If Your Back Hurts--CONGRATULATIONS- You Are Now Eligble to Join our Better Back Club!
This page is dedicated to teaching people how to strengthen their backs and minimize low back discomfort.
The majority of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. It may be a 3-day minor muscle sprain, a 3-month battle with sciatica, a debilitating herniated disc needing 3 years, or the everyday ache of arthritis. It is important to know that long term studies report that people who have NOT had surgery for herniated discs do just as well, or better, than those that have had surgery. A significant percentage of people undergoing surgery actually have worse results and less than satisfactory outcomes, so we should definitely look at all of the treatment options available.
The reality is that it in 80% of cases it is difficult, if not impossible, to diagnose the exact cause of back pain. You have to be patient and understand there is no quick fix. People often have atypical back structures that are totally pain-free; as a result the diagnosis, precribed treatments and therapies are all over the place. Here are some of the many possibilities. Try different things, listen to your body and see what works for you.
For sustained debilitating pain Steroidal Injections can provide days to weeks of partial to total relief from the pain and break up the pain cycle, and definitely have their place in the menu of options for treatment. Injections don't really address the underlying cause the pain though, and after several series (usually 2-3 injections in a series) over a period of time, the effects can be diminished. Be careful--after an injection,people that are suddenly pain free usually can't restrain themselves and jump back into regular activity, re-aggravating their back problem. Studies have shown that too many series of injections can actually decrease recovery over the long term, so be conservative.
Chiropractic and actupuncture practicioners can provide relief to some individuals with back pain and are worth a try, but if after a month or two of treatments there is not a significant improvement, a full work up with a physician is warranted to rule out serious structural problems.
Aspirin, Ibuprofen and other OTC (over-the-counter) pain relievers can help when used sparingly. Using these pain-relieving drugs such as aspirin or stronger can reduce inflammation levels, reduce discomfort and help provide some mental respite. Like injections, they have a place in the treatment process, particularly in the beginning when intense pain can overwhelm us, affecting our ability to function and sleep. But after several months or so we have to wean ourselves off of all drugs and find long-lasting alternatives for managing daily discomfort.
Pain Patches with lidocaine can give temporary relief when the pain is near the surface of the skin, but they require a prescription and are expensive. They are topical though, unlike taking a drug that affects the whole system.
Vioxx and Bextra are exponentially stronger than aspirin or other OTC meds, hence they are less prescribed due to data that rare side effects can include heart attacks or other serious problems.
Topical (rub-in to one spot) pain relief is now available. These are cremes (like Voltaren, currently available only by prescription) that rub in and provide some pain relief. Not to be confused with drugstore warming or heat-type patches, these are rub-in cremes with true anti-inflammatory properties.
Hot and cold packs may provide some relief as well, as the temperature changes affect the blood flow and help break up the pain cycle. A hot pack is easily made with a wet dishtowel microved for a minute and a half inside a ziplock bag. Handle with tongs so you don't get burned. Be careful and conservative using the cooling/cold packs; cooling reduces blood flow and is best for an active inflammation phase 24-48 hours after injury.
Spinal Decompression is where you take pressure off the back, usually lying at a feet-up angle, or having a machine that pulls you and stretches you out. Many people report that 10 minute sessions of spinal decompression makes a difference for them. Several home use tilt-boards are available.
Massage therapy can help to identify the hot spots of inflammation and break the pain cycle, and release tightness and muscle tension. A good therapist can work wonders by moving lactic acid and increasing the blood flow, helping to speed up the the healing process. Self- massage can be done by lying on balls and other aids.
Dietary Supplements like Glucosamine and Chrondoitrin may help alleviate pain in some cases, but take time to have any effects. Eating foods and supplements that have antioxidant properties and anti-inflammatory qualities (like ginger and tumeric)is another piece of the pain puzzle. It is easy to make ginger tea using fresh ginger.
Once pain levels are under control, the most realistic long-term option is to begin a regular exercise routine that strenghtens our back and stomach core muscles and beefs up the weak links in the lower back. The best general exercise is walking, which our body has evolved to do over thousands of years. Our most back-friendly exercise, especially in the early phases when inflammation is high, is swimming. Although there is initial discomfort, your body will repay you many times over for regular walking and swimming outings.
Flexibility of the back, hips and legs is another big piece of the puzzle. Yoga, stretching and other activities can definitely alter the physical conditons that cause tightness and pain, and help us to feel expanded, open and less constricted, both physically and mentally.
The link below is an excellent book about breaking the pain cycle without drugs or surgery http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/14/stopping-pain-without-drugs/
After walking and swimming we can go a step further with specific exercise programs that target the muscles in lower back.
Several books we highly recommend are Back Rx and The Multifidus Solution, linked for you below. They are both very short reads and available used.
From the doctor who has treated golfers on the PGA tour:
Back Rx http://www.amazon.com/Back-RX-15-Minute-Day-Pilates-Based/dp/1592400450
From a physical therapist on a mission to find the most effective treatments:
The Multifidus Solution http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=The+Multifidus+Solution
Read the two books and try doing some of the exercises. See what helps and what does not. Over time you can put together your own exercise routines and back strengthening program. You will be on your way to an active, pain-free life.
Information links http://www.bigbackpain.com/back_exercises.html