This is the first in a three-part series on anatomy, back pain and solutions. These blogs were written by Earth Fed Elite and PA-C Matt Shaw. It is not intended to diagnose or treat disease or injury, but to provide you with a solid foundation for health and fitness!
Low back pain is something that every athlete will experience at some point in their life. Whether you are a weekend warrior or professional, the potential for low back pain exists for everyone who has ever trained, competed or engaged in physical horseplay.
The onset of low back pain can be a result of a heavy lift, an awkward movement or simply worsening over time. Whether it lasts days, months or years, there is no doubt that this condition will cause you to take some time away from your favorite activity--either because the injury prevents any physical activity at all and/or because many activities exacerbate symptoms in people with chronic LBP. If you’ve ever experienced low back pain or wish to avoid it in the future, read on my friends!
Let’s take a brief dive into basic anatomy. It will help you better understand the cause, diagnosis and treatment to get you back on track and working towards your goals. The spine is composed of 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae, 5 lumbar vertebrae, a sacrum (fused vertebrae) and a coccyx (fused vertebrae). For the sake of this article, we’ll primarily stick to the lumbar spine and sacrum.
A vertebral disc separates each vertebra. The discs are composed of a durable outer shell, annulus fibrosis, and a gelatinous center, nucleus pulposus. Each disc works as a shock absorber and allows for motion between vertebrae. In addition to discs, facet joints are located between adjacent vertebrae allowing for movement and also assisting in stability. Finally, a small piece of bone called the pars interarticularis connects the facet joints to the rest of the vertebra. Confused? Don’t worry, we brought our visual aids:
Now that we have a general overview of boney anatomy, we also have to consider soft tissue. Lumbar spinal nerves are information highways that branch off the spinal cord and exit between vertebrae. They carry important motor and sensory messages to and from the lower body. Finally, a system of muscles, tendons and ligaments work together to provide stability and create movement of the spine, such as flexion, extension, lateral flexion and rotation. Without getting into too much detail, a few examples of these muscles include multifidus, longissimus, spinalis, quadratus lumborum and psoas.
There, that’s probably enough Latin for the day, and maybe for the next few weeks/year? In the next back pain article, we’ll cover common causes of low back pain in both athletes and people who workout in general. Finally, we’ll cover the best preventive and therapeutic measures to live a pain free life!