It is likely that the majority of people reading this article have come across low back pain at one time or another. It has been cited in different research articles as the most common of all musculoskeletal complaints and the most common cause of workplace absences. Some studies claim as high as 80% of people will experience an episode of low back in their lifetime, and some of the latest research estimates that almost 10% of people at any given time are experiencing some form of low back pain. That’s 1 out of every 10 of your staff members are likely to be experiencing low back pain.
Good news is that up to 80% of acute non-specific low back pain cases will resolve within 6 weeks of onset, and 90+% by 12 weeks.
So based on those stats, it seems like low back pain is likely to come knocking at some point or another, and what we want to reinforce is that it’s really important to understand that back pain is common, likely to resolve, and that the back is robust.
What I’d like to do today is introduce you the structures associated with the low back and really show just how robust it is, and then in further blogs explore some common myths surrounding low back pain.
Firstly, your low back is made up of the 5 lumbar vertebrae (L1-5) and the associated joints, ligaments, and muscles that go along with it. At the most basic level, between each set of vertebrae, you have an intervertebral disc in the front that modulates compression and rotation, as well as two facet (Z) joints located in the back which modulate forward and backward bending.
These intervertebral discs, as well as the lumbar vertebrae themselves, expand, shift, and temporarily deform to help absorb the load that’s put through the spine on a daily basis.
On top of these you have your ligaments (think of them as strapping), that run along the front and back of the spine at different levels providing passive support for the spine in different end ranges of motion. These ligaments are made of dense connective tissue (they’re tough!) that pass from bony surface to bony surface.
Then, on top of all that, you have several layers of muscles, as well as a tough layer of connective tissue (thoracolumbar fascia) on top, which can all be seen below. These muscles range from very small ones (e.g. rotatores) that only span one or two vertebrae, to larger ones that span the length of the back (e.g. latissimus dorsi). The thoracolumbar fascia (the white looking tissue seen in the small of the back) provides an attachment for many of the larger muscles. When pulled in different directions by the various muscles of the back and core, it acts like a built in “back brace” to provide support when needed.
As you can see, the low back is a complicated beast with a lot of moving parts, not to mention it’s wired into one of the most complex pieces of machinery in the world (the brain) – but that’s a blog for another day.
Hopefully this brief introduction into the inner makeup of the low back helps show you just how robust your low back is, and that low back pain isn’t necessarily the end of the world. All it takes is a bit of understanding, time, and perhaps some guidance and management from your local health professional. If you’re suffering from low back pain or know of someone who is and have some questions that need answering sooner rather than later, don’t hesitate to book in or contact us.