Exploring the Spiritual Meaning of Lower Back Pain
To understand the spiritual meaning of lower back pain, head to the source: the sacrum, or “sacred bone.”
Lower back pain might be the most common of the daily aches and pains suffered by your average industrialized person—up to 70 percent of us experience it from time to time in our lives. Lower back pain can feel like an ache in the lower half of the spine, or it can show up around the back of the pelvis—including as sciatica, which is a pinching of the sciatic nerve that tends to send pain down one leg.
Pain in the lower back is somewhat more common in women than men and is one of the top reasons people show up to yoga, massage, Pilates, acupuncture, and their doctor’s office.
There’s also increasing interest in exploring the spiritual meaning of lower back pain.
When we talk about the lower back, we usually mean the sacral area, the joint at the back of the hips. (See below for more on the curve of the lower back just above the hips). This is a very important place, from a spiritual perspective—the word “sacrum” is a translation of the Greek hieron osteon, which means “sacred bone.” It was believed that this is where the soul resided in the body.
In German, the sacrum is called Kreuzbein, which means “crossbone,” and some ancient Christians associated this place with Jesus’s cross.
Jewish and Islamic traditions consider this bone a source for potential resurrection, partly because the sacrum’s size allows it to resist decay longer than the other bones in the body. The ancient Egyptians also associated the sacrum with Osiris, the god of the Underworld, and would wear it as an amulet for protection (see more in Naomi Ojumah’s “The Intriguing History of the Term Sacrum.”)
Many traditions also connected this bone with sacredness because of its proximity to the genitals and reproductive organs. The nerves around the sacrum also play a part in orgasms, so lower back health is intimately related to sexual health.
Drilling Down to the Spiritual Meaning of Lower Back Pain
When something is off in the sacral area, be it sciatica, tightness or pain in the sexual regions, or other pain, it might be worth asking these questions:
- How connected do I feel to my spirituality right now?
- What is the sense of meaning in my life?
- What is my larger “why” for my choices in my life?
- Am I living in alignment with my values?
- What is my relationship to my sexuality? To joy or pleasure?
- Is something in the way of me fully experiencing and enjoying my life?
The sacral chakra, or svadisthana, is located in line with the sacrum in the center of the pelvis. This is the energy center that is related to creativity, sexuality, sensuality, and pleasure. When we feel safe enough, this is the place where we can explore our environments, do things for the pleasure of it, dance, and play. It’s also the center of a lot of the movement in our bodies, including being able to walk and move around.
When this area is out of balance, we can feel disconnected from pleasure and joy in our lives as well as from our sensuality and sexuality. The color of this chakra is a deep sunset orange. To bring this energy center back into balance, you can:
- Meditate on a warm, comforting sunset orange
- Do practices that give you joy and sensual pleasure, like dancing, taking a hot bath, eating delicious food
- Take a break from work
- Take a break from screens and social media
- Take a nap
- Breathe low down into the belly and focus on relaxing the belly and pelvic muscles
Human Giver Syndrome, aka Women Bending Over Backward
When the lumbar curve area above the hips is what’s giving you trouble, the meaning might be slightly different. This is the part of your body that helps you balance and gives you support and shock absorption when you are standing, walking, or running. It’s easy to run into problems in this area if you do a lot of lifting, bending, scrubbing, and sitting. In short, it’s an area that can flare up either when you’re working too hard or giving too much.
When we talk about helping beyond our capacity, we use the phrase “bending over backward.” It can be hard to know your limits when you are caring for someone, especially someone you love, like a child or an aging parent. But if you don’t stop to take care of yourself, too, and/or ask for help from someone else, your back is going to start hurting—or worse.
Back pain may be a signal that you are suffering from what Amelia and Emily Nagoski call “Human Giver Syndrome” in their book Burnout. The idea is that, societally, we understand men as human beings and women as human givers. People raised as women are supposed to care for everyone else at the cost of their own desires, feelings, needs, and even health.
Globally, women tend to spend around 40 hours a week on childcare while men spend about an hour and a half. In addition, 62 percent of women care for aging parents for 20 hours a week or more, while only 38 percent of men do the same labor. There are lots of nuances and exceptions to these statistics, of course, but it’s often taken as a given that women should be the ones doing the caring when someone needs help. This message gets internalized and we work ourselves to the (back) bone without even realizing it—that is, until the body cries out and forces us to lie down and take a break.
Of course, giving is a good thing. If everyone in our society helped each other out equally, we’d all have less work to do and feel more cared for. The message here goes beyond “self-care” and the question is how to get every human being in the world to balance helping others with setting boundaries.
If you’re a woman or were raised as a woman and you’re experiencing back pain, ask yourself these questions:
- For whom do I serve as caregiver?
- How much more time do I spend on other’s needs than my own?
- Do I believe I need to act selflessly, look pretty, and keep a smile on my face at all times?
- What would it feel like to tell someone else to take over some of the work?
- How could I get some help for all the things I have to do?
Sometimes finding help is the hardest part—after admitting that you need it, of course. You can ask people close to you for help. You can also pay people to help you, in terms of hiring childcare, hiring cleaners, finding a counselor, going to yoga classes, and so on. If you don’t have the funds to do that, there are often resources in the form of non-profit societies that are there to help families get the care they need to get through the day. Look for resources in your area and don’t be afraid to ask for help managing the pain as you also explore the spiritual meaning of lower back pain.
- by Julie Peters