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treatment and care of back pain


treatment and care of back pain

At least once in their lifetime, 4 out or 5 adults in America will experience severe back pain, including neck and especially lower back pain. Some people live with back pain nearly every day. Other than headaches, back pain is the most common neurological complaint heard by physicians. Americans spend over $60 billion yearly on diagnosis,
treatment and medications for back pain. It primarily affects adults ages 30 to 60, both women and men alike. It is the number one cause for sick leave from work.

There are many causes of back pain. One of the most common is disc problems: the intervertebral discs between the bones of the spine can degenerate, losing their flexibility with age or trauma; the discs can bulge out in one or both directions, which may or may not cause nerve compression (this is referred to as a bulging, slipped, or herniated disc). Although disc problems can be very serious, some people have disc
herniations with no pain or other symptoms. Another common complaint is back strain, which involves the muscles and tendons that surround and are attached to the back bones. This is usually caused by chronic overuse and abuse, and is set off by improper lifting of a heavy load (although some patients report simply reaching down to pick up a coffee cup setting off their pain). Sciatica involves inflammation or trauma to the sciatic nerve, which travels from the low back down the legs to the toes, and may produce pain in the hips, thighs, legs and/or toes.

Why are some people prone to back pain, while others are not? No matter what the back pain is, trauma, abuse, overuse and strain are often involved. If you suffer from chronic and/or recurrent pain, it is likely that you are either working too hard, sitting too long in a bad chair or work station, performing some detrimental repetitive movement, not allowing sufficient recovery time from an injury, improper or insufficient
stretching or exercise, or not taking adequate or frequent enough rest. To prevent back pain from recurring, it is essential that your back be cared for properly. Studies have shown that, in most cases of back pain, resting for 2 days is sufficient time for convalescence. Then, resuming normal activity, even regular and vigorous exercise, is advisable. Even for people who suffer severe back pain, frequent, short periods of light stretches and walking can provide tremendous relief. This might mean stopping work for three minutes every half-hour to do something to mobilize circulation through the back, hips and legs. Tai Qi, Qi Gong*, Yoga and many other exercises offer many specific movements and stretches to strengthen and limber up sore and weak backs.

“All illness is rooted in an imbalance of the Seven Emotions”: So states one the ancient tenets of Chinese Medicine. This refers not only to psychological, but also physical illness. Excessive emotional stress, especially emotions such as fear/anxiety, worry and anger, is another significant and primary reason contributing to back pain. Each of these emotions creates its own type of tension that, if unresolved, transforms
into physical pain. Through empirical observation, Chinese medical theory assigns emotions to specific organs. The Kidney is affected by fear and fright (and anxiety), and governs the bones and the lower back; the Liver is affected by excessive anger, and controls the ligaments and tendons; the Spleen is affected by worry, and controls the muscles. Releasing emotional stress can be simple, yet often neglected. For all
of our worry, anxiety and anger, countering these emotions immediately with positive responses and actions will interrupt them from being stuffed into our body and causing pains. This means, for example, when things don’t go our way, we let go and have faith that things usually turn out fine. Look at it this way: for all the one hundred worries you had a week ago, how many of them can you remember now? How many turned out as bad as you thought they might? For the most part, our worries and
fears rarely materialize. Not everyone will resonate with this approach, especially in the short run. But if you work with this, make it your intent to deal with emotions in each moment, rather than pretend they don’t bother you, it can have a tremendous healing benefit. Of course, this suggestion is not meant to substitute for some type of appropriate therapy, be it talk therapy, such as counseling, or touch therapy, such as
massage, chiropractic, osteopathy, or acupuncture.

We have an innate ability to take in, process and discharge stresses from both emotional and physical sources. When this mechanism functions properly, we are healthy, happy and free of pain. If this stressful energy is retained, it will create tension, thereby impeding and restricting movement of body structures, and interfering with normal organ function. When this tension builds unrelieved, something’s got to give, and it is often the soft tissues (i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments and discs) in the neck and back.

The best remedy is always the simplest one. Letting go of the stress is so simply done, yet it is rarely practiced. Here are a few suggestions: let’s compare your physical pain and stresses to a ringing phone. When your phone rings, you hear it and usually pick it up. If you are aware of internal phone rings, like pain, tension, or uneasiness, you can then use these cues as opportunities to deal with the cause of your pain, like taking a walk, some deep breaths, closing your eyes and taking
a catnap, etc. Usually some combination of rest and activity will be central in healing your pain.

When conservative self-therapy techniques, such as these outlined above, fail to provide relief, there are non-invasive techniques to remedy all types of back pain. In my office, I treat acute and chronic back pain in several patients daily, using acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and exercise techniques. Acupuncture points are selected from pathways of Qi/vital energy that flow beneath the skin. These pathways cover the entire body, from head to toe. They channel energy to and from the internal organs, bones, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and skin. When this energy becomes blocked or deficient, pain or weakness results. Treatment with acupuncture both local and distal to the site of pain provides both immediate and long-term relief. Acupuncture can help reduce inflammation, swelling, scar tissue, and pain.

The needles are super-thin, disposable, and practically pain-free, the sensation being compared to “the after-thought of a mosquito bite”. Chinese herbal medicine has a whole host of formulae to treat back pain. Herbs such as white peony relieve tension and pain in muscles and tendons, and also dispels anger, by nourishing the Liver. One type of Chinese angelica relieves pain by increasing circulation in the joints of the neck; another does the same in the lower back. Safflower and peach kernel encourage blood circulation to injured tissues. Cinnamon bark, dogwood berries, Chinese elm bark, and teasel nourish the Kidney, providing strength and stability to the bones and tendons of the back. Ginseng and astragalus benefit the Spleen, giving strength to the muscles. There are numerous combinations of over 300 herbs to offer a unique, individually tailored formula to each patient.

Back pain can be overwhelming. It can dominate both waking and sleeping. I know this from personal experience. The self-treatments and conservative therapies outlined in this article have helped me and countless others avoid radical measures such as surgery. It is my hope that this article will point you in that same direction towards healing your back pain.

*I teach Qi Gong in Ukiah and Willits.