“Oh, my aching back!” How many times have we heard someone say those words? Back pain, especially low back pain, is a universal human experience — almost everyone experiences it at some point in their life. Is it a common health concern because of our lifestyles, or is there something fundamentally wrong with our backs? What are the causes of back pain and how can one achieve back pain relief without the risk of becoming addicted to pain relievers? Is there a way to cure back pain? In learning the answer to these questions, we can also learn about how to avoid back pain. Let’s talk about Back Pain Relief – What You Need to Know.
Why is Back Pain Such a Common Health Concern?
Back pain or backache is one of the most common ailments known to man. Why is that? I believe it has everything to do with the fact that the back is such an essential and greatly used part of the body that is virtually involved with every aspect of daily living. Some have called the back the “workhorse” of the body, and for good reasons. It’s no wonder that our backs are subject to pain, considering the amount and variety of use they get. The good news is that there are practical steps we can take to strengthen and protect our backs, to prevent injuries and pain, and to achieve back pain relief.
Back pain is a frequent health concern today that affects almost eight out of 10 people. It is a widespread concern among Americans. In fact, the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) statistics indicate that at least 31 million Americans suffer from lower back pain at any given time.
The human back is an amazing organ that is a very well designed combination of bones, muscles, nerves, and other tissues. But, as with any valuable asset, we must take care of it so that it can continue to serve us well. Backs are very versatile and capable of helping our bodies function in many critical ways, but they are fragile too and are easily damaged through overwork and abuse. 80% of all American adults will experience back pain to varying degrees at some point in their lives. Back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor, and time lost off work due to backache costs the American economy about $75 billion every year. Back injuries in the workplace are a huge concern in the United States, and chronic back issues are also one of the most common reasons that people file disability insurance claims.
What Are the Causes of Back Pain?
The causes of back pain are numerous and complex. The lower back bears the majority of the weight and stress of the body. The back is easily injured both from the cumulative strain put on it day after day and from sudden or jerky movements that catch it by surprise. Sometimes a back injury can occur because of a clearly identifiable cause, such as trauma, but often the pain appears for no apparent reason. In general, we can categorize back pain into several types:
- Localized: This is pain that is specific to a certain area of the back, and does not spread beyond that particular area.
- Diffuse: This is pain over a larger area, and is usually found in the deeper tissue layers of the back.
- Radicular: This type generally follows the path of a nerve or nerves and caused by irritation to the nerve(s).
- Referred: This pain is felt in the back but is actually caused by an issue in another part of the body such as the abdomen or kidneys.
- Acute or Chronic: Back pain is also classified as acute or chronic. Acute pain is attributable to a specific incident, while chronic back pain is an ongoing issue, often of unknown origin. Chronic back pain can sometimes be a function of a change in nerve response to repeated pain in the back. In other words, multiple acute incidents can eventually lead to chronic pain, which is usually very difficult to treat and resolve.
Back Pain Relief – What You Need to Know
Common back conditions that can cause back pain:
- Herniated disk: When the soft tissue between the vertebrae of the spine (disk) becomes dislodged, it often will put pressure against the spinal nerves and cause pain in the back and other places of the body.
- Sciatica: This type of radicular back pain occurs when a ruptured or herniated disk presses against the sciatic nerve, one of the major nerves of the body. Pain is usually experienced in the lower back, as well as the buttocks and the back of the leg (referred pain).
- Spinal stenosis is a form of arthritis that affects the spinal canal and the nerve roots within it. The canal is narrowed by arthritis and abnormal bone growth, and the nerves can experience pressure and produce pain.
- Spondylolisthesis is a condition whereby one vertebra “slips” on top of another, resulting in pressure on the spinal nerves and accompanying pain.
- Spondylosis: This is also a type of spinal arthritis that is often associated with aging.
- Constipation: Believe it or not but the culprit of a lot of back pain is constipation. Making sure that you are experiencing at least 2-3 daily bowel movements will alleviate some types of back pain.
- Excess Weight: Excess weight can pull the spine out of alignment causing lower back pain.
