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How Contributing Factors Lead to Back Pain, not the Triggering Event

How Contributing Factors Lead to Back Pain, not the Triggering Event

By Mary Williams, MSEd, CPE

October 24, 2011

There are many explanations among and between professionals regarding the cause of chronic back pain. Spend an hour searching the web and you will find back pain attributed to poor mechanical design or defect, trigger points, or muscle imbalance. You’re also likely to find a plethora of gizmos, treatments and even surgeries touted to relieve the pain. The term root cause is frequently bandied about by those who go beyond the defect level, proclaiming to provide a foundational answer.

Unfortunately, if you search further you will discover that many of the techniques designed to provide relief have instead been found to provide either temporary, little or no relief, often leaving back pain sufferers feeling frustrated and financially drained.

I’ve often been asked about my use of the term root cause and my response is this: If you haven’t gotten to the true, underlying origin, you haven’t gone far enough. For example, one highly-marketed online entity claims that trigger points are the root cause of back pain. My response would be that while it is good that they go further than diagnosis and are looking at what is happening in the body at a deeper level, I challenge the assertion that trigger points are the root cause of back pain, and are, instead, a result of the primary and secondary contributing factors as noted in The BACKCoach Model of Chronic Back Pain. Further questions must be asked, such as,

  • Why has the muscle tightened into a trigger point?
  • What is the person doing that has resulted in this response?
  • Is there more than one factor in the development of trigger points?

So, what are the true, underlying root causes of chronic back pain? At BACKCoach, we refer to these as the Contributing Factors. Thorough investigation has led me to uncover that there are three primary contributing factors that lead to chronic back pain and several other, secondary, contributing factors. The three primary contributing factors are so prevalent in developed countries that they explain the relationship between these countries and their according prevalence of chronic back pain. The three primary contributing factors for chronic back pain, in no particular order, follow.

  1. Primary Contributing Factor #1: Imbalanced Posture. Beginning in the 1920’s, our postures significantly changed. We no longer carry ourselves with a properly balanced and stacked spine, rather, typically beginning in adolescence, we observe others and mimic their out-of-balance spines. In other countries where this change of posture does not occur, there is virtually no back pain.
  2. Primary Contributing Factor #2: Stress. The chronic stress that is part of daily life for so many of us results in many physical changes in the body, including muscle contraction. In a healthy situation, when stressors occur, the situation is dealt with or we do something physical, then and our bodies go back to normal. Unfortunately, today’s stressors are typically chronic, and, in combination with Contributing Factor 3, below, lead to chronic muscle tension, which, in turn, results in pain.
  3. Primary Contributing Factor #3: Inadequate Physical Activity. In addition to #1 and #2 above, we have become a society that is overwhelmingly sedentary. For most of us, even if we engage in regular exercise, a large portion of our day is spent sitting. This leads to deconditioned muscles, slouching, and a build-up of stress instead of the relief that exercise and movement provides.

What you’re unlikely to hear from providers, but is supported by study after study, is that long-term back pain is rarely the result of an injury, but of the underlying contributing factors that led to the ‘triggering event’. If we want to have long-term relief, we have to dig a little deeper, to the fundamental, underlying reasons for the pain itself.

It is at this fundamental, critical, root-cause level that we must focus if we want to achieve lasting relief and a return to a full, active, limitless life. Each contributing factor must be addressed. Let BACKCoach show you how.