Do you know the truth about your back?
Let’s check it out:
What did you say? Backs are actually amazingly well-designed. The vertebrae are linked together by strong ligaments, supported by powerful muscles, and yet they’re flexible enough to let you curl into a wee ball or twist to look behind or reach high above your head. They take an enormous amount of force to break and they allow us to have an upright position, protected soft organs, and have information flow to and from all parts of our body.
I think the back is cool.
What’s scary isn’t how our backs are constructed, but how we’ve been fooled into thinking that we need to protect our delicate backs, that we shouldn’t move when we have a sore back, that we should avoid bending, twisting, moving and we should be incredibly careful to keep our backs straight.
There are some very sticky words and expressions we’ve learned about our backs. Mostly we’ve learned that backs are very easily injured, and that we need to worry when we feel sore. We’ve probably all had education from someone saying “don’t use your back like a crane”, “bend your knees and not your back”, “sit up straight, don’t slouch, it’s bad for your back”. We’ve probably all heard people say “I’ve put my back out”, or “I have a bad back”, or even “her disks slipped out”.
What’s worse, we’ve probably all been told to rest when we feel pain in our backs. That we should “avoid heavy lifting” when our backs are sore. But what happens when it hurts and we’re not even picking anything up? How heavy is “too heavy”? Why does it seem to hurt more when we rest?
The truth is, backs are probably not as much of a problem as we think. What might be more of a problem is worrying about our backs, trying hard to protect our backs from “danger”, and in the process, becoming incredibly awkward when we move, or not moving at all.
While backs are often where we hurt, structural damage isn’t as common as we might think. Given that most people will have a bout of back pain in their lifetime (up to 90% of people in some studies), I keep wondering if perhaps we could think of back pain as a lot like having a headache. A headache of the back. We don’t think of head pain as “head injury”, we think of it as a headache – we usually take a bit of pain relief, go for a walk, de-stress, and it’ll settle down. Occasionally a headache is a sign of something more serious – but most of the time it’s a nuisance and a wakeup call to take more care of our wellbeing.
If we could think of back pain in the same way, I think we might be better off. What would it be like if we thought of back pain as “just a nuisance”, or “I’m a bit stressed”, or even “I need to go for a walk”?
What if, instead of thinking about our fragile, delicate, easily-injured back, we could think of it as flexible, strong and resilient?
Then we’d move, walk, exercise, swim, dance, relax, stretch without worry, and I’ll bet our backs would feel better for it.