If you’re an American, you have an 80 percent chance of experiencing back pain at some point in your adult life. Back pain is one of the most common reasons for emer- gency room visits; in fact, it is the fourth most common ailment in our country.
A few years ago, it was generally believed that back pain was caused by the degen- eration of one or more discs, the “shock absorbers” of the spine. This results in an impingement and possible damage to the nerves that exit the spinal column. Today we know that almost all adults over forty have some disc deterioration; moreover, many people with degenerated discs don’t feel any pain at all. While disc problems can be one cause of back pain, a more common cause is strained muscles. Stress, bad posture, and long periods of inactivity all weaken the back, making it vulnerable to pain from injury or exercise. When the back is very weak, even minor actions like twisting or coughing can trigger severe pain. Chronic back pain is frequently caused
by muscular imbalance in the back, poor ﬂexibility, spinal misalignment, and liga- ment or tendon injuries.
Although many cases of back pain have their roots in the muscles, other conditions can cause or contribute to pain. Pregnancy and obesity, which place stress on the mus- cles, are two common factors, as are arthritis, osteoporosis, and disorders of the kid- ney, the bladder, the pelvis, and the prostate. Constipation and other digestive disorders can also refer pain to the back area.
Proper lifting techniques are very important to prevent strain and injury of the back. This is especially true for people who have had previous back injuries.
Back pain does not automatically mean surgery and a lifetime of agony. It is now considered highly preventable and treatable with exercise, stretching, bodywork, sup- plements, and stress management. However, if you have pain that lasts for several weeks or extremely acute pain, contact your doctor so that he or she can check for underlying disorders that may be causing your pain. For example, certain kinds of back pain can signal a stroke, osteoporosis, or other serious medical conditions like can- cer. If the pain radiates down your leg or is accompanied by numbness or loss of mus- cular, bowel, or bladder control, get medical help immediately.
• Any kind of pain—sharp, lancing, dull, aching, gradual, sudden— usually in the lower or middle back Pain can radiate to the hips or the neck
Inactivity, especially when punctu- ated by sudden exercise
Poor posture and spinal misalign- ment
Muscle strength and ﬂexibility imbalances
• Sleeping on a poorly made mattress
• High heels
• Disorders of the kidney, the bladder, the prostate, or the pelvic region
• Emotional stress
• Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
• Nutritional deﬁciencies
Constipation, extra weight, and toxic build-up can aggravate back pain. Diet and
detoxiﬁcation therapies will help keep your body free of these stressors.
Eat small, light meals. Heavy eating puts a burden on your digestive tract and weak- ens the back.
Constipation makes back pain worse, so eat plenty of ﬁber, preferably in the form of vegetables.
The following tests can give you an assessment of possible metabolic reasons for lower back pain:
Vitamin and mineral analysis—blood or urine
Diagnostic image of the spine
Dehydration aggravates back pain. Drink a glass of clean water every two waking hours. If you have an episode of back pain, drink a few glasses as soon as the pain starts.
Keep your bones well fed. Get protein from ﬁsh, soy products, and beans; for cal- cium, eat your leafy greens, sea vegetables, nuts and seeds, and tofu.
Consume foods that are rich in essential fatty acids (salmon, mackerel, almonds, walnuts, and ground ﬂaxseeds).
Food to Avoid
Stay away from products that are high in saturated fat and sugar, especially if you are overweight. Extra pounds on the waist and the hips means a heavier load on the back.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol products, which are known to worsen inﬂammation.
A three-day juice fast will speed the removal of waste. If you’re overweight and are starting a diet to reduce strain on your back, a juice fast may be a good way to break food addictions.
If you are chronically constipated, take 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground ﬂaxseeds daily, along with 12 ounces of water.
Super Seven Prescriptions—Back Pain
Super Prescription #1 Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
Take 3,000 to 8,000 mg daily in divided doses. Reduce the dosage if diarrhea occurs. MSM alleviates muscle spasms and has natural anti-inﬂammatory effects.
Super Prescription #2 Calcium and magnesium
Twice daily, take a complex of these two minerals that contains 500 mg of calcium and 250 mg of magnesium. These minerals alleviate muscle spasms.
Super Prescription #3 Homeopathy
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms under Homeopathy in this sec- tion. For acute back pain, take a 30C potency four times daily. For chronic back pain, take twice daily for two weeks to see if there are any positive improvements. After you notice improvement, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return. Consultation with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Super Prescription #4 Bromelain
Take 500 mg three times daily between meals. Look for products standardized to
2,000 M.C.U. (milk-clotting units) per 1,000 mg or 1,200 G.D.U. (gelatin- dissolving units) per 1,000 mg. Bromelain has a natural anti-inﬂammatory effect. Protease enzyme products also have this beneﬁt.
Super Prescription #5 White willow (Salix alba)
Take a product standardized to contain 240 mg of salicin daily or 5 ml of the tinc- ture form three times daily. This herb reduces pain.
