There is controversy and scientific uncertainty about trigger points. It’s undeniable that mammals suffer from sensitive spots in our soft tissues … but their nature remains unclear, and the “tiny cramp” theory could be wrong. The tiny cramp theory is formally known as the “expanded integrated hypothesis,” and it has been prominently criticized by Quintner et al (and not many others). However, it’s the mostly widely accepted explanation for now. BACK TO TEXT
But how can you tell? It can be tricky. This is a concise, readable guide to symptoms that need better-safe-than-sorry investigation with your doctor. (It’s basically just a plain English version of clinical guidelines for doctors.9) In other words, this article explains the difference between “dangerous” and “just painful” as clearly as possible. Tables, checklists, and examples ahead.
Back pain can be confusing enough as it is. Sometimes it may be difficult deciphering if the pain is even coming from your back, and trying to figure out what causes it can be mind-boggling. And many experts recommend focusing on mechanical sources of your back pain rather than anatomical sources of your pain. Is it a herniated disc, bulging disc, or facet joint arthritis causing your problem? It can be hard to decide, so focusing on what you are doing and the positions you put your back in may be the best way to determine the cause of your back pain.
Disk tear. Small tears to the outer part of the disk (annulus) sometimes occur with aging. Some people with disk tears have no pain at all. Others can have pain that lasts for weeks, months, or even longer. A small number of people may develop constant pain that lasts for years and is quite disabling. Why some people have pain and others do not is not well understood.
Exercise appears to be useful for preventing low back pain.[47] Exercise is also probably effective in preventing recurrences in those with pain that has lasted more than six weeks.[1][48] Medium-firm mattresses are more beneficial for chronic pain than firm mattresses.[49] There is little to no evidence that back belts are any more helpful in preventing low back pain than education about proper lifting techniques.[47][50] Shoe insoles do not help prevent low back pain.[47][51]
If you have hip pain, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist to help determine the cause of your pain. Your PT can work with you to develop a treatment strategy to treat your hip pain or hip discomfort. Understanding why your hip is hurting can help your physical therapist and doctor prescribe the right treatment regimen for your specific condition.
Low back pain that lasts at least one day and limits activity is a common complaint.[7] Globally, about 40% of people have LBP at some point in their lives,[7] with estimates as high as 80% of people in the developed world.[22] Approximately 9 to 12% of people (632 million) have LBP at any given point in time, and nearly one quarter (23.2%) report having it at some point over any one-month period.[7][8] Difficulty most often begins between 20 and 40 years of age.[1] Low back pain is more common among people aged 40–80 years, with the overall number of individuals affected expected to increase as the population ages.[7]
There are many additional sources of pain, including claudication pain (from stenosis) myelopathic pain, neuropathic pain, deformity, tumors, infections, pain from inflammatory conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis), and pain that originates from another part of the body and presents in the lower back (such as kidney stones, or ulcerative colitis).

Bridge: Still lying on your back with your feet flat on floor, lift your hips and torso off the floor into a bridge. Then interlace your hands underneath your hips and press your shoulders and upper arms into the floor, lifting your hips higher. Hold for 10 seconds. Lower yourself slowly back down, rolling down from the top of your spine to your tailbone. Repeat three times.

The iliopsoas muscles are a group of two muscles—the psoas muscle and the iliacus muscle—located toward the front of the inner hip. The psoas muscles, in particular, is located in the lumbar (lower) region of the spine and extends through the pelvis to the femur. The iliopsoas muscles are the primary hip flexors, pulling the knee up off the ground when it contracts. Because the psoas muscle is also connected to the spine, it contributes to upright posture, assists in lumbar spine movement, and influences the spine’s curve.
There is a significant overlap of nerve supply to many of the discs, muscles, ligaments, and other spinal structures, and it can be difficult for the brain to accurately sense which is the cause of the pain. For example, a degenerated or torn lumbar disc can feel the same as a pulled muscle – both creating inflammation and painful muscle spasm in the same area. Muscles and ligaments heal rapidly, while a torn disc may or may not. The time course of pain helps determine the cause.
Icing a joint that’s inflamed because of arthritis or bursitis can lower inflammation and help with hip pain. “If it’s very painful, I sometimes tell patients to ice four or five times daily for about 10 to 15 minutes,” says Amy Humphrey, DPT, a physical therapist at Body Dynamics, Inc. in Arlington, Va. Use an ice pack, wrap a towel around it, and put it where you feel the pain.

For strains and tendinitis at the top of the hamstrings, treatment is the same as that used for hip flexor problems. Hamstring stretching and strengthening—such as side lunges, inward leg raises, and backward leg raises—is important. Deep tissue massage may also be beneficial, but in general, this is a difficult problem that usually takes a while to resolve.
Spinal fusion eliminates motion between vertebral segments. It is an option when motion is the source of pain. For example, your doctor may recommend spinal fusion if you have spinal instability, a curvature (scoliosis), or severe degeneration of one or more of your disks. The theory is that if the painful spine segments do not move, they should not hurt.
Strong muscles support and protect your joints. “Strengthening the lower body takes some of the pressure off of the hip and knee joints,” says William Oswald, DPT, a physical therapist and clinical instructor of rehabilitation medicine at NYU Langone Health. This can relieve some of the pain and protect against more damage. “It can also make daily tasks, such as climbing the stairs, easier,” he says.
An intervertebral disc has a gelatinous core surrounded by a fibrous ring.[32] When in its normal, uninjured state, most of the disc is not served by either the circulatory or nervous systems – blood and nerves only run to the outside of the disc.[32] Specialized cells that can survive without direct blood supply are in the inside of the disc.[32] Over time, the discs lose flexibility and the ability to absorb physical forces.[25] This decreased ability to handle physical forces increases stresses on other parts of the spine, causing the ligaments of the spine to thicken and bony growths to develop on the vertebrae.[25] As a result, there is less space through which the spinal cord and nerve roots may pass.[25] When a disc degenerates as a result of injury or disease, the makeup of a disc changes: blood vessels and nerves may grow into its interior and/or herniated disc material can push directly on a nerve root.[32] Any of these changes may result in back pain.[32]
Women may have acute low back pain from medical conditions affecting the female reproductive system, including endometriosis, ovarian cysts, ovarian cancer, or uterine fibroids.[28] Nearly half of all pregnant women report pain in the lower back or sacral area during pregnancy, due to changes in their posture and center of gravity causing muscle and ligament strain.[29]

The materials and information provided in this presentation, document and/or any other communication (“Communication”) from Onnit Labs, Inc. or any related entity or person (collectively “Onnit”) are strictly for informational purposes only and are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention or treatment of a health problem or as a substitute for consulting a qualified medical professional. Some of the concepts presented herein may be theoretical.
The big idea of classification-based cognitive functional therapy (CB-CFT or just CFT) is that most back pain has nothing to do with scary spinal problems and so the cycle of pain and disability can be broken by easing patient fears and anxieties. For this study, CFT was tried with 62 patients and compared to 59 who were treated with manual therapy and exercise. The CFT group did better: a 13-point boost on a 100-point disability scale, and 3 points on a 10-point pain scale. As the authors put it for BodyInMind.org, “Disabling back pain can change for the better with a different narrative and coping strategies.” These results aren’t proof that the confidence cure works, but they are promising.
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