By Dr. Mercola
An estimated 75 to 85 percent of Americans will experience back pain at some time in their lives, and it's one of the most common reasons for taking time off from work.
In most cases, the pain is a result of simple mechanical problem, such as poor posture or improper movement.
Not surprisingly, back pain has become a major target for drug company disease mongering.1 The latest example of this is the emergence of ads for ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic inflammatory disease of the axial skeleton that includes the spine, which is actually a very rare condition.
One frequently advertised drug is Humira, sporting a price tag of about $20,000 per year. The drug is loaded with serious side effects that include tuberculosis, life threatening infections, increased risk of lymphoma and other cancers, hepatitis B infection (if you carry the virus), allergic reactions, nervous system problems, heart failure, liver problems—and that's the short list!2
It is beyond reprehensible irresponsibility for drug companies to promote this expensive and dangerous drug for an exceedingly rare cause of low back pain, which is likely responsible for less than one tenth of one tenth of one percent of the cases of low back pain.
Since poor posture and less than ideal ways of moving are to blame for most cases of back pain, one of the best things you can do to prevent and manage back pain is to exercise regularly and keep your back and abdominal muscles strong.
Poor posture has even been linked with depression, and some experts believe it contributes to weight gain, heartburn, migraines, anxiety and respiratory problems. Good posture is defined as having your ears aligned with your shoulders, with your shoulder blades ("angel wings") retracted."3
Interventions such as Foundation Training, Structural Decompression Breathing, yoga, meditation,4 chiropractic adjustments, and osteopathic manipulation are much better options for common back pain, which is the focus of this article.
Common Causes of Back Pain
With the exception of blunt force injuries, low back pain is commonly caused and exacerbated by:
Poor posture Poor physical conditioning facilitated by inactivity Internal disease, such as kidney stones, infections, and blood clots Obesity Psychological/emotional stress Osteoporosis (bone loss)
Back Pain Is a Primary Reason Why the US Has so Many Prescription Drug Addicts
Unfortunately, many people simply end up taking painkillers and retiring to bed instead of increasing their activity once back pain starts. Back pain is actually one of the primary reasons that so many American adults get addicted to pain killers. Addiction is a terrible side effect of these drugs, which fail to address the underlying cause of the pain.
Sadly, pharmaceutical drug overdoses now rank second only to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the US.
In the past, most overdoses were due to illegal narcotics, such as heroin. But prescription painkillers have now surpassed both heroin and cocaine as the leading cause of fatal overdoses. In addition, more than 700,000 people visit US emergency rooms each year as a result of adverse drug reactions to all drugs, not just the opioids.
Adverse drug reactions from drugs that are properly prescribed and properly administered also kill about 106,000 people per year, making prescription drugs the fourth-leading cause of death in the US.
Seeing a Qualified Practitioner Is a Wise Course of Action
I strongly recommend considering strategies that address the cause before resorting to pain medication or surgery. For starters, many people don't realize that back pain frequently originates from tension and imbalance at a completely different place than where the pain is felt. A competent practitioner can help you identify the actual cause of the problem, so you can correct it.
For example, the very act of sitting for long periods of time ends up shortening the iliacus, psoas, and quadratus lumborum muscles that connect from your lumbar region to the top of your femur and pelvis. When these muscles are chronically shortened, you can experience severe pain when you stand up, as your lower back (lumbar region) will effectively be pulled forward.
The imbalance between the anterior and posterior chains of muscles leads to many of the daily physical pains you may experience. By bringing these muscles into better alignment, you will remedy many of these pains and discomforts.
Many people end up going through drastic medical procedures to "fix" this type of pain, or end up taking painkillers for extended periods of time. If you suffer from back pain, seeing a qualified osteopathic physician is certainly a wise choice.
Foundation Training Helps Improve Back Pain
Total Video Length: 02:06
Foundation Training is an innovative method developed by Dr. Eric Goodman to treat his own chronic low back pain. I am a huge fan of Foundation Training exercises, which work to gradually pull your body out of the movement patterns that are hurting you.
The focus is on strengthening your core, which includes anything that directly connects to your pelvis, whether above or below it. Foundation Training teaches all those muscles to work together through integrated chains of movement, which is how your body is structured to move.
Every muscle that directly connects to your pelvis should be considered part of your core, and this includes your glutes, adductors (inner thigh muscles), deep lower back muscles, hip flexors, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles.
Having strong, balanced core muscles is like having a built-in corset that not only holds your gut in, but also stabilizes your spine, vertebrae, discs, and most importantly your pelvis. Teaching your body to naturally support itself at the deepest level is going to be far more effective than strapping on an external back brace, which over time can lead to even weaker musculature.
