Many questions arrive each week relating to back pain. Statistically, many who are reading this have experienced or will encounter back pain. This is an important topic as back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world according to the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke. One in two American workers will have back pain each year and back pain is the second most common reason people go to the doctor. We often discuss heart disease, diabetes, cancer, nutrition, and mental health, but the back needs attention too.
Back pain can be caused by musculoskeletal strain, arthritis, narrowing of the spine, and rupture of a disc to name a few etiologies. By far, the most common cause is musculoskeletal problems, that is, problems with the muscles and ligaments. What could cause this? Poor posture, lifting incorrectly, obesity, footwear, inactivity and even ageing could put strain on the muscles. Remember, we were not designed to sit for prolonged periods of time, drive in a car all day, or even carry extra weight, all which could put strain on the muscles of the back. Factors like posture, dehydration and vascular disease can also change the function of the back. The same vascular disease effecting other blood vessels in the body can also effect the blood vessels supplying oxygen and nutrients to the back and spine. Just drinking water, eliminating fats, and moving to a plant based diet can help improve back pain.
What should I do if I have back pain? Ask the Ultimate Physician for guidance in finding the cause. If you think a muscle is pulled, rest might be all that is needed. One problem I observe frequently is that people who have back pain from a pulled muscle continue working. If you broke your arm, you would immobilize the arm. Some, with back pain, do not rest but take pain meds. This could make the problem worse. In order to keep functioning, more and more pain medications are required and the real problem is often ignored. Unfortunately, some end up on chronic narcotics when resting the back would be the only needed treatment for healing.
If back pain will not go away, see your provider and focus on finding the cause. Is there an acute problem like a muscle pull or ruptured disc? Is this a chronic problem and related to other medical conditions like arthritis, vascular disease, or even cancer? Treatment will focus on the reason why. Sometimes rest or physical therapy is all that is needed. A visit to the chiropractor may also be useful for some types of back problems. A recent study at the University of Pittsburgh and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine evaluated back pain from a degenerative condition in the lumbar spine, lumbar spinal stenosis, and found physical therapy to be cheaper and as effective as decompression surgery. I mention this because surgery should be the last resort and not a first resort.
What can I do today to lower my risk of developing back pain? Here are seven ways to pay attention to your back:
- Exercise regularly with lots of stretching. Do not sit in one place more than an hour.
- Wear good, low-heeled shoes.
- Find a mattress that is back healthy and minimizes the curves. Also get enough rest so the muscles are not too tired.
- Lift carefully with the knees bent and the object close to the body with appropriate weights.
- A plant–based diet with greens will help the circulation as well as provide needed nutrients to the back.
- Water will help the hydration.
- Stress reduction will help the muscles be less taut.