Super Prescription #6 Glucosamine sulfate
Take 1,500 mg daily. It’s useful for back pain that is caused by osteoarthritis.
Super Prescription #7 Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) cream
Apply the cream to the affected area two to four times daily for symptomatic relief. Choose a cream standardized to 0.025 to 0.075 percent capsaicin. Capsaicin depletes the nerves of substance P, a neurotransmitter that transmits pain messages.
Vitamin C reduces inﬂammation and strengthens connective tissue. Take 1,000 mg three times daily.
Pine bark or grape seed extract reduces inﬂammation. Take 100 mg three times daily. Ginger (Zingiber ofﬁcinale) is a popular choice for relief of both inﬂammation and pain. Pour boiling water over the grated root and drink the tea, or try adding ginger fresh to your meals. If you want something stronger, take 1 to 2 grams of dried powder in capsule form, two or three times daily, or use 1 to 2 ml of a tincture three times daily. Boswellia (Boswellia serrata): Take 1,200 to 1,500 mg of a standardized extract containing 60 to 65 percent boswellic acids two to three times daily.
DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) is a topical pain-relieving substance. Work with your doctor to use DMSO.
Many excellent herbs reduce inﬂammation. Devil’s claw root (Harpagophytum procumbens), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), and yucca root (Yucca schidigera) capsules are among the best. Give these herbs at least two months to take effect. Recommended dosages are as follows:
Devil’s claw should not be used if you have a history of gallstones, heartburn, or ulcers. Take 1,500 to 2,500 mg of the standardized powdered herb in capsule or tablet form daily, or use 1 to 2 ml of a tincture three times a day.
Arnica (Arnica montana) oil reduces pain and spasm. Rub this oil over the affected area twice daily.
Saint-John’s-wort oil (Hypericum oil) reduces nerve pain. Rub over the affected area twice daily.
D-L phenylalanine is an amino acid used to reduce pain. Take 500 mg three times daily on an empty stomach.
Vitamins B1, B6, and B12 have been shown to reduce the amount of medication needed for back pain. Take 50 mg of B1 and B6 and 400 mcg of B12 three times daily. Also, when using these individual B vitamins long term, make sure to also supple- ment a 50 mg B-complex for a balance of all the B vitamins.
Protease enzymes reduce inﬂammation. Take 1 to 2 capsules twice daily between meals or as directed on the container.
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms in this section. For acute back pain, take a 30C potency four times daily. For chronic back pain, take twice daily for two
weeks to see if there are any positive improvements. After you notice results, stop tak- ing the remedy, unless symptoms return. Consultation with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Aesculus is for lower back or sacral pain that is worse when you are sitting. The pain often radiates into the right hip.
Arnica (Arnica montana) is for an injury that leaves your back feeling bruised and sore and is helpful if you have difﬁculty moving around.
Bryonia (Bryonia alba) is for lower back pain and stiffness that feel worse with any movement and in cold, dry weather, and that feels better when the area is rubbed.
Calcarea Carbonica is for chronic lower back pain and weakness in overweight indi- viduals who also are chilly. Symptoms are worse in the cold and in dampness.
Cimicifuga Racemosa is for a stiff and aching neck and back. Muscles feel bruised, but feel better with warmth. Also, it is used for menstrual cramps with lower back pain radiating to the thighs.
Ignatia (Ignatia amara) is for back spasms and cramping as the result of emotional stress.
Magnesia Phosphorica is for a muscle spasm in the back that feels better from warmth.
Nux Vomica (Strychnos nux vomica) is for back spasms and cramping, especially in the lower back. The person may also have constipation and feel chilly and irrita- ble. The symptoms are worse from cold and feel better with warmth.
Rhus Toxicodendron is for a stiff lower back that is worse in the cold and the damp and feels better with movement. It is speciﬁc for a sprained back muscle or ligaments.
Ruta Graveolens is for pain near the neck or for lower back pain. The area of the injury feels lame, and the pain is worse at night. This remedy is useful for back sprains and strains.
Acupressure relieves back pain by stimulating blood ﬂow, unblocking energy, and strengthening the internal organs. Some of the following points may be quite tender; if so, use a very light, continuous touch, instead of heavy pressure. In cases of severe pain or true disc damage, always consult a doctor before working these points. For more information about pressure points and administering treatment, see pages 668–675.
• For lower back pain, work Bladder 25, 31, and 40.
• Bladder 20 is the point for pain in the middle back.
• Upper back pain can be eased by using Gallbladder 20 and Governing Vessel
• For back pain accompanied or caused by tension, use Bladder 48.
• If you have arthritis as well as back pain, Bladder 54 is a good choice.
Complementary therapy for back pain should usually include some kind of bodywork. You may want to try several of the following methods until you ﬁnd the combination that works best for you. For a thorough evaluation, check with an osteopathic doc- tor, a naturopathic doctor, a chiropractor, or a medical doctor. Then a course of treat- ment can be recommended.
