Like a lightning bolt out of the blue, back pain seems to strike at the most unlikely of times. It can be set off by some seemingly harmless activity like reaching for soap in the shower, trying to grab something from under the bed, or simply by putting on your shoes. When it happens, the pain is sudden and sharp and can’t be ignored. When my back goes out, the episodes of pain are intense, short-lived, and muscular in nature. I realize that I am lucky when it comes to the health of my back. There are millions of people with back issues, who struggle with chronic back pain on a daily basis, often for years at a time.
If you suffer from back pain, here are a few things you might not know:
-In many cases, stretching can not only help with the pain, but it can help prevent injuries in the first place. Stretches to flex and extend your back, open up your sacrum, low back, and hip flexors can be invaluable in keeping back pain away.
-Most people believe that there is only one single cause of their back pain, when in reality, there may be a number of things going on. Like a perfect storm, issues like tight muscles, inflammation, trauma, muscle imbalances, misalignment, and inactivity may all be contributing to your pain. We have found that many patients come to us with a diagnosis of disk problems who have found a great deal of relief from our work on soft tissue (muscles).
-Similarly, while many people look for the one answer to their back pain, it may actually take a combination of therapies to get the job done. I have seen patients who have stopped all therapies except one, so they could see which was working for them. The reality is that a
combination of physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, stretching, and heat may work better to relieve back pain than any single one therapy one its own.
-Diet may also be a player in back pain. While what you eat and the condition of your back may seem to be unrelated, the reality is that your diet plays a role in back health on a couple of levels. First, when you blow out your back, either from a muscle pull, bulging or ruptured disk, or any other injury, inflammation is involved. Eating a diet geared toward reducing inflammation can help reduce the pain and the time it takes to heal. In addition, your spine needs a good supply of blood to bring vital oxygen and nutrients to the area. Unfortunately for many people as they age, the arteries to their spine are blocked with atherosclerotic plaques (blocked arteries) that inhibit blood flow. The end result is that vertebrae and disks that need nourishment to heal are increasingly cut off from an adequate blood supply.
-In Chinese medicine, low back pain is associated with your Kidney organ system. Your Chinese Kidneys are responsible for your body constitution—things like how healthy you will be, how you will mature, fertility, and how you will age. A chronically achy lower back is a sign that your Kidney system is depleted. A trip to your acupuncturist or practitioner of Chinese medicine can help with acupuncture, food therapy, and lifestyle tweaks to get you back on track.
-Finally, even though acupuncture can’t change the structural causes of your back pain, it can help with pain relief in a couple of ways. First, acupuncture alters your brain chemistry by increasing the circulation of feel-good endorphins, up-regulating your body’s own opioid system, and limiting pain signals to your brain. Acupuncture also has the effect of increasing circulation, and that increase brings inflammation-reducing white blood cells to the area to support healing and reduce pain.
The bottom line is that even though you may have a diagnosis of a structural problem in your back, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be pain-free. Often, increasing the circulation to the area, relaxing the surrounding muscles, and calming down the inflammation can effectively help to relieve your back pain.