Low back pain can come out of nowhere… in fact, usually it does. One day you’re fine, and then suddenly one day you stoop down to tie your shoelaces, or pick up a 10 lb grocery bag, and  throw your back out.

If you didn’t do anything extreme or out of the ordinary, it’s usually not about the precipitating action itself, so much as about the factors that predisposed you to injury.

Cause of Back Pain #1: You’re Stressed Out

I wrote here about how prolonged stress makes it difficult for our muscles and tissues to heal themselves. This is because in times of prolonged high stress, your body’s glucose (used for energy) is at a premium, and it gets mostly used up on things like basic daily functioning. Repair just takes lower priority. So muscle tension and perhaps small injuries accumulate… setting you up for major injury.

Cause of Back Pain #2: You’re Stiff

Stretching is one of the three cores of exercise, but for some reason it’s the most frequently neglected. Of the three, most of us focus almost entirely on cardio and resistance (if we’re lucky). Only the yogis really stretch regularly.

But stretching increases blood flow (bringing oxygen and nutrients, and loosening painful muscles), and also increases strength, like resistance exercise. Increased strength means greater control over your movements too, which makes it less likely that you’ll do something biomechanically incorrect.

Think of flexibility this way: if you drop a glass bottle on the ground, it shatters, because (among other things) glass has no “give”. It can’t absorb the impact. Conversely, if you drop a rubber ball on the ground, it bounces, because rubber can absorb the impact. You want your muscles to be more like rubber than like glass. Flexibility = “give.”

Cause of Back Pain #3: You’re Moving Incorrectly

It’s easy to be careless when you’re doing something you’ve done many times before. But if you lift with the muscles of your low back (the erector spinae) instead of with your much more powerful quadriceps muscles (the four muscles on the tops of your thighs), you’re asking for trouble. Likewise, if you straighten up and twist at the same time and are not conscious of your movements, it’s easy to apply torque in places it shouldn’t go.

What to Do About it

Prevention of course is the best medicine. For that, I’d say counteract the above: lift intentionally; stretch regularly; and address any adrenal fatigue (if it’s severe) before you start any kind of workout routine.

Once you do have low back pain, though, any treatment that increases blood flow to the injured area will most likely help. Some great options are hydrotherapy, acupuncture, massage, or gentle yoga to your tolerance. I also am very partial to homeopathic arnica for any kind of muscle injury, topically or orally.