back pain

Lauren Roxburgh is the body whisperer. Specializing in a form of bodywork that focuses on fascia, Lauren’s signature techniques are used by everyone from LeBron to Gwyneth to reduce pain and optimize energy flow. We’ve been fans of Lauren’s incredible mind-body work, books and products since day one, and she’s become our go-to resource for decoding and dealing with pain.

Back pain is a topic Lauren knows about on a deep level, and it’s something many of us deal with as part of modern life. While most people instinctively treat back pain where they’re feeling it, the actual cause can be anything from pelvic floor misalignment to stagnant emotional energy. We interviewed Lauren to explore everything from the root causes to surprising connections…

The Chalkboard Mag: Based on your experience working with clients, what are the primary root causes of most back pain?

Lauren Roxburgh: Back pain is very common, and the root cause can vary. You could have an injury, a physical imbalance or emotional energy that’s stuck down there. The way I see it in my practice is the lower back — the sacrum, the hip, the pelvic floor, even the gut — is all connected.

When we sit too much, excess energy tends to collect at the base of the spine, at our root chakra. This energetic point relates to survival, primal instincts, family, money, structure, security. All of those things live in that part of our body. It’s full of a lot of emotions and lots of energy, and it can actually cause physical tension if it’s not released.

From a structural standpoint, there are a lot of things that intersect. The legs are connecting to the femur bones, which are connecting to the hip joints, and that’s connected to the lower body and then the upper body. Wherever you have a lot of different muscles and tendons and joints connecting there’s more susceptibility to congestion, compression, and pain.

TCM: A lot of your work focuses on correcting pelvic floor dysfunction. What’s the connection between back pain + the pelvic floor?

LR: Back pain is directly connected to the pelvic floor and to how your pelvis is either anterior tilted, or posterior tilted, or it even has a pelvic torsion, which means that one side of your pelvis is going to be anteriorly tilted, the other side is going to be posterior tilted. I see a lot of this in my practice. It’s a very common thing—maybe from sitting too much, carrying a bag dominantly on one side, even the way we sit in our car, at our desk, on an airplane, etc. That’s why I always say, align your body, align your life. When you can find that alignment in the physical structure, then the pain starts going away because the torque starts vanishing. All of a sudden, you have more energy and more connection to what your true desires are.

Back pain has a lot to do with emotion, structural alignment, strengths, weakness. And that’s why I wrote my book, The Power Source, which is all about the pelvic floor, the base of the core, the home of the root chakra. I’ve seen how pelvic floor work can release the lower back and rebalance the alignment of the hips. This can be done with proper breathing techniques, bodywork, and foam rolling as well.

TCM: What are some indicators that pain is related to emotional stagnation + how does that energy connect to our physical experience?

LR: If we have pain in the body, essentially it’s an area that’s susceptible to either an injury or energetic clogging. If there’s an energetic blockage, you might feel anxiety or a heaviness. Even bloating could be an indicator of the body reacting to stagnant energy. I would say, even people that have layers and layers of fascia or scar tissue might have an energetic issue as well.

A build-up of tissue can actually mean you have stress or toxins stuck in your body, and stuck emotions.

Having excess fat is also linked to emotional blockage, because — if you think about it — fat is just another form of stored energy. It’s thick, hard and dense. The meridians can’t flow as well through that stagnant energy, and the chi in the lymphatic system is also blocked.

The nerves live in the fascia, and they get compressed when you have scar tissue that’s bundled up like a brittle, thick, dense internal cast. If that’s there, then your body’s not getting proper circulation or blood flow, it’s not getting lymphatic flow. Your immune system is lowered. You may have pain, you may feel sluggish, you may feel heavy, you may not have as much energy, and your body becomes more vulnerable to injury and pain.

I love bringing science and spirituality together in my practice because they do overlay each other similar to the layers of the human body and human energy. It’s fascinating.

TCM: What are some simple techniques we can use to clear stagnant energy + help reduce back pain?

LR: SALT + SAGE. I love using salts. They’ve been used for centuries to clear energy. You can take a bath with salt. You can even sprinkle salts around your house. Or you can try burning sage, Palo Santo, or even using crystals—all these are a great way to cleanse.

Water. Water is another amazing way to cleanse. Even just washing your head in the shower and having the water flow down over your face in your head, is a very cleansing thing. Go in the ocean, into saltwater.

Earthing. Do some earthing. It’s a phenomenal way to clear energy you don’t really want to have. If you’re traveling and you need to practice grounding to get into those circadian rhythms of the earth wherever you are, it’s a really good thing to do. Walking barefoot on the earth can be very cleansing and healing as well—you’re picking up electromagnetic energy from the earth to rebalance.

