MedHum Mondays Presents: OUCH part 2, a series on pain

DailyDose_PosterWelcome back to MedHum Mondays on the Daily Dose! A few weeks ago, we featured orthopedic massage therapist Joseph Watts on body communication and chronic pain. Today, we wanted to follow up that article with OUCH part two: chronic low back pain. It afflicts many–and “cures” abound–but what does low back pain really mean? And what does it tell us about how (and if) our body is communicating to us? The answer, it seems, is right under our noses. Well. Under us, anyway… Welcome, Joseph!

Low Back Pain:
It Might Just Be Your…..Butt.
Joseph H. Watts LMT

Low back pain is the scourge of the developed world, especially in the United States. It accounts for billions of dollars in lost work hours, millions in healthcare costs, and quite frankly (if you have ever had low back pain), it just plain sucks! There is a constant barrage of products shamelessly promoted to help you with this problem. For a price, they will give you the next supposed “cure all.” However, low back pain still exists in our culture at an ever increasing rate. What gives? I wish I could give you the quick and easy cure, but if I could, I’d be writing this from a far away beach somewhere… and I am not. Take heart: the answer *is* simple, but putting these things in practice is rarely as easy as the quick fix television salesmen would have you believe!

Wellcome Library: Anatomical illustration showing muscles of the back; Brown, 1681
Wellcome Library: Anatomical illustration showing muscles of the back; Brown, 1681

So…..what is this all about? Good question! I am glad you asked. Our low back pain is generally caused by a weakness of our core muscles, which are the transverse abdominals, the multifidi of the spine, the pelvic floor muscles, and the diaphragm. Alas, I am sorry to report thatthe elusive “six pack” is not part of your core. (Wait for another post for that explanation!) If you want to strengthen these you can ask a personal trainer, Pilates Instructor, or Yoga Instructor for help; even the internet will give some suggestions. But remember, simpler is better. However, if they tell you to focus on crunches then they do not know what your core is. It’s not about your stomach—it’s about a crucial and over-looked missing link: Your butt!! The Gluteus Maximus to be precise.

All day long, many of us sit. We sit at work, sit in our cars, sit in front of the TV or computer at home, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit. When we are in the seated position we keep our Glut Max in a constant stretch, while at the same time shortening our hip flexors. This creates chronically shortened, tight hip flexors, and the brain then neurologically shuts of the Glut Max.   Now, when we walk, these Glut Max muscles, which should be powerful hip extenders, don’t fire. So the Hamstrings fire, then the low back takes up the slack. This is not the job of the low back. Now the low back muscles are working overtime. That alone is enough to make them hurt, but add the shortening of the hip flexors and a forward tilt to the pelvis and you add in potential compression and pinching of the spinal discs, as well as irritation of the nerve trunks coming from the spine. This is a pain soup in the making.

Very few programs even have Glut Max on the radar to relieve back pain. So, if you have back pain, exercising the Glut Max might be a great idea. This is where the work of an experienced orthopedic massage therapist can help. Someone trained in muscle spindle activation can help re-awaken the Gluts max. And of course, you will always want to consult your doctor to make sure there is no serious spinal condition before you do any new forms of exercise.

So, remember, get off your butt. It might be the pain in your back!

To Your Health

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Joseph H. Watts, LMT, has logged more than 1000 hours of massage training. He has a passion for exploring the deep mystery that is the human form. He is a father, husband, brother, and friend who loves working with people, particularly aiding those suffering from chronic and intermittent pain. When he is not working as an orthopedic massage therapist, he spends his time in nature or his garden. (Also, he is a huge dork for Lord of the Rings–but who isn’t?)

Advertisements

MedHum Monday Presents: OUCH–What’s With Physical Pain?

DailyDose_darkstrokeWelcome back to the Daily Dose and MedHum Monday! The medical humanities encompasses a wide field of inquiry, but at its core is a commitment to the human. It is also about communication, though, about narrative, and about story, and about the importance of sharing. Today, I’ve asked Joseph Watts, licensed orthopedic massage therapist, to talk to us about communication and pain. Not only does interpersonal communication serve as the backbone of human connection, but body communication (our body speaking to itself and to our consciousness) is a vital aspect of life and living. Welcome Joseph!

“OUCH”: What’s With Physical Pain?

By Joseph H. Watts

Why do our bodies hurt—sometimes, seemingly, for no reason? There are systemic conditions with such symptoms, like Fibromyalgia, but today I’d like to talk about something else: those sharp pains that seemed to come from nowhere, or the slow building pain that can creep up on the joints. The pain that plagues most Americans costs us billions in lost work and destroys our chances to do the fun things we have always done. What can we do?

To begin, we need to talk about communication, particularly interpersonal communication. (Trust me, this will all come together.) Communication is extremely important for survival. Beyond that, it is important for conducting business and fo effectively connecting with our families, friends, and neighbors. We all know the emotional pain of miscommunications, or worse, non-communication. Business fail when the communication fail. Families are split when they cannot effectively communicate, and many of us know the pain that occurs when communication is cut off completely. Often if one person in a relationship stops communicating, the other person will eventually start to plea or yell to open those lines back up. Do you see where this is going?

Woodcut of male with blood vessels Stephanus, 1545. Wellcome Images
Woodcut of male with blood vessels. Wellcome Images

Our minds and our bodies are intertwined; they are one, yet they are separate. The only way to keep both working together happily is if they are communicating. So understand this, your body is always talking to you. It is always telling you if something is not right. Something is a little off here, or something is a little tight there. Yet, we often ignore it. Actually, we are usually so distracted and busy we just don’t hear it. So the reason we have pain is because we haven’t been participating in this conversation. Pain is our body yelling at us that something is very wrong.

So back to that first question:what do we do about it? As an orthopedic massage therapist, I confront this everyday. I work hard to educate people about our wonderful bodies, and I have noticed that as people receive bodywork more regularly, they start to feel and indeed to “hear” their bodies again. People will begin to notice the small cues, and they can make corrections early on and avoid unnecessary pain. Adding something like yoga and mindfulness meditation to life also enhances our ability to listen to our bodies and rebuild that relationship. So the next time you feel that twinge in your back, realize that it might be time to quiet your mind and listen to your body.

To Your Health!

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Joseph H. Watts, LMT, has logged more than 1000 hours of massage training. He has a passion for exploring the deep mystery that is the human form. He is a father, husband, brother, and friend who loves working with people, particularly aiding those suffering from chronic and intermittent pain. When he is not working as an orthopedic massage therapist, he spends his time in nature or his garden. (Also, he is a huge dork for Lord of the Rings–but who isn’t?)