Most people know instinctively that massage will relieve their back pain and tension, but many are held back by their inability to travel to a massage therapist or by fear of making the pain worse. Massage is so effective, it’s worth taking extra steps to over- come any obstacles to treatment. Check around to ﬁnd a licensed, experienced pro- fessional who knows how to work with different kinds of back pain. He or she may also be willing to come to your house if you’re immobilized.
See pages 686–687 for information about reﬂexology areas and how to work them.
Work the spine, the hips, and the tailbone area, all of which exist at the base of the heel.
Hot water therapies are popular ways to treat backache and release stress. Although their relief is usually temporary, they feel wonderfully soothing and can get you mobile enough to receive other therapies.
To release spasms and tension, soak in a warm bath (90 to 100 degrees F). For an extra soothing effect, add any of the essential oils recommended under Aromather- apy in this section, or try a little mustard or ginger.
A hot water bottle is an old-fashioned remedy for back spasms, and it still works. Constitutional hydrotherapy is helpful. See the Hydrotherapy section for directions.
Other Bodywork Recommendations
For chronic or severe pain, a visit to a chiropractor or an osteopath is highly recom- mended. He or she will correct postural problems and manipulate your spine so that your body is balanced and aligned.
Pay attention to your posture. Stand up straight, with your pelvis tucked in. When seated, keep your back erect and your feet ﬂat on the ﬂoor. If you have serious back problems, try postural methods such as Hellerwork or the Alexander technique, which seek to retrain the body so that it moves naturally, correctly, and painlessly. Contact a specialist for instruction.
Throw out your high heels. Most footwear companies now make beautiful shoes that aren’t hard on your feet and back.
If you feel stiffness and pain in the middle of the night and in the morning, but not during the rest of the day, your mattress may be the culprit. Find one that’s ﬁrm and
The following exercise will often relieve lower back pain:
1. Take your shoes off and stand against a wall so that your heels touch it.
2. Now adjust your posture so that your buttocks and shoulders also touch the wall.
3. Imagine that you are straightening the curvature of your spine, and try to make your entire back press ﬂat against the wall. Take the stretch as far as you comfortably can, and hold it for twenty to thirty seconds.
supportive. In addition, you should sleep on your side, with your knees bent. Plac- ing a pillow between your knees may make you more comfortable.
Unless your health-care provider recommends this, it is best to avoid bed rest with a back injury. Studies show that it often slows down recovery.
• A massage with ginger, black pepper, or peppermint oils will help warm up muscles and dissolve cramps.
• To help relieve stress, try some of the many oils that have relaxing properties. Add geranium, jasmine, or lavender to a hot bath, or if you suffer from chronic tension, use a diffuser or a candle to release the scent throughout a room for long periods of time (just make sure you don’t leave the ﬂame unattended).
• If you tend to breathe shallowly in a crisis, use frankincense to encourage deep, relaxing breaths. Hold the vial directly under your nose and inhale.
General Stress-Reduction Therapies
Many people with back problems ﬁnd that yoga eases their pain. Yoga releases emo- tional stress, as well as the physical tension that often deposits itself in the back; it also strengthens the spine and improves all-over ﬂexibility. If you have or have had severe pain, take a class with an instructor who knows how to handle your condition.
If you have severe or chronic back pain, look into biofeedback. EMG biofeedback will help you identify just when you tense up your back muscles and will show you how to release them.
Many of the techniques mentioned throughout this section, such as massage, hot baths, and herbal treatments, treat stress as well as pain. Keep them in mind, and employ the ones you like best on a regular basis.
Bach Flower Remedies
Consult the chart on pages 648–650 to ﬁnd the appropriate ﬂower remedy for your individual personality. Following are some suggestions. Once you’ve selected the rem- edy that’s right for you, place 10 drops of it under your tongue. Hold the drops in place for thirty seconds and swallow. Use as often as needed.
If you suffer from recurring attacks of pain, keep some Rescue Remedy on hand. Try taking it when you feel a strong emotional or physical crisis coming on, as it may prevent your back from seizing up.
Beech is for hard-driving perfectionists who are highly critical of others.
If you are a quick, efﬁcient thinker who is irritated by slower people, Impatiens will help. It is especially effective when a deadline or a high-pressure event draws near.
If you deny yourself pleasures because of your single-minded pursuit of a goal, take Rock Water.
Regular exercise is the best way to prevent and treat back pain. While acute attacks may keep you in bed for a day or two, you should plan to get moving again as soon as possible. Gentle, nonjarring exercises such as walking, swimming, and cycling (with your back straight), are excellent choices. Whatever you do, do it consistently. Inactivity on the weekdays, punctuated by rigorous workouts on Saturday or Sunday, will only set your back up for injury.