I know all too well how painful and debilitating back pain can be.
At the age of 16, I was involved in a very serious car accident that left me with multiple fractures of the neck as well as a broken mid- and lower- back. I was hospitalized for several months, underwent lumbar surgery, and as a result, I had to be homeschooled for two years.
My surgeon warned my parents and me that I would require ongoing Chiropractic Care and Physical Therapy to manage the chronic back pain I would likely suffer for the rest of my life. If I had not taken control of my own health, I would have remained part of a staggering statistic — one of the 65 million Americans who suffer from back pain.
Studies estimate that 25 million Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 experience frequent back pain. As you might expect, there are many causes of low back pain, including degenerative changes (such as osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis), mechanical faults and muscle strains. Symptoms can range anywhere from localized low back pain to numbness or tingling in your lower extremities.
Some causes of the pain are difficult to diagnose, so many patients seek temporary relief with pain medication, anti-inflammatories, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or cortisone injections. It is important to realize, however, that although these medications may address symptoms temporarily, they do not address the root cause of the pain.
Today, I want to share with my readers 5 Surefire Ways to Treat Chronic Back Pain, which are each proven to be effective and are infinitely more powerful when used together as a treatment regime. It is my hope that this information inspires you to take control of your own health and to help you recognize that there is a way to free yourself from a lifetime of chronic pain when you are willing to commit to making these changes in your lifestyle.
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1. Movement is Medicine
Most people who experience severe or chronic back pain assume that rest and inactivity is the best remedy. What they don’t realize, however, is that a specific exercise program is what will cure them of their pain.
What freed me of my chronic back pain was movement in the form of specific exercises designed to strengthen the deep layer of my abdominals. This layer is made up of the internal oblique muscles and the transverse abdominis muscles which provide lateral and rotational support to the trunk. When contracted, these muscles combine forces to create a cylindrical force, sort of like an internal corset, to stabilize the lumbar spine.
People suffering from low back pain often feel a loss of control of these deep abdominal muscles. When the facet joints or other structures in the spine become injured, the large back muscles can spasm and cause pain in lower back, resulting in limited motion. One of the most effective exercises to target these hard-to-reach abdominal muscles is Clinical Pilates. While many people think of Pilates as a way to tone and to develop muscles, it is also an excellent tool for strengthening the body’s core. A recent study published in the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Therapy found that patients with low back pain who performed regular Pilates-based exercises over a 12-month period reported a significant decrease in pain and disability.
I also recommend SpineForce 3-D Rehabilitation Exercise Technology for treating back pain. This therapy targets and strengthens all 180 deep intraspinal stabilizer muscles of the back simultaneously. A 2007 medical study conducted by LPG Systems in Nice, France, found that an exercise program including SpineForce offered “significant improvement for patients with chronic low back pain” as compared with traditional exercise programs.
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2. Switch to an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Inflammation on the body’s surface — such as localized redness, heat, swelling and pain – is part of the body’s natural response to an injury or infection. Inflammation brings nourishment and more immune activity to the site, but when an inflammation persists, it can cause illness or be a sign of an underlying problem.
Chronic inflammation can be caused by a variety of factors including stress, lack of exercise, genetics and exposure to certain toxins such as secondhand tobacco smoke. But did you know that what you eat can also contribute to chronic inflammation? When eating a healthy diet of foods that provide vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, dietary fiber and protective phytonutrients, you can work to reduce inflammation in your body.
My top choices for anti-inflammation foods are:
- Good Oils – Olive oil is rich in oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid that keeps inflammation down. Other healthy alternatives to vegetable oil are grape seed and avocado oils. Try using these heart-healthy oils in your cooking and on your fresh salads.
- Salmon – The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, sardines, anchovies and trout help suppress inflammation throughout the body and therefore can help relieve pain.
- Garlic – Garlic in the diet has been shown to work in reducing swollen joints and resulting inflammation.
- Dark organic chocolate – Look for brands that are at least 70% pure cocoa for the best results in anti-inflammation.
