the tight and painful muscles, you are COMPLETELY relaxed. When you foam roll, muscles need to be contracted and awkward body positions need to be maintained to hold your body in the right position to roll, so you are not completely relaxed. Muscles respond to pressure therapy faster when you are laying on a table completely relaxed.

I also stretch your hamstrings and glutes using a method called Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (Aka, PNF). This combination of therapy gets 90%+ of my patients completely pain-free, usually in about 3-6 appointments depending upon severity.