“I’ve been told to sit less, and walk more, but it hurts more when I stand!”-Julie, 49 Gilbert, AZ
Is this happening to you? We are receiving more phone calls that go along with what Julie is asking above.
You may have heard it before…”sitting is the new smoking, sitting causes back problems, etc.”…
…but what if other activities like standing while cooking in the kitchen, walking in the grocery store, or even trying to do a gentle gym session might only leave you in more pain, and even more frustrated?
Did you know for some back injuries, sitting alleviates the pain?
“Why is this happening? I thought standing and walking were supposed to be GOOD for my back?”
Avoiding sitting and staying moving are regarded as ‘good back habits’. But for some people, it’s the opposite, where sitting might feel ‘better’ than standing and walking.
This is common for people who suffer from something called ‘Lumbar Stenosis’…
What is stenosis?
People who have problems with stenosis have difficulty bending backwards, standing upright, and find more relief while sitting and bending forward.
This can occur in anyone, but typically in those 40+. It generally stems from a ‘degeneration’ of the vertebrae in your back, causing increased loading and pressure on the bones. It can cause enough compression to entrap the nerves.
Left untreated it can cause more permanent nerve damage, which can cause loss of feeling, strength, and mobility in your legs…
That sounds serious… can it get better without surgery?
But it will NOT improve by simply waiting, or pushing through pain…
Instead you may need to know a bit more about how the back functions in order for you to understand how something that sounds so threatening is actually quite easy to deal with.
How does it get better?
Most people (doctors included) make the critical MISTAKE placing too much emphasis on imaging such as X-rays and MRI’s. This can be MISLEADING, because whatever is found on those images may or may NOT be causing the pain…
I have realized in my time as a therapist that most people respond favorably to carefully prescribed exercises that promote better movement patterns, whole body strengthening, and some mobility/flexibility work, even though they’d been diagnosed with ‘severe arthritis’ and ‘stenosis’…
How is this possible?
Because they still have excellent mobility in OTHER parts of their body AROUND their back. They are able to generate movement using their WHOLE body, and are equally able to distribute movement across multiple parts.
People who suffer from chronic back stiffness problems are falsely lead to believe their problem is coming from their lower back, simply because an x-ray or “MRI” indicated as such…
But I’ve realized that working towards improving the mobility in OTHER parts of your body, (such as tight hips, or a stiff upper back), can significantly improve your mobility, even if your back has stenosis and degeneration!
Not to mention strengthening the muscles around the spine has shown to alleviate the pressure/compression endured by the spine.
Take this example of a 56 year old man I’ve been working with recently by the name of ‘Dan’
– He was frustrated by his gradual decrease in his ability to ride his bike or even just go grocery shopping…
– X-rays revealed he had stenosis, and had been told by primary care doctor it was permanent and he needed to accept it…
– He was given meds and injections to ‘manage his pain’, and was told that back surgery was eminent since nothing seemed to be working…
So how was he was able to turn it all around, and restore 80% of his mobility?…
…By focusing on improving the health of OTHER parts of his body:
– loosening tight hips because of years of driving and sitting at his desk caused muscle tightness which ‘pulled’ on his back. Getting rid of this tension took off a tremendous strain OFF his back when he’d try to stand!
– decreasing stiffness in his upper back muscles and joints improved his ability to ‘rotate’ his trunk. This alleviated a TON of pressure OFF his low back when he’d try to walk.
– improving core and total body strength to teach him how to move ‘properly’ so he would no longer ‘compensate’ by overusing his back when doing simple exercise or house chores.
And as a result, Dan can now:
– Go on 25 mile bike rides and do all of the household grocery shopping
– Wake up each morning without ANY sort of back stiffness and renewed sense of energy
– Feels more confident and capable with his movement than he has in over 10 years!
Even though he’d been diagnosed with severe ‘degenerating discs’ and ‘stenosis’…
Back pain and injuries come in a VARIETY of forms. This is why I do NOT believe there will ever be a ‘universal fix’ for back pain. In the case of ‘Lumbar Stenosis’, even though x-ray or ‘MRI’ findings may be worrisome, there could still be a HUGE potential for you to improve your mobility…
Taking a full-body and training your body to move better and be strong within those movements is crucial.
Thanks for reading this week’s article!
As always, send your questions over to me at email@example.com , and I promise to answer your question as quickly as possible!
Or, find out even MORE information on how to overcome back problems such as ‘stenosis’, check out the free guide I created, 8 Tips To End Back Pain Permanently…Without Painkillers.
Until next time!
Steven Alexander PT, DPT, Cert DN