Updated: Jan 24
Over the process of millions of years we have become a bipedal species which means our spinal structure and supporting soft tissues had to also evolve to maintain an erect posture and efficient gait. The challenge that we are facing modern day, and the picture above speaks for itself, is that we invest many hours each day accumulating significant postural debt. It wouldn't be so harmful upon our spine, if we did get up from our chairs and moved quadrupedally, as our early monkey ancestors did. Instead, we stand as upright as possible with the expectation of all our muscles sustaining alignment after investing hours upon hours of sitting improperly. As a youngster we could get away with it. As this vehicle we call our body ages, the thousands and thousands of hours equate to imbalances that raise their ugly heads as stress, tension and pain.
Today let's explore how you can get to the root of your back pain, particularly to TREAT and PREVENT lumbar disc herniations or bulges.
Common Signs & Symptoms
- Low back pain - Hip pain - Motor weakness - Pain upon coughing, sneezing and/or whilst bearing down during bowel movement. - Shooting pain into the hips, legs and/or feet - Numbness and tingling to the hips, legs and/or feet
The Slump Test
A quick and simple test to determine if you have spinal disc herniation is to perform the seated slump test. Perform this on a raised surface that will allow your legs to hang freely. Firstly, on your pain-free side, extend the knee with your posture upright. Next, slump round and down and note the feelings to your low back and back of legs. If the pain is unbearable, immediately stop. Allow this
pain to settle before attempting to repeat on the painful side. Perform the exact same sequence and note any differences.
Commonly, if there is sharp, unbearable pain it is an indication of a herniated disc on that painful side.
Additionally, if you were to sneeze, cough and/or bear down during a bowel movement and you experience a significant, unbearable pain to your low back, this can also be an indicator of a possible spinal disc herniation.
The best method for a complete diagnostic image is request an MRI. However, this can very often take weeks or months before an appointment is scheduled for you. My recommendation, is to use your results from above and treat you back pain according to this article. If you find your symptoms are subsiding, then you are on the correct path. Just don't sit around and feel as though you can't do anything until you get the MRI or are awaiting a referral to an orthopedic doctor.
Anatomy of Lumbar Discs
Between each of the spinal vertebrae is a fluid-filled sac that serves to aid in protecting, supporting and moving the spine. The best analogy I use in my clinic is that the sac behaves similarly to a level. Imagine, the water bubble inside the level remaining central, or moving left or right in accordance with the surface it is placed upon. In the same way, the nucleus of the sac moves forward, backward, left and right in accordance with our posture and daily movements. In an ideal world, when we return our spine to an ideal posture, we are allowing all of the spinal discs to return there nuclei to a central and balanced alignment. However, with a greater postural debt, we can prematurely wear down the outer lining of this fluid-filled sac, creating a pocket within which the nucleus shifts and remains in this misaligned position. The result, is similar to the photo above. This herniation or bulge, now takes up space in an area that the delicate spinal cord and nerves pass through. This added pressure creates disruption to the nerve tissues leading to such symptoms as referred pain down the leg, numbness, tingling and motor weakness.
The goal should be to as swiftly and naturally as possible, aid the restoration of this disc to its normal position, thus reducing pressure to the nerve structures and alleviating unwanted stress, tension and pain.
Did you know that 65% of your upper body weight is distributed through the fluid content of your spinal discs?
To maintain optimal health to the fluid content of your discs be sure to drink sufficient, good quality, mineralized water every day.
3 Steps to Treatment & Prevention
Step 1: Decompress
Whenever you are sat, stood or moving - you are loading the spine and creating more pressure to the spinal discs. Your first step in prevention and treatment of back pain, is to dedicate some time each day to unload and decompress your lower back. The easiest method is to lay on your back and place your feet up on a prop such as a table or chair, with your hips and knees bent. Allow yourself to relax in this position, for a minimum of 2-minutes, upward of 10-minutes. Repeat as often as necessary.
Step 2: Realign
The next, and perhaps the most important, step is to encourage the discs to reset to their ideal alignment. Considering that most disc bulges are postero-lateral (fluid being pushed to toward the back and to one side of your spine), this mobility exercise, known as a McKenzie Pushup, is very effective at massaging the disc to its normal position.
Follow along with my video instruction below, ensuring that you listen to your body when performing at home. This mobility exercise should be performed several times each day, holding each repetition for approximately 10-seconds and repeating for 10-20 repetitions.
CAUTION - this exercise can exacerbate pain in someone with a spondylolisthesis. If this applies to you, please consult with your physician or therapist before proceeding to do this mobility exercise.
Step 3: Postural Awareness This is your golden step in both treatment and prevention. I discuss this in more depth in my new book The 15-Step Playbook To Pain Relief. Essentially, be mindful and pay close attention to your posture at any given moment of the day. Without having to perform multiple corrective exercises, stretches, expensive therapies and possible surgery - you can help serve your body by correcting your postural alignment by cultivating what I call postural awareness. Keep your head over your shoulders (ears in line with edges of your shoulders), shoulder blades lightly squeezed together and a small inward curve in your lower back. If sitting, your knees would be in-line with your hips, feet flat on the floor.
Above & Beyond
Some other great alternative solutions to get to the root of your back pain and disc herniation include: - Massage Therapy - schedule with me at www.jasonbarlowrmt.com/services - Corrective Exercise with a CHEK Certified Practitioner - Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression
- Eliminate grains, sugar and dairy. Low back pain can be a somato-visceral response from your digestive system. - Mitigate your stress levels using meditation, yoga and tai chi.
Any questions, you can reach me at my clinic by phone: 403 589 4645 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Yours In Muscle Health,
Jason Barlow, RMT
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