Most people who have general back pain and stiffness don’t question it enough; i.e. wonder why they have it. All they want is for it to go away in the quickest amount of time. A person suffering from back pain will first wait and see if it goes away with rest and time, and if it’s really bad, over the counter medications. If this doesn’t work, he will make an appointment with his primary care physician, who will usually prescribe pain medication and muscle relaxants to address the symptom (not the cause). The patient may be referred for physical therapy, which typically consists of modality application (heat, ice, lumbar traction, electric muscle stimulation and possibly low level laser) and exercises. Some people with lower back pain consult a chiropractor, who will address the problem usually be employing some form of spinal manipulation; and some will seek an acupuncturist.
But what if all these treatment forms are on the wrong track; i.e, they are based on errant assumptions? What if there is more to the back pain than sore muscles and stiff joints?
If you suffer from back pain; particularly lower back pain, it may be the result of dysfunctional nerve signals coming from the brain. The brain controls voluntary and involuntary contraction of your muscles, like a finely tuned machine run by a super fast computer. It’s analogous to a world-class conductor conducting a symphony so that every note, tempo, and timing is perfect.
If the nerve impulses (millions of them occur just standing) are dysfunctional, it can cause certain muscle groups to contract when they aren’t supposed to, forcing joint surfaces together and limiting their movement. It can cause one side to be inactive, resulting in unbalanced muscle tone. Abnormally functioning nerve signals to the muscles can throw off the synchronization of muscle contraction, which would be a big problem right in the middle of moving a heavy piece of furniture.
I believe that most cases of gradually occurring lower back pain are the result of degraded communication between the brain (cerebral cortex and cerebellum) and the musculoskeletal system. Even if the onset of pain was a specific incident such as bending forward to pick something up, it is secondary to a malfunctioning brain-muscle communication.
So, what does one do? Realize that for lower back pain, one shouldn’t simply focus on external means to reduce the pain; whether it be pharmacological (drugs) or manual (physical therapy, chiropractic). These methods can help reduce the pain and make you feel better, but if they don’t address the true problem, the pain is guaranteed to return.
Somatics is a form of therapy that treats muscular conditions by attempting to remove emotional or subconscious factors that may be contributing to the problem. The idea here is that the brain’s ability to properly regulate the body’s muscular function has been compromised by an old injury; inactivity, or harmful thought patterns. Somatic therapy addresses the problem by attempting to restore the connection using specific exercises, concentration, and breathing techniques.
If you have lower back pain that just won’t respond permanently to physical therapy or chiropractic, consider Hanna somatic exercises. This technique seeks to restore proper brain-muscle function using deliberate, specific targeted exercises (not your typical strengthening and stretching exercises). The system is taught by Lawrence Gold, a certified Hanna Somatics practitioner and is available on DVD or internet download. A sample of one of the exercises can be found here.