Why does my back hurt?

November 8th, 2018 | by Jake Cooke | Posted in Pain, Uncategorized

What causes back pain?

1 in 4 people in the UK suffer from a condition affecting their musculoskeletal system (Ref 2). ‘9.11 million people in the UK suffer from back pain’ (Ref 3), with 84% of people experiencing back pain in their lifetime. Why is it so common? Why is it so hard to treat? To understand this we need to understand how the brain creates movement.


‘20% of all musculoskeletal consultations are related to the back (14%
for the lower back specifically).’

(Ref 3)


How does the brain create movement?

The human body is extremely complex. We like to simplify back pain as ‘a muscle spasm’ or ‘a stiff joint’ but really that’s only the tip of iceberg. Each and every time you move, your body is exposed to stress. That stress could sprain a joint, perhaps even dislocate one. It can strain a muscle, or even tear one. To prevent this your brain does millions of calculations to prevent joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments or nerves from becoming damaged.

It does this by using muscles to keep the joints stable, stiff and tight. However, if too stable, you will be unable to move. Therefore, your brain has to balance a safe, stable joint with mobility. It is easier to think of two different systems at work. A stability system and a mobility system.


Stability vs Mobility

These systems need to be in balance. Too much stability and you can’t move. Too much mobility and you fall apart. If too stable you will feel stiff, tight and restricted. You might develop a nerve entrapment or tension headache. Too mobile and you will suffer from muscle strain and joint sprains. Your back might suddenly ‘go’ when picking something up.

You need to balance these systems to allow you to safely move while keeping joints and muscles safe. To create this balance the brain uses sensory information from your eyes, ears, muscles and joints to build a map of where your body is, where it wants to go and how to make it happen. If there is a problem receiving that sensory information or difficulty processing it, you will struggle to create stability and mobility.


The Problem

We evolved through and for movement. We develop from baby to adult through movement. As you move your arm the muscles and joints send feedback to your brain, describing how quickly you moved, where you started and stopped and how much force you used. You brain uses that information to build a map of where the body parts are. Once it knows this it can plan stability and mobility. However, most of us move too little. When you don’t move you don’t receive much feedback from the muscles and joints. It makes it harder for the brain to create maps to base stability and mobility on.

Instead of accurately identifying the stressors being placed on the body and firing muscles to manage that stress, the brain makes mistakes. It might perceive that there is less stress being applied on your back than there is in reality and causing you to sprain a joint. Your brain may think that there is more stress than there is in reality and fire a muscle so hard than you compress a nerve or strain the muscle.

Of course, this mistake isn’t just once, but every singletime you perform certain movements. I believe this is part of the reason why back pain becomes chronic so easily. There is faulty control of movement which results in pain, the movement pattern isn’t corrected so the same injury occurs. ‘40% of those who have taken time off work [for back pain] will have future episodes of work absence.’ (Ref 3). This is compounded by changes in the nervous system which make it easier to experience pain, discussed here.


’21-32% of adults (19+) in the UK do less than 30 minutes of physical activity per week.’ 

(Ref 2).


The Answer

If it’s the first time you’ve experienced back pain you probably expect it to clear up quickly which it might. Giving it a rub, using a heat pack, having a massage, seeing a chiropractor or physio will move the muscles and joints providing your brain with feedback. This helps the brain to understand where body parts are, creating better maps, and correcting the balance of stability and mobility. If you’ve had the problem longer you may require a longer treatment plan and home exercises to support your recovery. I actually think that if you sit for a living you should be doing exercises regardless of whether you have back pain or not. Remember that movement is the basis of thought and emotion. If you want to think and feel better, move better!

If your looking for a chiropractor  or chiropractic clinic in Woking feel free to contact me. Equally, if you have any questions regarding your health which you think I might have answers for feel free to get in touch.



  1. Blood A. New hypotheses about postural control support the notion that all dystonias are manifestations of excessive brain postural function. Bioscience Hypotheses. 2008
  2. https://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/clinical-policy/ltc/our-work-on-long-term-conditions/musculoskeletal/
  3. https://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/~/media/Files/…/PHS-08_StateOfMSKReport.ashx



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