What Causes Back Pain? And How to Cure It

You push back from your desk at the end of the work day.  Your hand, as usual, is rubbing your neck and shoulder … sore again.  You get up from your chair and throw your heavy commuting bag over your shoulder and sag out the door.  Your lower back is stiff and cranky and you desperately crave a massage.

Our cubicle lifestyle does nothing to keep our spines happy and healthy, but there are other causes too.  Here’s a list compiled from “Strong Women, Strong Backs,” a book by Miriam Nelson, Ph.D. (affiliate link).

  • Lack of strength and flexibility
  • Excess body weight
  • Poor posture
  • Degenerative discs
  • Scoliosis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Trauma
  • Herniated disc
  • Arthritis
  • Spinal stenosis

I’ve bolded the first three on the list because we have complete control over these through our lifestyle choices.  If we’re inflexible, then we need to stretch; if we have poor posture, there are several fitness discplines that will improve it (my favorite being Pilates, of course).  Excess body weight is the culmination of a series of bad choices that can lead to not just back pain, but a host of other problems that, frankly, can kill you.

You could argue that a few others on the list—like osteoporosis and disc herniation—are ones that we have control over too, but those take years to develop and years to correct.  The point I want to make is that wecan act right now to improve our aching backs!  Here are some ideas …

Exercise. Duh, you know this, so do it!  Just make sure it’s something that your back is ready to handle.  Doing a bridge during your first yoga class might not be such a smart idea.

Stretch after exercise. The act of moving and strengthening your muscles tightens them. But a few flexibility moves and gentle stretches at the end of your workout will keep your muscles supple and your joints flowing smoothly. Stretching is just as important as exercise so give it the time it deserves.

Eat well. Excess weight is the cause of a lot of health issues.  Back pain is just one on a very long list of problems that can occur.  I subscribe to the Michael Pollan mantra of “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”   There’s been a saying going around the internet lately: “Six pack abs begin in the kitchen.”  From looking amazing to being able to move well, you’re health starts inside your fridge.

Physical therapy. If you’ve been dealing with an aching back for a while, go to a doctor and get it checked out.  Likely it is a fairly easy fix using one of the above ideas (but if not, you need to know that too!).  Don’t just let the doctor tell you to exercise more and stretch; ask him or her for a referral to a physical therapist.  They can get you back on your feet in record time.

Pilates. Second to physical therapy, I do strongly believe that Pilates is your next best option.  Everything that we do (I’m an instructor) relates back to the spine.  We focus not just on strengthening the back muscles, but the core as well, and we actively promote flexibility of the spine and range of motion of the joints. I’ve seen dozens of people “cured” from their back pain with Pilates; it is truly amazing.

Do you have back pain?  Do you just endure it or have you tried to make yourself feel better?  Always start with a visit to your doctor, but explore the options above.  It’s amazing how much better you’ll feel when you’re pain free.