Back-ache, an urban comfort malady, is primarily the result of bad posture and weak muscles. The awareness of the working of the lower back will go a long way in its prevention. The five lumbar vertebrae responsible for the erect human form are also the primary culprits for backache. These are flexible to permit a hundred and eighty-degree flexion or strong enough to support the weight of another human. But trying to achieve both simultaneously, and you have a recipe for disaster. The weight-bearing posture is an erect posture, read on to know the nuances of the dynamics of the lower back.
The more important reason for the publication of this article is the realization on our part that back-care should be directed more at the prevention of backache rather than its treatment. Prevention is better than cure. And backache is a disorder that is easy to prevent.
The working of the lower back:
Let us now focus our attention on the five lumbar vertebrae as regards their working. These vertebrae are the troublemakers, responsible, directly or indirectly, for most backaches. You will recall that the thoracic vertebrae are attached to the ribs forming a rigid and strong cage that protects the heart and lungs. On the other hand, the lumbar spine is designed primarily for movement, although it must also bear weight.
However, these two functions, i.e., moving the trunk and bearing weight cannot be easily carried out at the same time. If such an activity is carried out this combines lumbar movements with lifting weight. For example, a ballet dancer or a gymnast moving and holding a partner aloft, the lumbar region becomes susceptible or vulnerable to injury.
Stacked one on top of another, the five lumbar vertebrae work as a unit, in a concerted manner, to permit forward bending, backward bending, etc. This working unit or column sits on a firm foundation or scaffolding called the pelvic platform. Our thigh bones, too, are attached to the sides of the pelvis. Therefore, the pelvis is the connecting structure between the spine and the hips of legs, i.e., between the top and the bottom halves of the body. Since the pelvis is the connecting and central point it acts like a pivot.
The position of the pelvis will control the position of the lumbar vertebras above it. If the pelvis is level or, .as we prefer to call it, balanced, the vertebrae above it will also be in a level or balanced position. This is the strongest position for the spine and makes it the least vulnerable to injury. However, if the pelvis is thrust forward, the vertebrae above it will curve out of alignment. Such out-of-alignment vertebrae cause wedging of the discs and potential discomfort to facet joints and make the spine weak and the back vulnerable to injury.
On the other hand, when the lumbar vertebrae are aligned properly because the pelvis is in a balanced position, the pressure is taken off the discs, the facet joints are unloaded and maximum space is provided for the exit of nerve roots. This all-important ‘pelvic balance’ is a function of four groups of muscles. We shall learn more about these muscles soon.
The bones are the static, unchangeable part of the body. The muscles are the dynamic component, giving movement and life to the body. Back muscles play an important role in backache. They are controllable elements responding to the environment and controlled by our conscious thought processes. Composed of contractile fibers that are responsive to nerve-impulses, muscles comprise almost 40 percent of our body weight and a large part of our body-bulk. There are some 140 muscles attached to the spine alone, and they do a prodigious amount of work.
A muscle is basically a contractile tissue, i.e., it functions and tarries out messages by contracting or shortening and relaxing or lengthening. The more a muscle is used or worked, the more it develops and gains in strength. If it is not used as much as it should be, it weakens and becomes flabby or loose. If it is not used at all, it atrophies or wastes away.
The ignorance about the working of the lower back leads to a callous misuse or disuse of our more than 140 back muscles and the lumbar region. The misuse of the lumbar region, essentially wrong posture, is the major reason for the wedging of the discs and potential injury to the spine. The continued disuse of our back muscles, a gift of the modern ultra comfort lifestyle, brings about their enfeeblement and more pressure passes on to the spine, increasing the chances of injury manifold. The backache can be effectively prevented by adopting the pelvic balance postures as a routine and strengthening the muscles supporting it.