Have you ever wondered what causes back pain when there’s no injury to explain it?
If you struggle with chronic back pain, you’re certainly not alone. Experts estimate that about 80% of people will experience back pain during their lifetimes.
But while you might think your back pain is the result of an injury, the truth is that most people don’t have a treatable spinal disorder.
Many back pain sufferers are given a diagnosis of “non-specific lower back pain.” Which basically means: you have back pain and we have no idea why.
That’s pretty frustrating to hear…
But don’t give up hope. Just because you don’t have a back or spinal injury doesn’t mean your pain is without cause.
What Causes Back Pain Aside From Spinal Dysfunction?
When doctors examine you for back pain, they probably look at your spine and the surrounding muscles.
But actually, your spine doesn’t function in isolation. What’s happening in your feet, legs and hips has a big impact on the health of your back.
For example, when a scoliosis patient brings his or her feet directly together, her spinal curvature usually worsens. That indicates that imbalances in the patient’s legs and feet are affecting her spine.
One thing to look for if you’re suffering from back pain is a leg length differential. Meaning: one leg is shorter than the other. This is actually quite common.
Unfortunately, determining the source of the difference requires more than looking at a person’s feet when they are lying down to see if they line up. While that will give you an indication of the pattern, it tells you nothing about what the muscles and bones are doing inside the legs.
Could Your Leg Length Differential Be What Causes Back Pain?
There are two kinds of leg length differentials: structural and functional.
Structural differentials occur when the actual bones of the leg are of different lengths. The ONLY way to be sure you have a structural leg length differential is to have x-rays taken and then measure the length of the bones.
If this is the case for you, you may need to have a lift put in your shoes on the shorter side to provide support for your pelvis and back.
Functional differentials, however,. are much more common.
In a functional leg length differential, the muscles and tissues somewhere in the body contract and hold one leg higher off the ground than the other. The muscle tension can also twist your pelvis.
A functional leg length differential can be corrected through exercises that balance your muscle tension.
Which Muscles Should I Focus On?
While many muscles can be implicated in a leg length differential, there are two main ones to pay attention to.
Your illiacus and psoas muscles attach to the inside of the hip and the front of the spine. They line the inside of the pelvic bowl and both of these muscles flex the leg at the hip, like when you’re sitting in a chair.
Tension in these two muscles can contribute to discomfort in the digestive organs and abdominal region. If one side becomes short and tight, it will pull that leg higher, making it appear shorter.
When your feet – the foundation to your entire body – are not balanced as happens when your legs are different lengths, your pelvis will be crooked. That puts torque on your sacrum, or tailbone, which is the bottom-most vertebra of your spine.
When your sacrum doesn’t move, neither does anything else above it, and that means BIG PAIN!
The Key To A Healthy Spine
Additionally, your psoas attaches along your spine at the same junction as your diaphragm. If your psoas is too tight, it will constrict breathing, which can in turn result in more back pain.
Maintaining long, limber hip flexors is critical for back health. If you spend more than 2 hours a day sitting, make sure you include activities in your exercise routine that fully extend your anterior hip to keep back pain and stiffness at bay.
Ultimately, when it comes to what causes back pain, there are many factors and just focusing on your spine alone won’t necessarily get you the relief you crave.
For a deeper discussion of posture and back pain, check out my ebook Perfect Posture for Life: How to Finally Stop Slouching, Stand Tall and Move Freely (Even If You Sit at A Computer All Day).
I go way more in depth on the anatomy of your back and all the unexpected areas of your body that can cause back pain that you wouldn’t necessarily think would be related.
(Oh, but they are.)