Back Pain: You need solutions, not just painkillers

Naturopathic physician James Rouse on what you can do about your aching back besides live on pain meds or go under the knife.

Symptoms and Causes

Back pain may originate from muscles, nerves, joints, bones, or other structures in the spine. It may radiate to other areas such as the neck and shoulders, or down one leg or both.
It may be caused by injury, overuse, inflammation, stress, strain or sprain. It is not uncommon for back pain to be somewhat of a mystery, and some people will place the blame on aging.

Back pain that occurs after severe trauma, such as a fall or car accident, should be examined by a qualified medical professional as soon as possible to check for a fracture or other injury.

Although back pain will typically get better with rest, anti-inflammatory therapy, physical manipulation and/or therapeutic exercise, occasionally severe back pain can be indicative of more serious illness including osteoporosis or cancer. Typical warning signs of a potentially life-threatening problem are bowel and/or bladder incontinence or progressive weakness in the legs. Patients with these symptoms should seek immediate medical care.

 

When misused, overused or stressed, back muscles may become shortened. Yoga or gentle stretching routines may help lengthen the postural muscles and thus help relieve back pain. Massage, physical manipulation, electrotherapy and acupuncture may all be effective alternatives to pain medication.

Acupuncture has been shown to be effective for short-term relief of back pain. For individuals with chronic back pain, acupuncture has been shown to help reduce the need for pain medication and allow for greater participation in physical therapy and exercise programs.

Prevention

In the United States, back pain is one of the most common reasons for visiting the doctor — partly because back pain can be an unfortunate result of sedentary jobs. Creating an “ergonomic” work space is also incredibly important to help support the muscles of the back. Ergonomically designed work spaces help accommodate workers of different shapes and sizes and are designed to help prevent injury.

Preventive measures also include exercise practices such as yoga in addition to refraining from lifting heavy weights or weighted objects, and always lifting from the knees and hips rather than bending at the waist. Also try eating more anti-inflammatory foods and/or eliminate some inflammatory foods from your diet.

Nondrug Relief from Back Pain

Dietary supplements that may help decrease back pain include bromelain, Boswellia serrata, and white willow bark. 

  • Bromelain, an enzyme that comes from the center of pineapples, acts as an anti-inflammatory agent when taken at non-mealtimes. A starting dose would be 500 milligrams (mg) three times daily between meals to help reduce inflammation.
  • White willow bark contains salicin, an active ingredient in aspirin. A common dose of this anti-inflammatory and pain relieving agent is 40 mg salicin three times daily.
  • Boswellia is a popular herb used in Ayurvedic medicine. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and is dosed 250 to 500 milligrams three times daily between meals. You can also find pain relieving creams that contain Boswellia and can help bring relief to painful muscle areas.

  • Cayenne contains the active ingredient capsaicin, known as an anti-irritant. Capsaicin patches and creams are effective in helping ease muscular pain, and one must wash their hands carefully after applying such creams to prevent accidentally touching their eye, which can cause major burning.

  • Calcium and magnesium combined may also help with muscle relaxation — and are essential in preventing osteoporosis. They are typically dosed at a 2:1 ratio (calcium to magnesium) with calcium at 1,000 mg daily to magnesium 500 mg. These minerals may be taken with meals. 
  • Essential fatty acids from fish oils or flaxseed oil may also be useful in helping prevent or decrease inflammation. Typical doses are 1 tablespoon of the liquid daily (about 14 grams) or 2 capsules two to three times daily.


Get detailed how-to info via video on how to treat and prevent back pain in the
Mayo Clinic health care DVDs from Gaiam.


Consult your doctor before using any health treatment — including herbal supplements and natural remedies — and tell your doctor if you have a serious medical condition or are taking any medications. The information presented here is for educational purposes only and is in no way intended as substitute for medical counseling.

 

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