“Oh my back!” This can be a real pain, and many of us will experience it at some point in our life, especially those over 45. It’s easy to take our back for granted, until we’re hit by pain. Then we need a solution. There’s a lot of confusion about back pain and the best way to treat it. The pain can be located anywhere from the neck down to the sacrum, but lower back pain (LBP) is the most common. It can be acute and sharp, due to a trauma, or chronic and episodic, due to multiple causes. Some people go for years with chronic pain and usually manage it with medication, if anything. The tragedy is that many people don’t know it’s treatable. Thankfully there is a growing body of evidence that it is and best practices pointing the way forward.
According to the World Health Organization (2003), LBP is the most prevalent musculoskeletal condition in the world. It affects 4 to 33 percent of the world population. The sedentary lifestyle in economically developed countries makes the situation worse. A survey of 46,000 adults in 16 European countries showed that nearly 20 percent suffered from chronic pain, 24 percent had back pain. In a 2002 U.S. survey, 26 percent felt LBP at least one whole day over a three month period. Back pain also costs a lot of money! Americans spend at least $50 billion each year treating it, second only to headaches (National Institute of Health). In 2005 $85.9 billion was spent looking for relief through surgery, doctor’s visits, X-rays, MRI’s and medication. But much of the money spent did not decrease the number of people suffering from pain. The conventional approach sustains a health care system that manages not cures. We should ask ourselves if we want a health care system and economy based on loss, suffering and “sick-care,” or one based on prevention, productivity and wellness. Common sense and empirical evidence easily point to the latter. Preventive care and natural approaches save loads of money and foster wellness.
Most people with back pain go to a biomedical physician who takes a conventional approach prescribing medication, like opiates and anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections or if severe enough, surgery. But in many cases, surgery is ineffective and should be considered as a last resort. In some cases the surgery can make the problem worse and afterwards create new problems. Nerve and neurological tissue damage can result from surgery. Surgery works by severing a nerve and/or fusing vertebrae together, which afterwards limits flexibility and movement.
The conventional approach fails since it only treats the symptoms instead of the underlying cause. It views pain in isolation from the rest of the body and misses the true source of the pain. Physicians usually advise plenty of rest. But empirical and anecdotal evidence show that movement, like exercise, is more effective and speeds up recovery. Movement is one of the best activities for back pain and other musculoskeletal conditions. Movement costs much less and has no negative side effects! Both independent research and my professional experience demonstrate that exercise provides an advantage over drugs and surgery. It is natural and helps reduce inflammation as well improve overall health.
Many people come to me for back problems because conventional medicine was not successful. Unfortunately there is a lack of education in conventional medicine as to what the best practices for the back are. Based on empirical data we can see that these natural non-medical approaches are clearly more effective than conventional pain management. The largest study yet (Annals of Internal Medicine, 2005) found that compared to conventional exercise classes, those who attended yoga classes were better able to do daily activities and took fewer pain relievers. A 2011 study by the Institute for Cancer Research found that yoga had greater lasting benefits than other compared methods, including simple stretching.
Most bodyworkers, massage therapists, osteopaths, acupuncturists, yoga and Pilates teachers, will tell you that back pain is one of the most common complaints. The number of people using these modalities is steadily increasing. The quiet revolution is that people are finding relief and healthier backs by using far less dangerous, natural approaches. The side effect is better overall health and for some it started with finding a solution to “Oh my back”!
It’s important to distinguish what kind of pain you have. If your pain is sharp or shooting, be gentle and cautious. First have it checked by a trained, qualified health care professional. After you rule out any gross and internal traumas or neurological conditions, you can decide the course of action for care and restoration.
In the second part of this article we’ll look in more detail at the most effective approaches to back pain treatment and care. continue reading the second part here
Keyvan Golestaneh M.A., L.Ac. is a natural and Chinese medical practitioner, herbalist, bodyworker, psychotherapist and writer with 30 years experience in yoga, meditation and Qi Gong, and a degree in Anthropology. He is the director of the Conscious Health Institute. www.NewWorldMedicine.com & www.ConsciousHealthInstitute.org