The Straw That Broke Your Back

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Dr. Christopher
Dr. Christopher is a chiropractor, health/fitness enthusiast, and nature lover who lives to empower others and writes about the unconventional wisdom of health and happiness.
Dr. Christopher
Dr. Christopher

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Dr. Christopher
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An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. ~ Benjamin Franklin

I just went to pick up a pencil and my back gave out!

No, it didn’t.  It may have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  But it wasn’t the pencil.  Your back problem has been brewing awhile!

I don’t have back pain.  Why do I need to exercise?

Well, it’s just a matter of time.  As a chiropractor, I hear many people say these things.  With a little foresight, debilitating aches and pains don’t have to occur.  Don’t roll the dice with your health!

Preventing Back Pain

Back pain has several core variables that determine injury risk:

  • Percentage of day spent sitting
  • Amount of exercise one gets
  • Type of exercise one gets
  • Diet
  • Sleep

Let’s break this down into its simplest form.  A musculoskeletal problem is mainly a load and capacity issue.  Each of your tissues (or groups of cells) has a certain capacity, or amount of work, that they can handle before they become damaged and pain sets in.  Load is a given amount of work, usually in the form of trauma, alot of load at one instant, or chronic use (ie. repetitive exercises or sustained postures like sitting!), which is a small load over a long duration of time.

Percentage of day spent sitting

You may not be exercising your low back, but you are putting load on it!  You are particularly loading your psoas, a muscle on the front of your vertebral column that is responsible for flexing the hip to the chest and also, stabilizing the lumbar spine!  If the psoas can’t work properly, you’re in trouble. 

Strategy: Stand and move as often as possible and take micro-breaks from sitting as often as every 3o minutes.  A micro-break consists of a two minute walk and stretch before sitting back down again to reoxygenate the tissue in the psoas.

Amount of exercise one gets

Exercise is generally helpful in both decreasing load to the lumbar spine and increasing capacity (strength and endurance) to the spine. 

Strategy: Exercise as much as possible by increasing your intensity and duration on a slow and consistent basis.  Here are four exercises you need to be doing.

Type of exercise

The caveat to the amount of exerise you get is that it needs to be different from time to time.  Runners often develop low back, hip, and leg issues from overloading those areas.  Men tend to develop forward rolled shoulders from overloading the pecs on the bench press.  Laborers tend to develop carpal tunnel syndrome from overloading the forearms when typing.

Strategy: Cross-train!  Run, bike, play sports, and lift weights.  When lifting weights, make sure you balance opposite sides of your body.  For example, don’t bench press 4 days a week and focus on your back 1 day a week.  You’re asking for horrible posture.  Balance work loads equally.  By cross-training, you are distributing loads throughout your body instead of one a smaller number of tissues.


Over the broader population, the “paleo-diet” is the safest bet as far as addressing all health and fitness parameters.  It’s also anti-inflammatory which means it helps your body heal faster from sickness and injury, increasing your capacity for future use.  The “paleo-diet” consists of fruits, vegetables, meat, chicken, eggs, fish, nuts, and seeds.  Grains (pastas, breads, rice) and dairy products are essentially eliminated.  Most people have a mental fit when eliminating the beloved pasta and cheese is even discussed.  The results speak for themselves and always seem miraculous.

Strategy: Try the “paleo-diet” for three weeks.  If you’re not happy, go back to eating what you want.  But don’t tell me I didn’t tell you so.  Oh!  And after the three weeks, if you’re sold on the “paleo-diet,” you can afford yourself a cheat day to enjoy your old favorites.  But you may regret it!


Sleep, and it’s more generic form of rest in relaxation, is absolutely necessary to decrease sympathetic nervous system (SNS) or fight-or-flight activity.  The body was designed to activate the SNS for only brief periods of time.  It shunts blood away from your organs to the muscles to put energy where it’s needed, in saving your butt in emergency situations.  The SNS does not put energy into healing injuries and therefore, decreases capacity for future work. 

Strategy: Sleep, Rest, and Relax…activate parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) or rest-and-digest activity.  Get enough sleep to recharge, usually about eight hours.  Your body can then build itself back up and better ward off infection and heal injuries, thus increasing capacity.  Please note: the “paleo-diet” will also put your body in PNS mode.

The Big Picture

Now you’re able to understand that your back injury was not a one time incident.  It was caused by the choices  you made in the past.  The same goes for the cold that you caught or how your fitness has degenerated. 

You don’t just wake up one day and realize, “Oh no!  I lost my fitness yesterday.  I’ll gain it back today.” 

However, when you make good choices concerning your back and overall health and fitness the majority of the time, you can tolerate the times that you eat an poorly, didn’t sleep for a week, or went to pick up that pencil without bending at your hips.  You’ve increased your capacity enough to handle some stress.

Life isn’t a dice game.  Don’t gamble with your health!  It’ll be gone before you realize it.