- Green tea — Whether you drink it hot or cold, green tea is a natural for its inflammation-reducing antioxidants.
- Ginger — A study conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia found that consuming fresh ginger can reduce muscle pain after exercise by 25 percent.
- Supplements – I always tell my patients that the best way to obtain essential vitamins and minerals the body needs is by eating a fresh food diet rich in fruits and vegetables. In the event you do need supplements, however, consider adding ginger and turmeric in powdered form. I recommend the Organic India and Solaray brands.
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3. Be Mindful of Workplace Ergonomics
With many of us spending more and more of our time in front of a computer screen, back pain due to poor ergonomics is more common than ever. Stress and simply poor positioning can cause or worsen pre-existing symptoms. In fact, missed work because of back pain may cost employers about $7 billion a year, according to recent study.
Here are some basic tips for better computer-related workplace wellness:
- Position the top of your screen so that it is at eye level.
- Tilt your screen back about 10- to 20 degrees to keep the same focal length as your eyes scan from the top to bottom of screen.
- Position your screen no closer than 20 inches – or about an arm’s length — from your eyes.
- Position your keyboard so that its top is level with the height of your elbow.
- Slightly tilt your keyboard back so that your wrists remain flat while you type.
- Use a wrist rest to keep your hands and wrists relaxed.
- Rest your eyes periodically by focusing on an object 20+ feet away.
- Use an easily adjusted chair and try to vary the chair you use, if possible.
- Take breaks to stand up and stretch your back and arms from time to time.
In general, try to stand more while you work. Remember, the eyes lead the body. Move your screen – whether it is a laptop, a phone, or tablet – to where it is easiest to view for better overall posture.
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4. Keep Well Hydrated
You know that drinking plenty of water is good for your overall health, but did you know that dehydration can specifically contribute to back pain?
Since our bodies are comprised of mostly water, it makes sense that a lack of water will cause negative symptoms. Some people who have been experiencing agonizing back spasms notice relief by simply increasing their fluid intake. When the body doesn’t get enough water, our muscles can form and collect lactic acid, causing stiffness and soreness in the back and possibly putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. The results of a recent study show that participants who were well-hydrated experienced more pain relief after spinal manipulation than those who were dehydrated.
What this means is that one of the simplest ways to reduce back pain is to increase your daily intake of fresh, filtered water. Water cushions and lubricates joints, keeps skin cells plump, delivers nutrients and protects the intestinal tract lining. Water helps our breathing and works to manage our body temperature and brain functions. Remember that by the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. I recommend that you drink before, during and after exercise.
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5. Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Postural Correction
A great deal of back pain can often be traced to poor posture. We’ve talked about workplace ergonomics, but consider other ways you move. Exercise is important, but even more important are the myriad of small repetitive movements we make throughout the day.
If, like many of us, you had a mother who frequently admonished you to “Stand up straight!” she was right. As a rule, we Americans have turned into a nation of slouchers, and we are paying the price for it in back pain. Repeated slouching prevents those core muscles we talked about from doing their job in keeping our body aligned. Here are some simple steps to better posture:
- Stand upright with your head facing forward
- Keep your back straight
- Balance your weight evenly on both feet
- Keep your legs straight
- Keep your knees and hips level
- Keep your feet flat on the floor; use a footstool if needed
- Use a small cushion to support the small of your back when necessary
- Start with your feet apart, with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance
- As you lift, bend your back, knees and hips slightly without stooping or squat and allowing your legs to take the strain
- Try to keep the weight close to your waist
- Avoid twisting
- Know your limits
Poor posture places stress on the spine, and we can reinforce this pressure with certain exercises. Crunches and sit-ups, for example, can involve too much flexion of the spine and can lead to disc problems. Some great exercises for better posture are lumbar bridges and planks.
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I hope that these ideas have given you the encouragement to realize that you can do something about your chronic back pain. Don’t mask your symptoms with medications or resign yourself to a lifetime of pain. When you make these and other healthy lifestyle choices, you will not only feel better, but you will have the satisfaction that comes from taking charge of your health.