Anatomy 101 – The Lumbar Spine: What Chiropractic Patients Need to Know
The lumbar spine, or lower back, take a lot of stress and strain throughout the day. The spine provides stabilization for the entire body and the lumbar spine bears the brunt of much of the movement and activity. This wear and tear shows up as lower back pain in many people. The American Chiropractic Association estimates that 31 million Americans have low back pain at some point in their lives. In fact, the leading cause of disability is low back pain – not only in the U.S. but worldwide.
What is the Lumbar Spine?
Located in the lower back area, the lumbar region is the portion of the spine that begins below the shoulder blades, about five or six inches, at the lordosis (where it curves in toward the abdomen). There are five vertebrae that make up the lumbar spine, L1 through L5 – which also happen to be the largest unfused vertebrae in the entire spinal column. The lower vertebrae bear more weight than the upper vertebrae so they are constructed to be sturdier, but are also more prone to injury and degradation.
The L5 vertebra meets the S1 (the sacrum) at the lumbosacral joint. It is this joint that provides most of the range of motion including rotational flexibility of the hips and pelvis, allowing them to swing during movement such as running and walking.
The spinal cord ends at around the L1 and many nerve roots that originate at the spinal cord form what is called the cauda equine. These nerves travel down the spine, branching out to the legs, buttocks, and feet. The appearance resembles a horse’s tail, hence the name. Because the spinal cord does not extend into the lumbar area, the chance of a problem with the lower back resulting in paralysis or damage to the spinal cord is very rare.
Lower Back Pain
The most common causes for lower back pain are soft tissue injuries and mechanical problems. Either of these can damage the intervertebral discs, compress the nerve roots, and inhibit correct function of the spinal joints so that they don’t move properly. Lower back pain is most commonly caused by a pulled or torn muscle or ligament, known as a sprain or strain. These injuries can have a number of causes, including:
- Prolonged improper posture
- Improper lifting of something heavy (without using your legs)
- Sports injuries, particularly those where the player sustains high impact or where a lot of twisting is involved
- Lifting while twisting the spine
- A fall or movement that occurs suddenly and puts a great deal of stress on the lumbar area
Chiropractic Care for the Lumbar Spine
Chiropractic care is a very popular, effective treatment for lower back pain. A chiropractor can help patients manage their back pain through spinal adjustments and lifestyle advice. They may recommend supplements, exercise, and dietary changes. The whole-body approach to chiropractic makes it an optimal choice for many people, especially those who don’t want to take medications or undergo invasive procedures.
The chiropractic treatment itself usually involves spinal manipulation and mobilization. Spinal manipulation is the technique that most people think of when they think of chiropractic. It involves a short lever, high velocity arm thrust applied directly to the vertebra that is injured or is causing the pain. This technique typically relieves pain, improves the function of the spine, and restores the back’s range of motion. Mobilization is a low velocity movement performed by the chiropractor to manipulate the area, stretching and moving the joints and muscles.
These techniques typically restore range of motion and flexibility to the spine while reducing pain. For people with chronic lower back pain, chiropractic care can be a game changer.