Have you been told you have overactive lumbar spine muscles?
If you have and you suffer from lower back pain or discomfort, this post is for you.
Whenever we have an uncomfortable sensation coming from an area of our bodies we understandably want relief.
We also tend to feel instinctively that the best way to achieve that is by direct contact with the area that hurts. Either by using massage, or self release type tools such as foam rollers and spiky balls.
If you suffer from these type of events on a regular basis then you’ll know that whilst these approaches may provide temporary relief, they don’t seem to solve the problem.
There’s a good reason for this.
To suggest that a muscle is overactive is a big call to make. This will generally be done by palpating the area and deciding it feels ‘tight’. You will no doubt be lying on your front (prone) when this diagnosis is made.
Bare in mind that this is entirely subjective. There’s no way to tell how active a muscle is by touching it. If it feels contracted this could be the result of numerous other factors including, movement deficiencies in other areas, inflammation, the direction your head is turned when lying down, or the understandable apprehension of having a practitioner touch you in an area where you feel pain.
So now a decision has been made that something in your back feels tight and regardless of it’s accuracy, the inevitable solution will be to give it a rub and / or stretch / manipulate the life out of it.
So now you have a treatment being employed that will only have one consequence, inhibition of the muscles targeted. That is, those muscles being treated will be unable to contract directly afterwards and possibly for some time after the session, depending on the amount of force being used by the practitioner.
Now let’s suppose the cause is something different.
What if the problem itself is not over activity but the opposite, under activity?
Muscles that aren’t contracting particularly well can display the exact same symptoms as their overactive counterparts. And as I said, it’s impossible to call which is which by touch alone.
Now what just happened? The problem was weakness and yes you are now even weaker than you were when you came in. Whoops.
So here is the critical question, do think people with back pain have strong backs or weak ones?
Given the success that strength training programmes can have over time on reducing the incidence of back pain, it seems more likely that it’s weakness which is the problem.
My own experience of working with people who suffer back pain certainly bears this out. In over 15 years of practice I have never encountered somebody who has back pain and doesn’t have accompanying weakness in their lumbar spine and elsewhere.
So what can you do with this information?
The first thing to realise is that any treatment, therapy or technique that’s employed to reduce muscle tension will not provide a long term solution to your situation.
As I alluded to above, your back problem is probably not just a back problem either. It’s more likely that there are a number of weaknesses that are contributing at this stage.
The long term solution is a sensible, progressive strength training programme. This is the only ‘treatment’ that has a significant body of evidence behind it when applied in the correct manner.
Not only will this benefit for your back, it will also have a positive impact on just about every other marker of health as well.