Back pain is very common, and can be severe and debilitating either in acute episodes, or as chronic pain suffered over a long period of time that is both uncomfortable and fatiguing.
Why does back pain occur?
There are many different reasons for back pain, and if prevention and treatment is to be as effective as possible, it is important to have a good understanding of the cause in each individual. As well as those episodes when an obvious injury is the cause, some back pain can seem to occur for no reason, or as the result of a very minor strain. Back pain in general can often be traced to an accident or trauma, even one that occurred many years previously.
Accumulation of stresses in the body
Back pain does not always arise immediately after an injury because the body is very good at adapting to injuries and accommodating strains and stresses. However, the disruption to spinal mechanics brought about by injury can cause strain to build up over a period of time and symptoms begin, often insidiously.
Episodes of pain may be triggered by events such as physical exertion, emotional stress or illness. Sometimes a minor strain may give more pain and take longer to heal than expected. This may be because the body has reached the limits of its ability to cope with the combined effects of past injuries, and any new demand is ‘the final straw’.
In treatment it is often necessary to release retained stresses from past injuries and trauma in order to relieve the current back pain, and reduce the chances of it recurring.
Stresses within the body often cause problems in other areas as well as the back. Tension within the back can affect the shoulders and the pelvis, and upset the normal functioning of the arms, elbows, hips, knees and ankles. For example, “Sciatica” is not a condition but a description of symptoms, which can have a number of different causes. Some of these are directly related to tensions within the back and pelvis. Some may be unsuitable for Osteopathic treatment, and your Osteopath is trained in diagnosis to ensure that you get appropriate referral.
Common types of trauma and injury
There are certain types of accident that are common contributors to back pain, even if they did not cause pain at the time. The most common ones are described here, but it is by no means a comprehensive list.
Habitual bad posture such as poor seating at computers, can place strain on areas of the spine and lead to back pain. The seating position should be improved, as well as using osteopathic treatment to release ingrained spinal stresses.
Lifting heavy or awkward weights including babies, children and shopping, can cause back strain, especially if not done correctly. If the spine is already under stress from another cause, it may only take lifting a small weight to cause strain, usually at the weakest point in the spine.
Car accidents, Whiplash
In any car accident, even at relatively low speed, the body is subjected to sudden deceleration forces, and can be thrown around violently in many different directions. Osteopaths are often able to feel the effects of these stresses locked into the body tissues as tensions. The whole body can be affected, not just the neck, and unless these strains are treated, they can be present for life.
Common findings after car accidents:-
Neck: Overstrain of the neck muscles and ligaments. This often causes persistent neck pain and headaches.
Low Back: The sacrum or the tail bone at the base of the spine often becomes wedged down into the pelvis, leaving it rigid and immobile. This is one of the most important effects to release in the treatment of any whiplash, because it can disturb the function of the whole spine.
Rib Cage: Twisting and compression through the rib cage from the seat belt restraint. This can leave pain in the ribs, shoulder and sternum (breastbone).
The spine is often jerked or twisted during falls, and parts can become quite impacted or compressed. Sit-down falls such as falling on ice or a slippery surface are particularly damaging because in addition to the direct impact on the base of the spine, the impact of the head onto the top of the spine can cause strain at the top of the neck. Headaches and neck problems are very common after this type of injury.
Any direct injury, for example kicks or blows to the spine can create a local area of disruption of normal spinal mechanics. Problems may gradually develop over a period of time, even if the back seemed uninjured at the time.
Blows to the head
Blows to the head can disrupt the normal minute flexibility of the bones of the skull, a situation that has far reaching effects on the whole of the rest of the body. Posture can also be modified by blows to the head as the spine adapts to the injury.
During childbirth the mother’s pelvis can become distorted as the baby’s head descends. In many cases distortion corrects itself, but if severe it can remain for many years and disrupt spinal and pelvic mechanics. This can cause very diverse symptoms including backache, constipation, stress incontinence, headaches, disruption of periods when they start again, and even postnatal depression. See our page on osteopathy for pregnancy and childbirth.
Uneven bite, bridges, plates and extractions can all have far reaching effects on the body. See our page on osteopathy and dentistry.
So why cranial osteopathy?
Cranial osteopaths are skilled in assessing the mechanics of the whole body, and in particular the spine. The gentle techniques of cranial osteopathy are particularly useful for feeling deeply into the body, locating where the body might be carrying the effects of stresses and strains, and helping the body release these tensions. This may relieve pain and discomfort, and helps restore the normal ease of movement of the spine.
When to consult an Osteopath
Prevention is better than cure, and it is often easier for an osteopath to treat underlying stresses and strains when there is no current back pain. You do not have to have the pain on the day of the treatment.
Likewise, you do not have to wait for a particularly painful episode to settle before visiting an osteopath. Most back pain is easier to treat in its early stages. It is also important for the longer term to minimise the potential for structural damage or arthritis, which can be caused by wear and tear through strain on weak areas of the spine, by getting treatment when it is needed.