Most back pain is either caused by an incident that strains the muscles, such as improper lifting, a trauma such as a blow to the back or an automobile accident, or the most common conditions listed above. However, there are more rare causes of back pain that you should be aware of that are often much more serious as well:
- Malignancies: Back pain can sometimes be an indicator of a tumor of the spine or a cancer in another part of the body such as the breast, prostate, or lungs that has spread to the spinal area. One of the more dangerous cancers that can produce back pain is called caudia equina syndrome. This involves a very serious neurological condition that impacts the nerves that control the legs and the groin area, including bowel and bladder functions.
- Spinal infections: The spinal area can become infected due to a variety of factors such as surgery or a weak or compromised immune system. Back pain accompanied by a fever and tender warm spots on the back could be an indicator of this potentially serious condition. Other signs of a spinal infection may include fever, chills, stiff neck, and numbness or tingling in the extremities.
- Mechanical issues: Back pain can also at times indicate a concern with the structure of the back, either due to a birth defect or a trauma/injury later in life. Either one can cause the back to grow improperly or change the way it relates to other structures of the body, and thus produce pain.
Is There a Way to Cure Back Pain?
I’ve heard the question “Is there a way to cure back pain?” often. And the answer is “it depends.” Since there are many different causes for back pain, it comes as no surprise that there is a corresponding number of treatments available ranging from noninvasive therapies to a myriad of drugs and surgeries. It’s best to begin with a conservative, common-sense approach when it comes to dealing with back pain. It is wise to be very careful before submitting to back surgery. Back surgery has a notorious reputation for a very poor success rate. Beyond that, once you have the first one, and the pain is not resolved, it is usually recommended that you have additional surgeries to “solve” the concern. This can lead to even worse back pain because one of the ways that chronic back pain manifests itself is through repeated back trauma including surgery.
Chronic back pain is often a very difficult issue to treat. Be careful when you are consulting with a physician regarding back pain. Do not allow yourself to be subjected to excessive or unnecessary imaging studies such as CT scans, which can expose you to about five times the radiation of an ordinary x-ray.
Be careful of practitioners and doctors who even suggest that they can cure back pain. While a back pain cure might happen, for most people surgery and medication do not cure back pain and usually provide only minimal back pain relief. In fact, I suggest getting at least three medical opinions before agreeing to back surgery.
Tips for Back Pain Relief
Most common, garden-variety back pain can be self-treated at home and will resolve itself in short order. Below are some tips for back pain.
Stretching Exercises and Yoga
Try a regimen of daily stretching exercises that work the muscles of the back, which can both prevent back pain, and help heal the pain of a current backache. The YMCA has an excellent resource called “The YMCA Healthy Back Program.” Many Y’s around the country offer classes related to this program, or there are books available for doing it yourself at home. The regimen will strengthen your back muscles and thus prevent many injuries. Exercises are also suggested that will help a sore back heal.
One clinical trial found that participants that did yoga and stretching reduced their medication use for back pain. Those taking yoga or stretching classes also had better back functioning and were significantly more likely to rate their back pain as better or completely gone at all follow-up times.
Cold and Hot Packs
According to research, cold and heat are excellent ways to get help to relieve back pain. According to E. Anne Reicherter, Ph.D., PT, DPT, associate professor of Physical Therapy at the University of Maryland School of Medicine “ice is best in the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury because it reduces inflammation, says. Even though the warmth feels good because it helps cover up the pain and it does help relax the muscles, the heat actually inflames the inflammatory processes. After 48 hours, you can switch to heat if you prefer. Whether you use heat or ice — take it off after about 20 minutes to give your skin a rest. If pain persists, talk with a doctor.” Some practitioners recommend alternating cold and hot packs, leaving them on for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. Start with an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to prevent freezer burns on your skin. Stick with the cold pack for the first few hours after an injury. After the acute pain has been stabilized, you may alternate hot and cold as you desire—whatever feels like it’s helping the most.
Rest is important too. Take it easy for a couple of days if you can, but don’t overdo the bed rest. Too much for too long can actually make matters worse by tightening up muscles that need to be gently stretched. The best advice is to keep moving along with periods of rest.
