How can I relieve my lower back pain / sciatica?

This episode is about #lowerbackpain and #sciatica in which Active X Backs Chief Back Officer Gavin Routledge, answers the question “How can I relieve my lower back pain / sciatica?” Gavin’s focus is on the #relief of pain.

Following on our previous post “Why does my lower back pain or sciatica keep coming back?”, in which I introduced the Cliff of Pain metaphor. After reading this post I will be leaving you with one golden rule that you can remember, to enable you to put into practice everything that you learn in this episode.

No pain, No gain

This is a rule that comes to us from the world of athletics and body building and weight-training. ‘No pain, no gain’, has absolutely no place in clinical rehabilitation. If you are trying to recover from a painful episode of something, ‘No pain, no gain’ is a disaster. If you are an athletic person and a competitive person, leave it on the pitch, right? It has nothing to do with rehabilitating from injury. So if you’ve been given exercises by somebody in the past and they’re a bit sore to do, but you’ve been encouraged to push through the pain, that is disastrous advice. Wipe it from your mind.

Relieve my lower back pain / sciatica – Key principle #1

There are two key principles involved in recovering from lower back pain or sciatica. Principle number one is: stop making it hurt, OK? If it hurts, don’t do it!

That might seem a really obvious answer, but why is it important to avoid painful experiences? Essentially, the biological purpose of pain is an alarm system. Pain is there to warn you. It’s the way your nervous system tells you: “Careful!” If you persist with that course of action, you are putting yourself in further danger. If you don’t stop doing things that make it hurt,

1) you’re in danger of doing further damage, and

2) because you are in also in danger of sensitizing your nervous system.

Sensitizing your nervous system

Here’s a scenario: if you put your hand on a hot plate, if it didn’t hurt and you left your hand there, you would do further damage, wouldn’t you? Yes, so further damage. What would also happen is that your nervous system would cause you more and more pain for the same degree of input. Next time you’d put your hand on a hot plate, it would hurt even more because your nervous system becomes more and more alarmed that you are ignoring this painful stimulus.

Remember: pain is there to protect you! It’s an alarm system. So if you ignore that alarm system, the only way your nervous system has of adapting is to rampart the response.

Just this morning I saw a lady for the first time who had first developed lower back pain three years following the birth of her son and steadily, slowly, her episodes have increased in frequency and now they’ve dramatically increased in severity. Even though the trigger, the thing that she does just before she falls off into the Sea of Pain –I explained the Sea of Pain in a previous episode, the trigger is perfectly innocuous. But now she’s getting more and more serious levels of pain despite the fact that she probably hasn’t done any greater amount to damage to her back. It’s just that her nervous system has become increasingly alarmed that she’s persisting in the activity that’s causing her pain.

Relieve my lower back pain / sciatica – Key principle #2

Principle number two is to do everything that you can to promote healing. Your body and your back are amazing things. They are a master of the evolutionary process. It never ceases to astonish me how much a human spine can do and how much it can endure before it starts to give way and cause problems. We all have this innate capacity for healing. It’s very important that you allow your body time and space to heal. How do you do that?

Pillars for healing

You are what you eat

I have three pillars for healing. The first is to make sure that you are eating well and drinking well so that everything that goes in your mouth is nurturing you rather than poisoning you. The best way to do that is to make sure that everything is home-cooked, prepared from scratch if at all possible and as little processed food as possible.

People talk about being well-hydrated. There is some debate about how much water or fluids you need to take in order to be well-hydrated, but certainly it is important to have enough fluids coming in. Make sure that you’re drinking enough and certainly eating well and not eating rubbish. You are literally, your body is made of what you eat. What you eat has an enormous impact on your capacity for healing.

Get a good sleep

The second pillar is sleep. Good sleep is super important. We hear about it in the context of mental health, but it’s equally important in the context of physical health. It’s during your sleep time that your body is rebuilding. You’re doing all sorts of damage during the day, through physical activity and perhaps through what you eat and it’s during the night that the repair and recovery process goes on. Making sure that you have adequate amounts of sleep, both quality and a posture-wise. It’s important that you’re in a sleeping position that allows your body to heal. We’ll cover more on this in future episodes.

‘Motion is lotion’

Finally, the last pillar to promote healing is movement. It’s super important to move when you’re healing. Let’s take an extreme end of the spectrum. Bedsores are caused by lack of movement and sustained pressure on a tissue, so that eventually that tissue breaks down through lack of sufficient blood flow, build up of waste products, and essentially the tissue starts to break down. Now at the other end of the spectrum is too much movement. If you’re constantly stressing a tissue as it’s healing, then you will prevent healing from taking place.

What should you do? Well, the golden rule is “Use it or lose it, but don’t abuse it”. Don’t abuse it means don’t do things that hurt for the reasons mentioned previously. “Use it or lose it” refers to the physiological fact that if you do not use your physical capacities, you will lose them. But also to the fact that as you move it’s bringing fresh oxygenated blood into the area and washing away the waste products of metabolism and inflammation.

So there we have the three pillars of promoting healing, eating well, sleeping well and moving well, and there’ll be a lot more on those three in future episodes.

In future episodes, we’ll dive a lot more deeply into each of these aspects of the ‘Use it or lose it. But don’t abuse it’ principle, as the framework of moving, eating, sleeping, and socializing well. In the next episode of the Active X Backs podcast, we will be addressing answering the question: “How can I prevent lower back pain or sciatica?”, so stay tuned for more!

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