How back pain took control, and how to take it back

I came across an article on the vast interwebs this week titled, "How back pain took over the world."

Like many online headlines, this one was a bit dramatic (CLICKZ!) Sadly, though, there were facts to back it up.

Scientists have long tracked morbidity rates to determine what risk factors were causing the highest rates of fatalities. But as people live longer, it's becoming more important to track how many years of quality life we humans are able to enjoy.

In this study, researchers with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington used a metric called "Disability Adjusted Life Years," or DALYs. The figure combines the number of years a person loses from dying prematurely with the number of years spent living with a disability.

Researchers found that both in 1990 and 2015, the highest rate of Disability Adjusted Life Years in wealthy nations was caused by heart disease; no surprise there, considering its link to Western problems like high cholesterol and obesity. What was surprising was the No. 2 cause of years lost to disability: back and neck pain.

In 1990, back and neck pain wasn't even on the radar, sitting at No. 12.

In their paper, the researchers explored the various reasons and explanations for this phenomenon and some potential noise in the data, but stopped short of solutions.

That's where we come in.

If you're a modern human who spends 8-10 hours a day sitting in chairs, cars, trains and planes, chances are you are experiencing some degree of back pain. If it's debilitating -- you can't go to work or school, play with your children, tie your shoes or exercise without pain -- you should see a medical professional.

Even then, though, chances are the remedies prescribed will be of the treatment variety: physical therapy or chiropractic care (thumbs up); surgery (thumbs down, if you can avoid it); or painkillers/pain injections (thumbs way down, if you can avoid them). What the health industry spends precious little time on is prevention. Once the initial pain and dysfunction are mitigated, the same disastrous habits and movement patterns continue unabated, until you're right back where you were before your eight PT co-payments or two sets of epidurals.

If back or neck pain is part of your daily existence, the best way for us to help you would be for you to make an appointment for a free Functional Movement Screen. This screen, administered by an FMS-certified technician, would give us a snapshot of how your body performs right now in certain foundational movement patterns. In some cases, we may determine that it's best to refer you to a medical professional for treatment before beginning an exercise program with us. Most of the time, though, your FMS results will provide the information we need to develop a customized corrective exercise program to get you on the road back to health, fitness and pain-free exercise.

In the meantime, I wanted to highlight some simple exercises you can begin doing at home today with little or no equipment to stabilize and reorganize your core, pelvis, hips and lower back. Begin to incorporate the exercises one at a time into your daily routine, and evaluate which ones give you the most relief.

First, from Kelly Starrett, two simple exercises you can do in only a few minutes to restore proper pelvic position and lower trunk function:

Next, from Eric Cressey, an exercise we implement a lot from our FMS corrective exercise library: Dead Bugs. By keeping the belly tight and lumbar spine flush with the floor throughout the movement, you are restoring core stabilization under tension and with bilateral movement:

Finally, the inverted version of the Dead Bug exercise and another one from our FMS library: Quadruped Diagonals with Reach (or Bird Dogs). This exercise recruits core stability and balance while promoting rotational stability as well.

If back pain is hindering your quality of life, try these exercises and let us know in the comments or on Facebook which ones are working the best for you. If you're interested in learning more about how we incorporate the FMS screen and corrective exercise into our fitness programs, contact us today ... or simply take the first step and make an appointment for your free screen.

Back pain may have taken control, but there are ways to take it back.