What Causes Back Pain?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Healthy Lifestyle, Muscle Therapy and Health

Natural Remedies for Back Pain


Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT –The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney


What Causes Back Pain? 

Exploring the Overlooked Muscular Causes:


what causes back painYour back is a symphony of overlapping, interconnected, groups of muscles, tendons, and nerves. Each muscle merges into a tendon, which then crosses over a joint and inserts into a bone. When the muscle contracts it will pull on the tendon and the joint moves.

Your spine has 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae, and 5 lumbar vertebrae, each separated by a gelatinous disk that acts as a cushion to separate the bones and protect them from wear. Muscles span your entire spine, in some cases originating on the vertebrae and connecting each vertebra to the next, in some cases the muscles originate on the ribs and insert into the vertebrae in order to move your spine in the infinite number of angles, and in other cases the muscles originate on your vertebrae and insert into moveable bones such as your shoulder blade, pulling it in various directions.

In order to move in the opposite direction, the contracted muscle needs to relax to remove the strain from the bone, and the muscle on the opposite side contracts to pull the bone in the opposite direction. If the muscle that needs to release is in a spasm it can’t relax, and you have the muscles pulling in two opposite directions – and you have back pain.

The answer to what causes back pain is so broad that it needs to be broken down into four categories:

(1)   Why a Muscular Component Can Be What Causes Back Pain

Back pain is commonly caused by repetitively straining the muscles that insert into the vertebrae and ribs.  The list of muscles that insert into the bones of your back is long, with each muscle potentially causing pain when it is in spasm and pulling on the bone. Your back is a system of overlapping muscles, so many times when you are treating a muscle for one thing, you are also treating the source of a totally different problem.

This commonly happens when you are treating a thigh muscle that causes knee pain, but is also a key muscle that causes back pain, groin pain, and sciatica.

Natural Remedies for Back Pain

natural remedies for backTreating the muscle is one of the natural remedies for back pain. For this muscle treatment I suggest you use a 12″x 1 1/2″ length of PVC pipe and slide (don’t roll) from the top of your thigh to just above your knee.  The main area of treatment is shown in this picture.  It’s NOT on the front of your thigh, and it’s NOT on the outside of your thigh, but instead it is in between these two lines.

As you go down your thigh you’ll go over several “bumps,” which are actually large spasms that are pulling down on the front of your pelvis. The pelvis rotation causes a strain on your low back, and presses your posterior pelvis up into your sciatic nerve.

There’s a lot more to this muscle, but it’s so broad that it can’t be explained properly here. In fact, each of the muscles that cause back pain are fully explained, and treatments are demonstrated in my Trigger Point Yoga kit.

(2) Why a Bulging or Herniated Disk Causes Back Pain

herniated disk can be what causes back painThe disk between each vertebra is meant to be a cushion for the bones so they don’t rub on each other.  However, tight muscles that originate on each vertebra can pull the bones together, pressing down on the disks and cause them to either bulge in the opposite direction, or herniate.  For example, if the muscles on the right side of the spine are tight, they will bring the vertebrae closer together on the right, causing the disk to bulge toward the left.

If the muscles on both sides of the spine are tight, they will draw the vertebrae closer together and potentially cause the disk to herniate.

In either case the disks will put pressure on the spinal cord and causes back pain to be severe in that area.  However, if it is treated before permanent damage is done, releasing the muscle tension on the vertebrae will move the bones off the disk and the pain will be eliminated.

(3) Why a Vertebra Out of Alignment Can Be What Causes Back Pain

out of alignment can cause back painYour spine stays in perfect alignment because muscles are putting the exact amount of “pull” on each side. In fact, without muscles the spine would just hang straight and not be able to move at all — like a skeleton on a hook.  It is only because of muscles that the spine has any mobility at all.

The only way a vertebrae can move is either by a traumatic accident (such as falling down a flight of steps, or having a car accident), or by muscles pulling on the bones.

However, if muscles are pulling more on one side than the other the vertebrae will move toward the tight muscles.

The tension in the muscles must be released first if the bones are to be moved back into alignment and not be pulled out again by the tight muscles.

(4) Scoliosis, Osteoporosis, Spinal Stenosis, and other Causes of Back Pain

There are medical conditions such as scoliosis, osteoporosis, spinal stenosis, diabetes, and cancer that are also causes of back pain.  These are serious conditions that need medical attention.  It is always important to eliminate the possibility of any serious health risks before embarking on a path of treatment for back pain.


Obviously, as noted in #4 above, there are medical causes of back pain, but it is clear that the one that is consistently overlooked, and therefore not treated, is the muscular component.  My experience with thousands of clients over the years, both at my office and virtually online, is that muscles are frequently what causes back pain, and that the pain can be lessened or eliminated by treating the tight muscles demonstrating one of the natural remedies of back pain.

