Back Pain Begone

Cracking the Code: Understanding and Eliminating Back Pain


The human spine is an evolutionary wonder.  Unlike other mammals, humans spend virtually all their time moving about the world on two legs instead of four.  Our biped nature gives us many advantages including a higher line of sight and the freedom to use our upper extremities and hands to explore and interact with the world (rather than move about it).

Our spine has a unique S-shaped design.  This structure helps to keep us balanced and upright against the force of gravity while simultaneously allowing for an enormous variety of movements.

Think about it, our spine allows us to:

  • Bend forward and backward with a range of over 120 degrees
  • Bend to either side
  • Twist in either direction
  • Move the segments of our spine independently, allowing our lower spine to move in a different direction than our upper spine or head

This diversity of movement allows us many of the functions we often take for granted.

  • We can glance over our shoulder to check for oncoming traffic as we walk or run.
  • We can pick up an object from the ground, overhead, or virtually any other surface and move it in any direction we choose.
  • We can maintain our balance while moving sideways or kicking a ball.
  • We can twist and generate the power needed to swing a golf club or tennis racket while keeping our eyes fixed on the ball coming towards us.

We rely on these movements every single day which is a big part of why back pain can be so disruptive and debilitating.

Coordinating the complex movements of the spine is a tall order.  It requires orchestrating hundreds of muscles acting on dozens of bones and joints.  Like a fine-tuned team of athletes primed for performance and working seamlessly together, individual muscles work cooperatively to power, stabilize, and disburse the force of our movement.

Balance and Alignment

Our spine works best when it’s balanced and aligned but the body has an incredible ability to adapt and carry on, even when things aren’t ideal.  No longer have the strength or flexibility to move with the intended muscles?  The body will find a new way to produce the desired result.  And it will do so over and over and over.  Until it can’t.

The body’s resilience is amazing, but it is not infinite.  Much like the disruption to team performance following the injury of an individual athlete, dysfunctional muscles impact the entire spine.  Rather than reaping the synergistic effects of a cooperative, well-oiled system, the burden of movement becomes increasingly concentrated on individual muscles, bones, joints, and supporting tissues.

And that is where the pain comes in.  Muscles that don’t have the chance to rest and recover clamp down or spasm to prevent further injury.  Bones and cartilage exposed to continuous friction during movement wear out faster than they can be repaired, forming the bony calluses seen in arthritis and degenerative joints as a last line of defense.  As the force of our movement becomes increasingly concentrated, discs herniate to protect our vertebrates but compress nearby structures, including nerves.

Pain Is a Signal

Pain is not a sign of weakness, fragility, or getting old.  Rather it is a signal that the body no longer can do what we are asking without creating problems.

With that understanding of pain, the solution for the infamous enigma of back pain is simple: restore the body’s capacity for movement.  What happens when the body is given a stimulus that re-engages weak muscles or allows tight muscles to relax?  It adapts. restoring lost function and re-establishing coordinated movement patterns.  And it does so over and over and over.  Until the spine’s capacity for movement is restored.

In restoring this cooperative effort between muscles, bones, and joints, overburdened areas are given some much needed reprieve.  Overworked muscles can relax and recover.  The extra wear and tear on bones, joints, and supporting tissues is removed, giving these overstressed areas the chance to finally heal.  That is often all that is needed to eliminate pain once and for all.

No Magic Pill

Here is the catch: the stimulus needed to restore our capacity for movement requires work.  There is no magic pill or procedure that will accomplish the task.  But eliminating pain carries a price tag no matter how you spin it.  While it is possible to give up biking, or golfing, or playing pickleball, it is hard, if not impossible, to give up sitting, standing, or walking.  And this choice carries its own heavy cost, coming at the expense of the movement that keeps us healthy and the activities that bring us the most joy.

Like most good things in life, health and pain-free living require effort but it’s one of the best investments you can make.  Nothing compares to the ability to move freely, pursue your dreams, and enjoy relationships with friends and family.  With exercises tailored to restoring full muscle function and coordinated movement and consistent effort, back pain doesn’t have to keep you from embracing all the joy life has to offer.

Are you ready to put in the work to restore your body’s capacity for movement? It is not as hard as you think and the effort is rewarding. Consider reaching out to an Egoscue therapist to discuss how to start your journey on a pain-free life.


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