Back pain affects about 8 out of 10 people. But there are many steps you can take to avoid it. One of the best things you can do to prevent back pain is to exercise regularly and keep your back and abdominal muscles strong.
Here are some quick pointers to prevent back problems:
- Always stretch before any strenuous physical activity (in fact it would be wise to engage in a regular stretching program like active isolated stretching, which is what I use every day)
- Don’t slouch when standing or sitting
- Sit in chairs or car seats with good lumbar support
- Switch sitting positions often and periodically walk around or gently stretch muscles to relieve tension
- Don’t bend over without supporting your back
- Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes
- Sleep on your side to reduce any curve in your spine, and always sleep on a firm surface
- Lift with your legs, keeping your back straight
- Try to control your weight
- If you smoke, quit; smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine and causes the spinal discs to degenerate
Also, to keep your spine strong, as with all bones, you need to get enough vitamin D every day.
According to statistics from the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), approximately 31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time. Fifty percent of all working adults say they have back pain, and it's one of the most common reasons for missed work.
The ACA also estimates that Americans spend at least $50 billion annually on back pain treatments!
So what are back pain causes?
Naturally, accidents and sports injuries can be the cause of the pain, but a number of other factors can contribute to back pain, including:
- Poor posture
- Poor physical conditioning facilitated by inactivity.
- Psychological/emotional stress
- Internal disease, such as kidney stones, infections, blood clots
- Osteoporosis (bone loss)
Here we'll take a look at several all natural, non-drug, non-surgical remedies for this common problem.
Pain in the Back? Look to the Front!
Many people fail to realize that many times the pain actually originates from the opposite side of where it hurts.
For example, the very act of sitting for long periods of time ends up shortening the iliopsoas muscles that connect from your lumbar region to the top of your femur, at the front.
When these muscles are shortened, it can cause severe pain when you stand up as they will effectively pull your lower back (lumbar) forward. Many people end up going through drastic medical procedures to "fix" this type of pain, or end up taking pain killers for extended periods of time, when in fact it can be easily remedied by massaging the iliopsoas muscle to release it.
(Please note that this type of massage should ONLY be done by a qualified massage therapist, as your vena cava – a large diameter vein – runs nearby. In rare instances, if a person is prone to aneurisms, pushing on the vena cava could cause an aneurism. This massage technique is a deep one, but should be done gently.)
You can also use mild stretching to counteract the shortening of your iliopsoas, especially if you sit for long periods of time every day.
Likewise, having firm abdominal muscles is like having a built-in internal corset that not only holds your gut in, but also stabilizes your spine, vertebrae and discs. Many can completely eliminate their back pain simply by developing stronger abdominal muscles.
Chiropractic as a First Line of Defense for Acute Back Pain
Seeing a qualified chiropractor is certainly a wise option if you suffer from back pain. I am an avid believer in the chiropractic philosophy, which places a strong emphasis on your body's innate healing wisdom and far less reliance on band-aids like drugs and surgery.
Chiropractic, osteopathic, and naturopathic physicians receive extensive training in the management of musculoskeletal disorders during their course of graduate healthcare training, which typically lasts from 4-6 years.
Due to their comprehensive training in musculoskeletal management, numerous sources of evidence have shown that chiropractic management is much safer, and less expensive, than allopathic medical treatments, particularly for low-back pain.
One such study, published in 1993, found that chiropractic management of low-back pain is superior to allopathic medical management in terms of safety, effectiveness, and cost, concluding:
"There would be highly significant cost savings if more management of LBP (low-back pain) was transferred from medical physicians to chiropractors."
In addition, researchers have also found that chiropractic adjustments affect the chemistry of biological processes on a cellular level!
What that means is that chiropractic care can affect the basic physiological processes that influence oxidative stress and DNA repair, so in addition to addressing any immediate spinal misalignment that might cause pain, it can also address deeper dysfunction in your body.
Many people do not realize that there's a whole lot more to chiropractic care than just pushing bones into place. In fact, "vitalism" is a basic foundation of chiropractic philosophy. It's the recognition that your body has an intrinsic, innate life force that guides and directs your body's healing process.
I previously published an article on this topic, written by Dr. Ben Lerner, the chiropractor who developed The Center for Maximized Living, and I encourage you to read through it for more information.