If you are not experiencing at least 2-3 daily bowel movements, you could be constipated. Constipation, especially obstructive constipation, causes more back pain than most practitioners will admit. Obstructive constipation occurs when experiencing a bowel movement that is painful or stopped due to a bowel blockage. Although defecation stops, the activity in the bowel does not. When a blockage becomes seriously backed up, pressure on the lower back can expand, and back pain can result. Performing 3-4 digestive tract cleanses with seven to ten days off between each cleanse can help to alleviate constipation in most people. After cleansing, a maintenance program is advised using an oxygen-based digestive tract cleanser .
Sit Well and Sleep Well
We all know that proper lifting is important to avoid back injuries, but we often overlook other activities such as sitting and sleeping. Most professionals believe that a medium-firm mattress is the optimum choice for most people when it comes to back health—not too hard, and not too soft. There is nothing more relaxing than having a good mattress that can help us get better sleep. As far as sitting goes, get in the habit of sitting up straight and use a chair that gives good back support, especially if you do a lot of sitting, such as at a desk all day. You may actually experience pain at first when you consciously try to sit properly, but once your back is trained the pain will go away.
Back Brace or Belt
A back brace or back belt can go a long way towards relieving your back pain. They are great to wear for extra support while healing from an injury or to prevent back damage. If you do a lot of heavy lifting on a regular basis, they are a must.
Many people have found that chiropractic care is a great way to heal from back pain and keep their backs healthy and aligned. There are quite a few different schools of chiropractic, so do your homework and find a practitioner that fits your philosophy and suits your particular needs.
A good massage is also helpful to many people who suffer from back pain. As with chiropractic care, there are many different types of massage available. You also have the option of learning massage techniques yourself. Some individuals practice self-massage to help their backs, or you and your loved ones can massage each other and have a happy family of pain-free, relaxed backs. Dr. Anders Cohen, neurosurgery division chief at The Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City, recommends massage therapy to his patients as part of what he calls a comprehensive treatment plan. “Massage is a great way to break up adhesions and is great for soft tissue,” Cohen said. “If the back pain is a soft tissue issue, such as muscles and ligaments, it works great. Plus, there is the bonus of therapeutic touch.”
Inversion therapy involves hanging upside down from an inversion table to take pressure off the nerve and discs in your spine by increasing the space between the vertebrae. A plethora of studies confirmed the health benefits of inversion therapy.
Carrying around excess weight, especially around the abdomen area, can contribute to back pain. Many people are surprised that their back pain goes away after losing just ten to fifteen pounds.
Optimize Vitamin D3
Optimize your vitamin D (through regular and appropriate sun exposure) — This will help prevent the softening of your bones that can often lead to lower back pain. If you are unable to get enough sun, an optimum Vitamin D supplement is appropriate.
Certain enzymes such as serrapeptase along with other systemic enzymes can help with the inflammation that occurs with back pain.
Eliminating hydrogenated oils found in most pre-packaged and fast foods can also help with inflammation. Using oils such as organic coconut, hemp seed, and flaxseed oils have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Full-Spectrum Raw Hemp Extract
Full-spectrum raw hemp extract is an excellent option for targeting inflammation as well as the anxiety and stress that comes with back pain. Hemp keeps your inflammatory response in line so you can move easier. It can also help with neuropathic pain in addition to muscle, joint, and nerve pain. I highly recommend and personally use Organic Hemp Extract.
Gentle exercise is usually recommended for back pain. Walking for 30 to 45 minutes every day helps many people with back pain. Some of the best exercises for back pain include yoga, exercise ball, and rebounding. However, make sure you are cleared by your healthcare professional before using these exercises. Using an inversion table will help to keep the spine stretched. A Chi Machine is also helpful for oxygenation of the spine. Beginning at the lowest setting is advised.
Far Infra-Red heat directed toward the painful area of the back can help to relieve muscle spasms and pain. Make sure that you read directions and educate yourself before using FIR.
Acupuncture is an integrative treatment increasingly accepted by even conventional doctors. As detailed in a rigorous meta-analysis from 2012, it can help manage not only chronic pain (including fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and sports injuries), but can provide relief from migraines and arthritis.
TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Neural (Nerve) Stimulation. TENS units are usually a pocket-size, portable, battery-operated device that sends electrical impulses to certain parts of the body to block pain signals. The electrical currents produced are mild but can prevent pain messages from being transmitted to the brain and may raise the level of endorphins (natural pain killers produced by the brain). It is highly suggested to be under the care of a knowledgeable healthcare professional while using a TENS Unit.
PRP Therapy is an emerging biologic tool in orthopedic and regenerative medicine. Platelets may be small in size but they are an intricate part of your body’s healing process. When an injury occurs, one of the first repair cells to travel to the injury site is platelets. Platelets are rich in many different growth factors. These growth factors help attract other repair cells to the injured area. The repair cells are thought to stimulate the healing process. By increasing the concentration of platelets (platelet-rich plasma – PRP) in the injury site (tendon, ligament, muscle tear, or joint) tissue healing is greatly encouraged. Many people experience back pain relief from PRP.
Prolotherapy is the injection of natural substances into chronically injured areas of the body. The injected substances themselves don’t heal, but rather stimulate cell growth in the tissues that stabilize weakened joints, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. Prolotherapy must be performed by a trained healthcare practitioner.
PEMF (Pulsed Electromagnetic Field) therapy for back pain relief is non-invasive and has no adverse side effects or risks. PEMF has been used for approximately 60 years to treat pain and swelling in soft tissue. Research conducted in Europe and the United States has shown the pulsating electromagnetic field in the best treatment for back pain has a healing effect on muscles, ligaments, bones, and cartilage. PEMF’s best treatment for back pain relief works on a cellular level. The pulsating current can alter cellular signals stimulating cellular repairs. Many studies completed over the last 40 years have demonstrated the effectiveness of PEMFs treatment for back pain therapy in healing soft-tissue wounds, suppressing inflammatory responses at the cell membrane level to alleviate pain and increase range of motion. The pulsating field is administered through clothing. Some feel a tingling sensation from the electromagnetic pulses of the best treatment for back pain. Most find the best treatment for back pain to be a relaxing experience. PEMF therapy allows the body to heal itself and relieve pain quickly and naturally. Check out Momentum PEMF for more information.
Emotional Health and Back Pain Relief
More and more evidence tells us that back pain, as well as other types of pain, could be intensified by emotional concerns.
Underlying emotional concerns or unresolved trauma can tremendously influence your health, especially in the realm of physical pain. A 2004 study on back pain supports this theory. Researchers followed 100 patients for over four years. All of the patients, who were free of back pain at the beginning of the study, were given psychological tests. Afterward, the researchers compared participants who remained pain-free with those who developed back pain. The results showed that the people who scored poorly on the psychological tests were three times more likely to report having experienced back pain by the end of the study.
Dr. John Sarno, who was Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, and attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Medical Center used mind-body techniques to treat patients with severe low back pain which might be stress or anxiety-related. His specialty was helping those who had already undergone surgery for low back pain but did not get any relief. While this is certainly not the easiest group of patients to help, Dr. Sarno reported a greater than 80 percent success rate. He employed health techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) which is an acupuncture-like modality that stimulates meridian points throughout the body.
Unfortunately, many dismiss these types of health modalities because they seem “just too simple to be effective.”
When you approach the body as a whole — mind, body, spirit — there’s always a safe and effective answer to almost every health concern. We are not just “livers”, “hearts”, “brains”, “backs”, “intestines”, “stomachs” or “bones and joints”. That is the mindset and thinking of conventional medicine which, when it comes to back pain relief, has very little to offer other than prescription drugs which are often habit-forming. It’s time for us to rethink the role of drugs in our lives in relationship to natural health remedies that can be used to prevent disease and maximize wellness – such as the back pain relief suggestions mentioned in this article. Of course, prescription medications can be life-saving for some health conditions, especially trauma. However, in most circumstances, healthy lifestyle changes along with taking the time needed to work on yourself (emotionally and physically) can produce a healthy body, pain relief, and lasting wellness.
If your back pain is severe or lasts longer than feels tolerable, I highly recommend talking to a knowledgeable healthcare provider. Be sure to ask about natural health remedies, and choose a practitioner who is knowledgeable about the benefits of a holistic approach to back pain.
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