Back Pain

Back Pain

 

If youre 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 dont 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 exibility, 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.

 

 



SYMPTOMS

 

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

 ROOT CAUSES

 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

Obesity

Pregnancy

 

Disorders of the kidney, the bladder, the prostate, or the pelvic region

Arthritis

Osteoporosis

Emotional stress

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

Nutritional deficiencies

Constipation

Smoking

  

TREATMENT Diet

Constipation, extra weight, and toxic build-up can aggravate back pain. Diet and

detoxification therapies will help keep your body free of these stressors.

 

Recommended Food

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.



 

Testing Techniques

 

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.

  

Detoxification

 

A three-day juice fast will speed the removal of waste. If youre 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. Its 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.

 

General Recommendations

 

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. Devils 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:

Devils 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-Johns-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.

 

Homeopathy

 

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

 

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.

 

 

Bodywork

 

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.



Massage

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, its 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 youre immobilized.

 

 

Reflexology

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.

 

 

Hydrotherapy

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 arent 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 thats 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.

 

Aromatherapy

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 dont 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.

 

Stress Reduction

 

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 youve selected the rem- edy thats 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.

 

Other Recommendations

 

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.

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