You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by exploring the muscular component to back pain!


Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


About The Author

julie donnellyJulie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

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Comments (3)

  • LaRue Wright


    I have Osteoarthritis in one knee and have had for a while. Now seeing that my back on that same side is being affected. I would love to know about her exercises/therapy to help that. Would love to keep it from progressing….


    • Dr. Steve Chaney


      I will suggest this to Julie Donnelly as a topic for a future article


      • Julie Donnelly


        I don’t have an article ready, but I’ll be happy to write one for you and will get it back asap.


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Recent Videos From Dr. Steve Chaney


Latest Article

High Protein Diets and Weight Loss

Posted October 16, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Healthy Diet food group, proteins, include meat (chicken or turkAre high protein diets your secret to healthy weight loss? There are lots of diets out there – high fat, low fat, Paleolithic, blood type, exotic juices, magic pills and potions. But recently, high protein diets are getting a lot of press. The word is that they preserve muscle mass and preferentially decrease fat mass.

If high protein diets actually did that, it would be huge because:

  • It’s the fat – not the pounds – that causes most of the health problems.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so preserving muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high without dangerous herbs or stimulants – and keeping your metabolic rate high helps prevent both the plateau and yo-yo (weight regain) characteristic of so many diets.
  • When you lose fat and retain muscle you are reshaping your body – and that’s why most people are dieting to begin with.

So let’s look more carefully at the recent study that has been generating all the headlines (Pasiakos et al, The FASEB Journal, 27: 3837-3847, 2013).

The Study Design:

This was a randomized control study with 39 young (21), healthy and fit men and women who were only borderline overweight (BMI = 25). These volunteers were put on a 21 day weight loss program in which calories were reduced by 30% and exercise was increased by 10%. They were divided into 3 groups:

  • One group was assigned a diet containing the RDA for protein (about 14% of calories in this study design).
  • The second group’s diet contained 2X the RDA for protein (28% of calories)
  • The third group’s diet contained 3X the RDA for protein (42% of calories)

In the RDA protein group carbohydrate was 56% of calories, and fat was 30% of calories. In the other two groups the carbohydrate and fat content of the diets was decreased proportionally.

Feet_On_ScaleWhat Did The Study Show?

  • Weight loss (7 pounds in 21 days) was the same on all 3 diets.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused almost 2X more fat loss (5 pounds versus 2.8 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused 2X less muscle loss (2.1 pounds versus 4.2 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • In case you didn’t notice, there was no difference in overall results between the 28% (2X the RDA) and 42% (3X the RDA) diets.

Pros And Cons Of The Study:

  • The con is fairly obvious. The participants in this study were all young, healthy and were not seriously overweight. If this were the only study of this type one might seriously question whether the results were applicable to middle aged, overweight coach potatoes. However, there have been several other studies with older, more overweight volunteers that have come to the same conclusion – namely that high protein diets preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss.
  • The value of this study is that it defines for the first time the upper limit for how much protein is required to preserve muscle mass in a weight loss regimen. 28% of calories is sufficient, and there appear to be no benefit from increasing protein further. I would add the caveat that there are studies suggesting that protein requirements for preserving muscle mass may be greater in adults 50 and older.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Forget the high fat diets, low fat diets, pills and potions. High protein diets (~2X the RDA or 28% of calories) do appear to be the safest, most effective way to preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss in a weight loss regimen.

2)     That’s not a lot of protein, by the way. The average American consumes almost 2X the RDA for protein on a daily basis. However, it is significantly more protein than the average American consumes when they are trying to lose weight. Salads and carrot sticks are great diet foods, but they don’t contain much protein.

3)     Higher protein intake does not appear to offer any additional benefit – at least in young adults.

4)     Not all high protein diets are created equal. What some people call high protein diets are laden with saturated fats or devoid of carbohydrate. The diet in this study, which is what I recommend, had 43% healthy carbohydrates and 30% healthy fats.

5)    These diets were designed to give 7 pounds of weight loss in 21 days – which is what the experts recommend. There are diets out there promising faster weight loss but they severely restrict calories and/or rely heavily on stimulants, they do not preserve muscle mass, and they often are not safe. In addition they are usually temporary.  I do not recommend them.

6)    This level of protein intake is safe for almost everyone. The major exception would be people with kidney disease, who should always check with their doctor before increasing protein intake. The only other caveat is that protein metabolism creates a lot of nitrogenous waste, so you should drink plenty of water to flush that waste out of your system. But, water is always a good idea.

7)     The high protein diets minimized, but did not completely prevent, muscle loss. Other studies suggest that adding the amino acid leucine to a high protein diet can give 100% retention of muscle mass in a weight loss regimen – but that’s another story for another day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.