Eliminating Back Pain

“ If you don’t know how the spine works, you won’t know what causes pain. Knowing how pain occurs gives you the information to prevent it.”

Colm Campbell, 2016

A definition of Engineering is ‘solving the world‘s problems and implementing the solutions’. Back pain is a world problem suffered by 80% of the global population at some time in their lives. At any instant something in the region of 12% of the world’s population are in pain. Luckily for back sufferers, a gifted mechanical and electrical engineer was struck with a ruptured disc and chronic intense pain in 1980. Colm Campbell, rather that accepting surgery, spent 4 months in severe pain analyzing the engineering of the spine. He designed a machine that provides the precise shapes of individual spines sitting in perfect posture when disc pressure is least. After that he began a life dedicated to helping other back sufferers.

The spine is a superb piece of electrical and mechanical engineering. It is a vertical flexible column kept upright by a sophisticated balancing system, which is constantly feeding information on body movements to the brain. The brain reacts and sends instructions to the muscles to counteract any tendencies to move off the vertical (this stops us falling over).

In the seated position this balancing system relaxes (and goes into repose), with no information being sent to the brain. The force of gravity acting down the spine causes it to collapse into a forward C shape (known as bad posture) hugely increasing the pressure in the discs and stretching the muscles and ligaments of the spine. (An analogy is bending a wooden ruler. Allow one end to go free and the resultant release of stress causes it to whip back into its original position) This huge disc pressure is one of the main causes of back pain. Muscle and ligament strains are caused by lifting heavy objects; twisting, sudden movements, and sitting in bad posture are others.

“Even though bad posture may not cause any discomfort, continual poor posture will in the long term cause back pain.” (Ref. Back Care by the Irish Health Education Bureau)

Because the spine was not designed for sitting for long intervals, most people sit in bad posture resulting in 80% back pain at some time in their lives.


The Structure of the Spine.

The spine is composed of 24 bones called vertebrae more or less cylindrical in shape and varying in thickness, from cervical to lumbar, where they are the thickest. They are stacked one on top of the other from the bottom (lumbar) to top (cervical) and attached to each other by the disc complex, which consists of the annular ligament and the disc (see illustration). The annular ligament consists of tight layers of tough flexible fibrous material, like an onion, permanently attached to the top and bottom of adjoining vertebrae. Wrapped inside is the so-called disc (the nucleus pulposus) which is a soft material, similar consistency to porridge (A cross section of a tree shows numbers of concentric circles coming to a point in the middle. A cross section of a disc complex is similar except there is a void rather than a point. This is the space occupied by the disc.)

Note: A word here about the disc whose meaning confuses many people. The dictionary defines the word as (1) a flat round object (2) the part of the body between every two vertebrae. (i.e. the Disc Complex) The majority are unaware of the second meaning of the word and wrongly think the disc is a flat round object that can be squeezed out of position.


It is vital that back sufferers know exactly how this part of the spine works as malfunctions here are the main cause of back pain. The spine is the body’s suspension system. It can be compared to the front suspension of a car where a coiled spring acts as a shock absorber. Should the car hit a pothole the coils in the spring could come together with great force. To prevent this happening a hydraulic damper (shock absorber) comes into play keeping the coils apart. In the human body the disc complex is the suspension system. The annular ligament is the coiled spring and the disc the hydraulic damper, which mainly comes into play under heavy loading, except of course when sitting in bad posture when it is always subjected to high pressure.

In his book “The Slipped Disc and the Aching Back of Man” Walker- Naddell FRCS an orthopedic surgeon in Scotland who spent time working in pathology, states, “I noted that quite frequently the spinal discs were not present in some of my patients.” He checked out each case and found “90% had no history of back trouble,” and “This confirmed my theory that the disc is not an essential part of one’s anatomy and that the annular ligament that surrounds it is itself the spinal buffer or cushion.”

