Most lower back pain sufferers know that they ought to make the most of their pain-free days. After all, recurring back pain affects between one-third and one-half of all people, and the pain can flare up unexpectedly.
But what about those other people—the ones who once dealt with back pain and never reported another episode? Specifically, why does recurring lower back pain afflict some people and not others?
Professor Doune Macdonald and his fellow researchers at the University of Queensland in Brisbane pondered the same question and so set out to find out why. Their study found a link between the recurrence of lower back pain and altered muscle activity in the deep muscle fibers of the lumbar spine. These muscles are known as the “core” muscles and consist of those in the lower back, abdomen and pelvis. They provide strength, balance and stability to the back.
Recurring lower back pain traced to multifidus muscles
The most important core muscles for the stability of your back are the multifidus muscles. These run along the length of the spine and help to take some of the pressure off the vertebral discs so that weight is more evenly distributed. When they work properly, the multifidus muscles are activated even before any movement takes place to protect the spine from injury. Without this impressive capability, the spine would face serious injury, say, from a sudden load of weight.
And here’s the differentiator: the multifidus muscles showed later or delayed activation in those people with recurring low back pain, Macdonald and colleagues found. In other words, people whose multifidus muscles responded quicker were less likely to suffer from recurring back pain; their muscles were more agile and so were better able to respond to bending and twisting of the spine.
The key, then, for sufferers of lower back pain is developing strong multifidus muscles through strengthening and conditioning. Chiropractic care that includes exercises and spinal adjustments has been shown to improve the function of the multifidus muscles. A chiropractor can suggest exercises you can do at home that will strengthen your core muscles in between adjustments. The adjustments will align your spine so that it functions properly and will not put excess strain on the supporting multifidus, thus reducing the likelihood of recurring lower back pain.
A chiropractor is also skilled at the special care that is required once this set of muscles has been injured. Specifically, he multifidus tends to atrophy while a patient is healing. Prolonged bed rest is one of the worst ways to recover from lower back pain because it encourages the multifidus to atrophy even more.