Foundation Training is like Olympic weight lifting for the deep postural muscles of the human body and can help counteract the negative effects of excessive sitting, which is not only a cause of chronic back pain, but can also increase your mortality risk from all causes.
Structural Decompression Breathing May Improve Posture and Reduce Pain
Total Video Length: 19:07
Breathing is another important tool that is unfortunately ignored by most people. In his TED Talk above, Dr. Goodman demonstrates structural breathing, which will help improve your posture, especially while seated. When done properly, your breath will help lengthen your hip flexors, stabilize your spine, and support your core using your transverse abdominal muscles. This will strengthen your back and keep your chest high and open. Do this exercise for 30 seconds or so, then go back to your normal seated position. With time, those muscles will get stronger, and your seated posture will gradually improve.
Here's how to do it:
- Sitting down or standing, place your thumbs at the base of your rib cage, pinkies at pointy bones at the front of your waist. Think of the space between your fingers as a measuring stick.
- Pull your chin back so that your chest is lifting upwards and take three slow deep breaths as instructed below.
- As you breathe in, the distance between your thumbs and pinkies should increase.
- As you breathe out, tighten your abdominal muscles to prevent your torso from collapsing back down. This is the most important step: do not let your torso drop back down towards the pelvis as you exhale. It should be challenging and you should feel your abdomen engage as you exhale.
Even More Tips to Beat Back Pain
It is much easier to prevent back pain than to treat it. With so many alternatives available, there are really no good reasons to turn to pharmaceutical or surgical Band-Aids that do nothing to treat the underlying cause or causes of your pain, and might inflict additional harm in the process.
- Exercise and physical activity will help strengthen the muscles of your spine. Make your exercise time count by including high-intensity sessions. You probably need this only once or twice a week, at most. You'll also want to include exercises that really challenge your body intensely along with those that promote muscle strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility.
- If you spend many hours every day in a chair, like I do, pay careful attention to consciously sucking in your belly and rotating your pelvis slightly up. At the same time, make sure your head is back with your ears over your shoulders and your shoulder blades pinched. This will help keep your spine in proper alignment. You can hold these muscles tight for several minutes and do this every hour spent sitting.
Also, to combat the detrimental health ramifications of excessive sitting, make a point to stand up at least once every 10 minutes. In addition to regularly standing up, I also do a few squats while I'm at it. Better yet don't sit down. I used to sit more than 12 hours a day but now it is less than one Use a stand up desk and get a fitness tracker and walk 10,000 steps a day.
- Use chairs or car seats that offer good lumbar support. Switch positions often while sitting, walk around a bit and do some light stretching to relieve tension.
- Keep your weight spread evenly on your feet when standing. Avoid slouching when standing or sitting as it places stress on your back muscles.
- Always support your back, and avoid bending over awkwardly. Protect your back while lifting – this activity, along with carrying, puts the most stress on your back.
- Pay attention to how—and how long—you sleep, because studies have linked insufficient sleep with increased back and neck problems. Pay attention to your sleep position. Sleep on your side to reduce curving of your spine, and stretch before getting out of bed. A firm bed is recommended.
- Wear comfortable shoes. If you're a woman, it's a good idea to not wear heels most of the time.
- Optimize your vitamin D and K2 levels to prevent the softening of the bones that can often lead to lower back pain.
- Drink plenty of water to enhance the height of your intervertebral disks. Because your body is composed mostly of water, keeping yourself hydrated will keep you fluid and reduce stiffness.
- Quit smoking as it reduces blood flow to your lower spine, which may contribute to spinal degeneration.
- Address stress and psychological/emotional factors. Few people want to be told their pain is "all in their heads," but there's quite a bit of evidence that backs this up. Unresolved emotional issues and trauma can have a very significant influence on your health, particularly as it relates to physical pain. My favorite tool for resolving emotional factors is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
- Ground yourself. Grounding yourself to the earth, also known as Earthing, decreases inflammation in your body, which can help quiet down back pain and other types of pain.
Your immune system functions optimally when your body has an adequate supply of electrons, which are easily and naturally obtained by barefoot/bare skin contact with the earth. Research indicates the earth's electrons are the ultimate antioxidants, acting as powerful anti-inflammatories. Whenever possible, take a moment to venture outside and plant your bare feet on the wet grass or sand.
- Consider massage therapy. Massage releases endorphins, which help relieve pain and induce relaxation.
Back pain can best be prevented and treated by a variety of natural measures, from postural and movement corrections to changing how you stand, sit, and sleep. Ideally, make every effort to avoid drugs, steroid injections, and surgery, which all come with a slew of adverse side effects.
Foundation Training, osteopathic manipulation, chiropractic care, Earthing, yoga, meditation, EFT, and Structural Decompression Breathing are far better choices for safely and effectively beating back pain.