“Operations are necessary in only about 2% of cases. 20% of pain free people have slipped discs, 50% have swollen discs. Therefore MRI scans showing a disc is slipped or swollen is only verifying this fact. Operations based solely on this information can be disastrous”

University of Washington


Bending the spine forward causes adjacent vertebrae to move inwards at the front of the spine and outwards at the rear. This results in squeezing the front of the discs, wrapped up in the annular ligament, causing them to bulge backwards. (A simile is squeezing an under-inflated balloon thereby increasing the pressure on the other side, causing it to bulge) The greater the bend; the greater the pressure in the rear of the disc. In turn this puts stress on the annular ligament.

Back Pain Commences

Eventually the annular ligament stretches, causing it to bulge backwards until eventually it makes contact with a nerve root leaving the spinal canal down which the spinal cord travels from the brain. In an extreme case the outer layer tears apart and the disc is extruded through the tear and makes contact with a nerve. This is known as a slipped, herniated or ruptured disc.

The medical term “ruptured disc” is a misnomer. It’s not the disc that ruptures. It’s the annular ligament. The disc oozes through a tear in the wall and like toothpaste from a tube cannot be put back in.

An interesting statistic is that 20% of pain free people have ruptured discs and 50% have swollen discs. (1999 study by George Washington University)

Therefore if an MRI confirms a swollen or a ruptured disc; that’s all it is stating. Having an operation based on this information can be disastrous for the patient.

The Key Cause of Back Pain

Between every two vertebrae, two nerves exit the spinal column. One goes to the left hand side of the body, the other the right. They pass close to the annular ligament and pain is caused when the swollen or ruptured disc makes contact.

‘Pain is caused when something touches a nerve. Break contact and the pain disappears’.

Colm Campbell (Founder, The Back Shop).

This is precisely what Spine Design t/a The Back Shop has been doing for over 35 years, (breaking contact between annular ligaments and nerves) with 16,000 back sufferers and a 95% success rate (The further 5% of back sufferers usually need intensive physiotherapy, chiropractic or hospital intervention)..


We consider success is being generally pain free and being able to sit many hours without pain, 7-8 hours at an office desk, 3-4 hours driving, 2-6 hours reclining/relaxing.
Keeping the spine in its own unique elongated ‘S’ shape, when disc pressure is at the least possible (see Swedish Spinal Study left), results in breaking contact with the nerve and pain free sitting for many hours at a time in the home, office or car.

The Swedish Back Study

The Swedish Back Study

1. Sleeping on Back – 25 kg Pressure
2. Sleeping on Side – 75 kg Pressure
3. Standing (Good Posture) – 95 kg Pressure
4. Standing (Bad Posture) – 140 kg Pressure
5. Lifting – 200 kg Pressure
6. Sitting (Good Posture) – 130 kg Pressure
7. Sitting (Leaning Forward) – 180 kg Pressure
8. Sitting Bad Posture – 265 kg Pressure.

Lying (on back), Standing (good posture) and Sitting (good posture) causes least possible pressure in the discs. Sitting (bad posture) causes most pressure in the spine.

Why The Back Shop has such Powerful Success Eliminating Back Pain.

The Back Shop was founded on the engineering principles of the spine. Colm Campbell, a mechanical and electrical engineer by profession and founder of The Back Shop, spent four agonizing months in early 1980 with a ruptured disk. Rather than undergoing surgery, he opted to study the ‘natural’ engineering of the spine. Looking at the spine from a pure engineering, rather than a solely medical standpoint, he discovered the spine’s weakest points, and how they can falter under extreme pressure (sitting for unnaturally long periods – modern life). Over time and constant study he isolated the key fact that most spinal problems occur when the sufferer spends long periods in bad posture, putting the annular ligament under great stress and allowing the annular ligament (and eventually, the disc) to touch nerves.

Any of you who have experienced severe back pain, will now understand the simplest fact – something has just touched a nerve – with disastrous consequences for you. We need to break that contact to eliminate pain.

A Back Shop bespoke chair aligns you into perfect posture, which enables the spine to realign stress free and so prevent touching of a nerve, resulting in pain free sitting.

The Back Shop © 2016