Many people with balance problems may not associate chronic lower back pain as a contributor to their impaired balance. This article will discuss the correlation between back discomfort and steadiness on one’s feet. It will also introduce recent research about how treatment of the back can actually help improve stability.
Back discomfort is ubiquitous. It is known that 80% of all people in the United States will have had a significant episode of lower back pain by age 40. Some back problems are acute, which means it occurs once and then disappears. However, others back conditions are what are called chronic. Chronic conditions are those that are constant or are ones that recur very frequently.
Painful chronic back conditions tend to cause people to react so as to protect and guard their pain. As a practicing chiropractor of over 36 years, I often have people come into my office who are suffering with pain of the back who say they are: “crooked, twisted, kinked or bent.” In essence, what they are telling me is that they are walking and standing with an abnormal posture. This is because their body is guarding and compensating for their painful back. We’ve all seen people who are hunched forward at the waist or are leaning to one side because of their back problem.
Our normal balance is a product of several factors. Our eyes and the balance mechanism of our ears send messages to the brain to help with normal equilibrium. We all know that if we close our eyes, we are more unsteady. Likewise, if our head is submerged in cold water at a pool or lake it can affect the ears mechanism of balance and cause us to have temporary balance problems.
Another factor that provides balance information to our brain is sensory information from nerve endings in all of our joints. The word “proprioception” is a term that describes the body’s ability to sense movement and balance. The joints of our feet, hips and pelvis and lower back are especially significant in helping our brain process information that leads to proper balance. If these joints are injured, proprioception problems may occur. Since chronic pain of the back can cause impaired proprioception, these people are more likely to be unsteady on their feet and significantly more at risk for falls.
A scientific study in the journal Frontiers In Neurology, December 2020 noted that examination of 151 adults of varying ages with or without chronic lower back pain revealed that chronic back problems and advancing age are risk factors for reduced proprioception.
Fortunately, doctors of chiropractic are trained to diagnose and treat these disorders. Often, a chiropractor can help relieve back discomfort by realigning malpositioned spinal vertebrae and pelvic bones. Once the joints of the lower back are in proper alignment normal proprioception can occur and people feel a significant improvement in their balance. Chiropractors are specialists trained to treat physical, mechanical alignment problems of the spine and pelvis. Most patients who go to chiropractors find that having chiropractic treatment is a safe, pleasant experience because it corrects the spinal misalignment, relieves lower back pain and can help achieve improved or normal balance.