Back pain, especially low back pain, is the #2 reason for doctor visits in the United States—and it’s a top reason for missed work and loss of wages. How is this possible?! Unfortunately, evolution is partly to blame.
As our ancestors became more upright and thus more agile within our evolving bodies’ framework, they were also left with a vulnerability in the low back region. While the ability to stand erect has plenty of benefits—it allows us flexibility and power when running from predators or, in more modern scenarios, lifting and building things—standing upright also comes with a caveat: By design, it left us with a lack of muscle support in the low back region. With all certainty, our low backs are our Achilles’ heel.
To compensate for that lack of muscle support, the vertebrae and the vertebral discs of the low back evolved to be much larger than in any other area of the spine. But then, those lovely shock absorbing discs come with a lack of blood supply and rely on osmotic pressure from within to stay hydrated and plump in order to do their job effectively for a lifetime of activity. And boy do we put the pressure on!
Spinal discs begin to degenerate because of trauma. Most people think of macro, capital-T Trauma—that acute injury that happens in cases like car accidents or a major spill down the stairs. But in reality, micro forms of trauma, which we all experience in our daily lives, are the primary exacerbator of low back spinal degeneration. So what is microtrauma?
Our daily lifestyle activities provide the landscape for repetitive microtraumas. Every time we bend forward—whether we’re tying our shoes, sitting while watching TV, picking up a toddler or a 50lb bag of mulch—we are putting stress on the low back fulcrum and force on the spine, and we’re racking up microtrauma after microtrauma in the low back spine and discs, day in and day out.
Eventually, those discs cease to function normally because they begin to lose the osmotic pressure needed to stay plump and springing. In other words, the discs begin to dry out and become rigid. This weakening of the discs leads to degeneration, meaning they get too skinny to support us during normal daily activities. Just picking up the dog for a hug could cause a weakened disc to tear, and that sets us up for more complications down the road.
Regular chiropractic care can prevent spinal disc degeneration—and slow the acceleration of existing degeneration—by ensuring that discs remain in an osmotic pressure, or fluid-filled balance, so that the spine may stay mobile and supportive of whatever demands we throw at it. Remember, motion truly is life—and that goes for the physiology of the discs in your spine, too.