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.

Conclusion

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….

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

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

      Reply

      • 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.

        Reply

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Latest Article

Can Plant-based Diets Be Unhealthy?

Posted September 10, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

plant-based diets vegetablesPlant-based diets have become the “Golden Boys” of the diet world. They are the diets most often recommended by knowledgeable health and nutrition professionals. I’m not talking about all the “Dr. Strangeloves” who pitch weird diets in books and the internet. I am talking legitimate experts who have spent their life studying the impact of nutrition on our health.

Certainly, there is an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the claim that plant-based diets are healthy. Going on a plant-based diet can help you lower blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol and triglycerides. People who consume a plant-based diet for a lifetime weigh less and have decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

But, can a plant-based diet be unhealthy? Some people consider a plant-based diet to simply be the absence of meat and other animal foods. Is just replacing animal foods with plant-based foods enough to make a diet healthy?

Maybe not. After all, sugar and white flour are plant-based food ingredients. Fake meats of all kinds abound in our grocery stores. Some are very wholesome, but others are little more than vegetarian junk food. If you replace animal foods with plant-based sweets, desserts, and junk food, is your diet really healthier?

While the answer to that question seems obvious, very few studies have asked that question. Most studies on the benefits of plant-based diets have compared population groups that eat a strictly plant-based diet (Seventh-Day Adventists, vegans, or vegetarians) with the general public. They have not looked at variations in plant food consumption within the general public. Nor have they compared people who consume healthy and unhealthy plant foods.

This study (H Kim et al, Journal of the American Heart Association, 8:e012865, 2019) was designed to fill that void.

 

How Was The Study Done?

plant-based diets studyThis study used data collected from 12,168 middle aged adults in the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study between 1987 and 2016.

The participant’s usual intake of foods and beverages was assessed by trained interviewers using a food frequency questionnaire at the time of entry into the study and again 6 years later.

Participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they consumed 66 foods and beverages of a defined serving size in the previous year. Visual guides were provided to help participants estimate portion sizes.

The participant’s adherence to a plant-based diet was assessed using four different well-established plant-based diet scores. For the sake of simplicity, I will include 3 of them in this review.

  • The PDI (Plant-Based Diet Index) categorizes foods as either plant foods or animal foods. A high PDI score means that the participant’s diet contains more plant foods than animal foods. A low PDI score means the participant’s diet contains more animal foods than plant foods.
  • The hPDI (healthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “healthy” plant foods. A high hPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) and low in animal foods.
  • The uPDI (unhealthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “unhealthy” plant foods. A high uPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) and low in animal foods.

For statistical analysis the scores from the various plant-based diet indices were divided into 5 equal groups. In each case, the group with the highest score consumed the most plant foods and least animal foods. The group with the lowest score consumed the least plant foods and the most animal foods.

The health outcomes measured in this study were heart disease events, heart disease deaths, and all-cause deaths. Again, for the sake of simplicity, I will only include 2 of these outcomes (heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths) in this review. The data on deaths were obtained from state death records and the National Death Index. (Yes, your personal information is available on the web even after you die.)

 

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

plant-based diets reduce heart deathsThe participants in this study were followed for an average of 25 years.

The investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years and compared people with the highest intake of plant foods to people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods. The results were:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

What Else Did The Study Show?

The investigators made a couple of other interesting observations:

  • The association of the overall diet with heart disease and all-cause deaths was stronger than the association of individual food components. This underscores the importance of looking at the effect of the whole diet on health outcomes rather than the “magic” foods you hear about on Dr. Strangelove’s Health Blog.
  • Diets with the highest amount of healthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of carbohydrates, plant protein, fiber, and micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Diets with the highest amount of unhealthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of calories and carbohydrates and lower intake of fiber and micronutrients.

The last two observations may help explain some of the health benefits of plant-based diets.

 

Can Plant-Based Diets Be Unhealthy?

plant-based diets unhealthy cookiesNow, let’s return to the question I asked at the beginning of this article: “Can plant-based diets be unhealthy?” Although some previous studies have suggested that unhealthy plant-based diets might increase the risk of heart disease, this study did not show that.

What this study did show was that an unhealthy plant-based diet was no better for you than a diet containing lots of red meat and other animal foods.

If this were the only conclusion from this study, it might be considered a neutral result. However, this result clearly contrasts with the data from this study and many others showing that both plant-based diets in general and healthy plant-based diets reduce the risk of heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths compared to animal-based diets.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

There is one other subtle message from this study. This study did not compare vegans with the general public. Everyone in the study was the general public. Nobody in the study was consuming a 100% plant-based diet.

For example:

  • The group with the highest intake of plant foods consumed 9 servings per day of plant foods and 3.6 servings per day of animal foods.
  • The group with the lowest intake of plant foods consumed 5.4 servings per day of plant foods and 5.6 servings per day of animal foods.

In other words, you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study analyzed the effect of consuming plant foods on heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths over a 25-year period.

When the investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

A more subtle message from the study is that you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet. The people in this study were not following some special diet. The only difference was that some of the people in this study ate more plant foods and others more animal foods.

For more details on the study, read the article above.

 

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.

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