Sleep In. Sleep is another great one to clear energy. Getting into deep REM sleep is a great thing to help you clear blocked energy, or to reboot your energy, and give you vitality and rejuvenation.

Unplug. Also, getting off of technology, unplugging or putting your devices on airplane mode so you’re not absorbing negative energy from cellphones, which I’m sure we’ll find out later, in about 20 years. It’s so terrible for us, you know?

Dry Brush. I think dry brushing an amazing way to clear energy as well. Learn how to do it here.

Get Moving. Obviously, I think foam rolling is also a way of clearing energies, moving away those layers of just stiffness, density and things we pick up. I love rebounding—bouncing on a little trampoline is a phenomenal way to clear energy, flush your lymph and also to get the body’s serotonin and oxytocin boosted and rolling. Any kind of workout helps—I call it movement medicine. Any kind of movement can boost serotonin and oxytocin and then help you clear any negative emotions that are stuck in the body.

TCM: If back pain doesn’t always originate in the back itself, what can we do to help decode the actual cause?

LR: Wherever the pain is occurring isn’t necessarily the root of the issue. The body is interconnected and when one thing is out of alignment, it can trigger a reaction elsewhere. Let’s say we see a knot in your right shoulder blade. This could be coming from you not standing equally through both feet. It could be coming from the left arch of your foot. It could be coming from your left side of your lower back. The body also does these amazing things where it crosses over (fascia will literally cross over and around each other). Sometimes, if it’s something on the right side, the dysfunction could actually be on the left side of your body or vice versa.

To decode the actual source of pain, not just the percieved source of pain, look at the body and energy more globally, rather than locally.

I think that’s what a lot of traditional doctors and physical therapists do—they will just look at that area and say, Oh let’s fix that area instead of looking at the body as a whole and saying, You know what? If your lower back is out then we’ve got to look at your feet. In your feet, there are three arches. There’s the lateral arch on the outside, the medial arch on the inside, and the transverse arch, which goes over all of your toe tendon, or under your foot, under your toes. With your arches, if you’re pronating—which is when you cave into your inner arches—your medial arches are like someone you’d see that is knock-kneed. Misalignment can create a lot of tension in the pelvic floor and with lower back pain.

TCM: What are some common ways our bodies become be misaligned + how can we identify these problem areas?

LR: Weight Distribution. Weight-bearing too much in your toes can create issues on the lower back. If you’re weight-bearing too much in your heels, this can also create tension in your hip flexors. We take about 10,000 steps a day without doing any cardio. This is just going about your normal day. Every step we take is an opportunity to either be dysfunctional or functional. The feet are something I always go to first and look immediately if someone has lower back stuff. Because if you think about it, your feet are the thing touching the earth and that’s your foundation.

Leg Alignment. Start by looking at the feet, at the inner legs, at the medial line, which is a line that comes up from your inner arch through your inner ankle, through your inner calf (basically inner knee, inner thigh). And then also the lateral line, which is the outer sideline. If you are wearing leggings, you’d see the seam on the outside of your legs and the inside, those are the two lines I would look at to make sure they have alignment and they also have joints, that your joints are stacked up, one on top of the other and in an organized fashion. This will help with posture and pelvic alignment, and the lower back stuff, too.

Habitual Movement. Body mechanics are really important when dealing with the lower back. Sometimes you’re always hinging from your lower back. You’re putting a lot of pressure on your joints. This is what I always teach: When you bend down, step one foot forward into a deep lunge. Or do a deep, really deep, squat where your pelvic floor is opening instead of hinging from your hips because that loads the joints of your spine.

Core Condition. It’s also important to build core strength, not just superficially, but from the deep—I like to call it—inner core. So that would be strengthening and rebalancing your psoas muscles. Those are the pillars of strength that basically go from underneath your diaphragm, through your core, on the front side of your spine, all the way down into your groin. If your psoas is out of alignment, weak or disconnected, then it can create a lot of lower back pain. It can create a pooched belly. It can also inhibit good digestion. And these get really tight because—in our culture—we’re sitting too much.

Posture Problems. If we’re talking about where we’re going to start when we’re looking at lower back stuff, always look at the feet. Also, how are we hunching forward? Is our diaphragm compressed? Is our head forward? Because our head weighs close to 30 pounds. So if the head is forward, it’s going to put pressure on the whole spine. So, again, looking at when you asked, when you have pain somewhere, you have to look at the body globally rather than just focusing on one little spot. Because, essentially, we’re a living tapestry of tissues, bones, muscles, skin. We need to really nourish on every level.

Learn more about Lauren’s holistic approach to pain management with her Living Well With interview here!

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