Peterson: Oh My Aching Back!

Medical Massage Therapist

I’ll be the first to admit it. Back pain is awful! I myself suffer from chronic back pain due to a severe injury I sustained over 10 years ago.

Having said that, I learned to use a wide array of tools to manage my own pain. It has also given me a great deal of compassion for clients who suffer from this debilitating condition.

Our bodies live for motion. Today more than ever people are inclined to sit for hours in isometrically contracted postures without physical activity. When muscles contract as in sitting, fuel burns and waste products accumulate.

Toxic by-products that develop from sustained muscle contraction are lactic acid, histamines, potassium ions and bradykinins. Inflammation, pain and aberrant postural patterns become neurologically involved when these irritating chemicals are not efficiently removed from the bodies’ myofascial system.

The statistics for overall physical activity levels for the U.S. are abysmal. Thirty eight percent of U.S. citizens are insufficiently active. Fourteen percent are classified as inactive and 48 percent are considered sufficiently active. These days society is considered (flexion addicted) meaning we spend entirely too long sitting down.

Is it any wonder that acute and chronic back pain is the number one reported cause of lost work? In a healthy functioning body, built up waste products are diluted and removed from muscle tissues by blood and lymphatic circulation. This process relies on reliable operation of the normal contraction-relaxation cycle of muscles in motion.

On the other hand, prolonged isometric muscle contraction from hours spent in a seated position as stated earlier, produce toxic waste products. In time these chemical irritants alter the muscles resting length. In other words, it shortens the muscles and causes the fascial bags that encase the muscles to lose their natural suppleness. As the myofascia shortens structural asymmetries develop, joints are compressed and clients begin to experience the brutal beginnings of neurologically induced pain and spasm cycles.

Additionally, Americans are developing what we call lower crossed syndrome. Lower crossed syndrome is a condition that occurs as our abdominal muscles weaken with age. As these muscles weaken, the heavy intestines succumb to gravity and pull our lumbar spines forward which greatly exaggerates the natural lordotic curve which loses its capacity to act as a shock absorber. Lower cross syndrome dramatically increases our chances of developing a herniated disc, especially in a car accident or a bad fall. Furthermore, lower crossed syndrome fundamentally changes how we balance and completely shifts the firing order of our muscles during the walking cycle.

Our extension muscles gluteus minimus and maximus become weakened and our weight bearing shifts from those to our quadratus muscles, which adds undue stress to our knees. I could literally discuss this phenomenon for many future articles.

The key takeaway that I’m hoping for, is that people who are starting to develop these bad habits will start thinking about this one empirical fact. Back pain rarely if ever goes away on its own! We must act, not tomorrow, not next years’ resolution. We must act now to stop irreversible damage to our spine through movement, stretching, abdominal strengthening. Chiropractic adjustments are a great start. Working with a personal trainer to learn easier ways to strengthen the abdominal muscles and joining an adult stretching class are all terrific ways to start reversing the damage caused by a sedentary lifestyle.

I’ve worked on plenty of clients with spinal fusions and trust me, they aren’t pain free. A good place to start on your path to recovery is to find a competent massage therapist that can get deep in those spinal muscles to release underlying trigger points.

This will get the client started making stretching easier and movement less painful. I’ve even heard of senior centers and senior living facilities starting Wii video game bowling leagues. Whatever you decide to do to get moving make sure you are having fun. Don’t overdo it and take your time, please! It took decades to get yourself in bad shape, so be kind to yourself, have fun, stay at it and slowly but surely you’ll start feeling better.

Kreig Peterson is the owner of In Touch Medical and Therapeutic Massage located in The Mary Deal Building in Los Alamos. Kreig graduated with honors at (UTMI) Universal Therapeutic Massage Institute He then went on and graduated UTMI’S medical massage program in February of 2012 Kreig is a board certified Medical Massage Therapist. Kreig Peterson is available for consult at 505.410.6161. For more information go to