Lower back pain is one of the most pervasive health problems for the human race. Probably more working days are lost to it than to any other medical problem. It can strike people of any age, coming on gradually or suddenly. It is reckoned that about 80% of people experience back pain at some time in their lives, with an estimated 31 million Americans suffering at any given time.
First Things First
If back pain strikes, in most cases it will go away by itself, and the best advice is usually to carry on as normal. You may feel that what you really want to do is to stay in bed, but this is not recommended as, although some rest is important, movement of the back is part of the management of the condition.
If after a few days there is no sign of improvement, a visit to the doctor will produce helpful advice, and probably a course of painkilling medication. At this stage, or a bit later, you may want to consider looking at different forms of treatment which do no involve drugs or surgery.
Physical Therapy, Osteopathy and Chiropractic
These three approaches to treatment developed rather differently during the last century. As what we might think of as conventional medicine gained dominance, osteopathy and chiropractic emerged as separate disciplines and were at times rather dismissed by the medical profession. Physical therapy came a bit later as a distinct branch of conventional medicine, and was therefore always ‘acceptable’.
Although the three disciplines have different starting points, from the point of view of the patient they have a lot in common. For instance, chiropractic focuses particularly on spinal manipulation, but this is also a feature of osteopathy and increasingly of physical therapy. If you were to go to a chiropractic such as Good Life Chiropractic you would also receive similar advice regarding exercise and lifestyle to that which you would receive from a physical therapist.
Acupuncture has been practiced in China for many centuries. It involves the insertion of extremely thin needles into the body at precise points where it is believed that healing energy flows. Although the underlying philosophy may seem strange and scientists argue about the results, many people find that it works, and (as it happens) the main reason why people seek acupuncture is to treat lower back pain.
A treatment that may perhaps work in a similar way to acupuncture is TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) which involves placing small electrodes on the skin to pass a current from a battery powered device. Medical opinion is divided on whether anything is actually happening, but many patients find it relieves pain.
There are several herbal remedies for pain, including Capsaicin, Devil’s Claw, and White Willow Bark. Of course we are all different, and not everyone responds to each medication in the same way, but many report good results. Consult your doctor before self-medicating with these products, especially if you are taking any other medications.
Self-Help for the Body
Much back pain is caused by the muscles going into spasm, and therefore approaches which help the muscles to relax are often helpful. You could try massage, or applying hot or cold packs. Cold reduces inflammation, while heat eases the flow of blood, and both slow down the way nerve messages are sent to the brain.
Exercise is another well-trodden route to deal with back pain. The combination of increased mobility and strengthening of the supporting muscles is very effective in controlling discomfort. A therapist can advise you on appropriate exercises.
Self-Help for the Mind
Pain originates in the back, but it is felt in the brain, so if ways can be found to block the experience of the pain, that can feel the same as stopping the pain. Endorphins are hormones which are active in the brain and one of their effects is to stop the flow of pain signals. They can be released by relaxing and pleasurable activities such as massage and meditation. Even simple but rewarding activities, like taking a walk or making a cup of tea, can help to improve the balance of chemicals in the brain, and move pain into the background.
An Age-Old Problem
As long as the human spine is constructed the way it is, people will continue to suffer from back pain, and there will always be some people in extreme pain who will require surgery and strong drugs to control it. However for the majority of sufferers a multi-pronged attack on the symptoms and causes can make life manageable.
Sandra Petrella is a Reiki practitioner and homeopath who blogs on health topics from a natural / alternative perspective. She enjoys yoga and meditation and is a huge dog lover, having 3 of her own.