Back Pain - How is it caused?
Back pain can be caused by a wide variety of problems relating to the nerves, muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and organs. Although often the result of physical trauma or excessive strain placed upon the body, it is now understood that pain is a complex process that is also greatly influenced by emotional factors, past experiences, context and future expectations.
Critically, we now understand through advances in neuroscience that pain is created by complex cross-talk and analysis in various brain centres that decide whether or not pain will be a helpful means of restoring balance and health. In other words, pain is an early warning mechanism that is triggered by the brain's perception of a threat or problem and not simply by the degree of tissue damage being communicated by the sensory nervous system. In fact, pain may sometimes occur when there is little or no injury because the brain is concerned with the possibility of damage. Equally, there can be considerable tissue damage with no pain at all because the brain considers that there is sufficient functionality and does not calculate any benefit from a pain response.
Disks between the spinal vertebrae act as shock absorbers. When they degenerate it is possible for even the slightest stress to cause rupture or herniation, allowing the soft inner material to protrude out of the disk and press against the spinal nerves (a ‘slipped’ disk). This can cause severe pain, problems with movement and organ dysfunction. Sometimes problems with subluxation (misalignment) of the spinal vertebrae can occur that also lead to nerve compression and inflammation. This may require release techniques to free up the movement of the vertebrae.
However, while many adults experience some degree of disk degeneration or subluxation, there are other more common causes of back pain. Muscular strain leads to the production of lactic and pyruvic acids which can accumulate to a level where they cause irritation of the nerves. Equally muscular tightness can lead to compression and irritation of the nerves.
Perhaps even more importantly, many nerves travel long distances in the body and therefore movements that cause tension or compression of a nerve at a joint or muscle can cause tension or compression of the nerve at another joint or anywhere else along the nerve pathway. Therefore, postural problems originating in the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and neck can cause patterns of strain and tension that are experienced as back pain, and vice versa.