But getting back to back pain specifically, a paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2007 titled Diagnosis and Treatment of Low Back Pain: A Joint Clinical Practice Guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society concluded the only recommendation for active treatment of acute low back pain in people who do not improve with other self-care options is spinal adjustment.
For chronic or subacute low back pain, they recommend using "intensive interdisciplinary rehabilitation, exercise therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, spinal manipulation, yoga, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or progressive relaxation."
If you need help finding a chiropractor near you, this easy-to-use online resource can help you locate a chiropractor in your area.
This Little-Known Technique Can Work Wonders for Many
If you suffer from back pain and you've never heard of neuro-structural integration technique (NST), now's the time to bone up.
Unlike massage or other manipulations that try to force a change, NST simply "resets" your body to heal itself. The results are profound and lasting, and usually apparent within two or three sessions.
NST is a gentle, non-invasive technique that stimulates your body's reflexes. Simple movements are done across muscles, nerves and connective tissue, which helps your neuromuscular system to reset all related tension levels, promoting natural healing.
It is completely safe and appropriate for everyone from highly trained athletes, to newborns, pregnant women, and the elderly and infirm.
I will be offering a great NST DVD shortly, which can teach you more about this exciting system. For a more in-depth explanation of NST, please see this previous article written by Michael Nixon Levy who developed the technique.
To find an NST therapist near you, see our NST Therapists Page.
The Psychological Factors of Back Pain
Few people want to be told that their pain is psychological or emotional in origin, but there's quite a bit of evidence that backs this up. Underlying emotional issues and unresolved trauma can have a massive influence on your health, particularly as it relates to physical pain.
In a 2004 study, 100 patients were followed over the course of four years. None of them had back pain at the onset of the study. The participants instead underwent psychological tests, which were then compared to see which types of people remained pain free and which developed back pain.
Not surprisingly, those who did poorly on the psychological tests were three times more likely to report having experienced back pain by the end of the study.
I certainly believe that your emotional health and your ability to effectively address your stress is an essential component of optimal health, and can have a major influence on whether or not you're effective in eliminating your pain. And so do many other doctors and scientists from various fields of medicine.
Dr. John Sarno, for example, is a psychiatrist who uses mind-body techniques to treat patients with severe low back pain. His specialty is those who have already had surgery for low back pain and did not get any relief. This is one tough group of patients, yet he has a greater than 80 percent success rate using techniques like the Emotional Freedom Technique/Meridian Tapping Technique (EFT/MTT).
It's unfortunate that so many people dismiss these types of treatment strategies simply because they seem "too simple to be effective" – just like NST mentioned above. We've been indoctrinated to believe that getting well involves radical, often painful treatment, when in most cases the complete opposite is true.
Your body is constantly striving to achieve and maintain equilibrium in all aspects, and oftentimes all it needs to heal is a gentle reminder of what "normal" is.
Massage for Pain and Stress Relief
Massage releases endorphins, which help induce relaxation, relieve pain, and reduce levels of stress chemicals such as cortisol and noradrenaline -- reversing the damaging effects of stress by slowing heart rate, respiration and metabolism and lowering raised blood pressure.
Stronger massage stimulates blood circulation to improve the supply of oxygen and nutrients to body tissues and helps your lymphatic system flush away waste products.
It eases tense and knotted muscles and stiff joints, improving mobility and flexibility.
It is a particularly effective therapy for stress-related tension, which experts believe accounts for as much as 80 to 90 percent of disease.
With such successful alternatives available, there are few good reasons to turn to pharmaceutical or surgical band-aids that do nothing to treat the underlying causes of your pain, but might cause additional harm in the process.
Last but certainly not least, as this Live Science article above states; keeping your spine strong also requires sufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D. But I don't agree with the author's recommendation to get your vitamin D from your diet if you're unable to get sufficient amounts of sunshine.
Sure, milk and many other foods are fortified with vitamin D, but they're far from good sources of this essential nutrient. Pasteurized milk and other processed milk products, for example, are detrimental to your health for several reasons, and fortified foods are clearly inferior, if not downright hazardous to your health.
For more information on how to optimize your vitamin D levels, please refer to this previous article.