Low back pain – how an osteopath & yourself can help

We are all very individual beings and different forms of therapy will suit different bodies. So whilst I am speaking here about how an osteopath will help you there are other practitioners out there. I have said this before in blog posts but I personally always encourage people to stick with a practitioner that has worked for them in the past or is a recommendation rather than just a given title. 

What is Osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a gentle hands on approach to health care that looks at the body in a holistic way – diagnosing and treating a range of musculoskeletal problems from headaches to frozen shoulders, injured ankles to lower backs.

It is built upon four pillars of belief ‘Osteopathic Principles’ and as I explain these you will see how they support healing:

The body is a unit

With that we accept that each part may affect each and every other part of the body – sometimes a slight injury to one part of the body leads to compensation elsewhere and its elsewhere that the pain actually presents. For example when you visit an osteopath with back pain they’re going to see where the pain / problem is coming from and treat that specific area – so the problem is resolved rather than simply the pain being masked. Typically areas they might look at would be how are your hips from side to side, is your pelvis tilting one way, are your collapsing in your foot arches and there for causing strain all the way up through your lower body.

Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated 

If the structure of the body is compromised (maybe due to postural strain or compensation for a chronic injury) its quality of and ability to function will be affected – this might present as stiffness, instability or pain in motion. Likewise if a given part of the body isn’t functioning well (for instance reduced lung function and breathing mechanics) the structure of your body will adapt often lead to more uncomfortable antalgic position. For example in the case of poor lung function maybe rounding in the shoulders, restricted movement through your upper back and strain / stretch on your lower back. Lets say here your osteopath might work to lift your shoulders back and have your spine moving more freely so that you can breathe deeper and breathe better. 

The body is its own medicine chest 

Our bodies are wonderfully clever and they’re usually able to resolve nearly all but the most serious of conditions. Osteopaths will simply help to remove any restrictive barriers and stimulate your bodies own healing mechanisms. In a treatment this may look like massage and mobilisation to help encourage mobility and lymphatic circulation. They might give you exercises and stretches to enhance this healing at home too. 

The rule of the artery is supreme

Healing requires a good circulation and blood supply. Trauma, acute and chronic injury can lead to compression, contraction and twisting in the tissues – and all of these inhibit blood flow. Osteopaths work to release and relieve this, encouraging circulation and flow and thus physiologic function. You can sometimes even see where an osteopath has massaged / needled or such because the skin will look red and flush – its simply the bloody coming to heal the area your practitioner is trying to target. 

Now let us talk more about back pain specifically

I am going to talk about the most common kind of low back pain – that constant ache / niggle associated with long hours at a desk, limited movement, not enough strength and not enough mobility. 

When you see an osteopath they’re going to rule out anything nasty with questions and maybe a few medical tests. To give them a better understanding of things they might ask you how you spend your days – your hobbies, your work set up, your stress levels, your nutrition and hydration. 

Physical assessment will then include moving around and performing simple exercises / stretches that will help them identify how the body is responding to your injury and where the cause may be coming from. 

A diagnosis and explanation will come together, osteopaths want you to know and see where your problem lies for yourself, so that you understand how it can be fixed and how you can help support that healing (maybe with exercises, stretches or small lifestyle changes). 

Treatment will incorporate a range of soft tissue techniques that will initiate the healing process. Sometimes its simple and you may just need one or two sessions. Others times things take longer. If you have carried back pain around for 5/6 years it isn’t going to vanish in an hour unfortunately. 

Something extra to keep in mind when seeing any kind of therapist for the first time with any kind of injury…The best therapist in the world usually gets an hour or so with you. Now there are another 167 hours in a week…so if you come home and forget to rehab, forget to make those small postural changes etc your healing progress is going to take more time. I can be one of the most impatient injured people out there so I share this with love! 

Do I have to see a therapist?

This is a bit of a controversial point maybe and therapists reading this might not be so happy with what I am going to say but here we go anyway. If your pain is mild and you’re pretty sure its just because you spend too many hours at a desk or in a car an expensive therapist probably doesn’t need to be your first port of call. 

  • Can you move more? Can you squeeze in a walk at lunch time?
  • Hows your posture? Can you adjust that when you are sat at your desk or driving in order to take the strain off your lower back?
  • Are you carrying more weight than your body would like to be? I know this is a sensitive subject but I sure know if I was carrying around extra weight all day every day I would be experiencing more back pain.
  • Are you drinking enough water? This is a biggie for keeping tissues hydrated and healthy.
  • Am I strong enough? Can you strengthen your core and your glutes – these have huge stabilising effect on your lower back and weakness here can be a big component of most peoples lower back pain.

Food for thought. 

I hope this shines a light on how therapists look at problems and gave you more understanding of back pain if you struggle. You know where I am if you have any questions I would be happy to help.

Jess x

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