Put your back pain behind you

Back pain is America’s 3rd leading cause to visit the doctor, behind joint pains and skin disorders. [1] Not only is back pain super common, but it affects young and old alike…athletes and sedentary folks too. I have personally struggled to get out of back pain for many years, until I recently eliminated a food that had been causing it (more below). Let me share with you some ways to heal chronic low back pain.

Getting a correct diagnosis

If you’ve ever strained your low back you know how scary it can be at first. Severe pain like this will stop you. You can make it through the first two days with bed rest, ice packs, and Ibuprofen 800 mg three times daily. Then as your back starts to heal you discover how important it is to move s l o w l y… and practice caution when lifting and bending.

By one week after back strain, you should be mostly back to full function — walking or even running. If instead you are experiencing shooting pains, numbness, or weakness in your legs, then you will want to consider going to see your doctor.

More worrisome symptoms are loss of bowel / bladder control or a frozen back. You’ll need plain x-rays followed by an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Your back x-rays will likely be completely normal, but the MRI should reveal any soft tissue damage. I’ll address sciatica, radiculopathy and healing herniated discs without surgery in my next article.

Be aware that even despite modern diagnostic advances, doctors still can’t pinpoint an exact cause of low back pain in approximately 85 percent of cases. Therefore, after serious causes are ruled out by your doctor, and if pain persists, it’s up to both of you to discover the contributing factors.

So let me discuss what to do when you continue to have low back pain but your x-rays and MRI are normal.

Targeting causes of ongoing back pain

In my experience, patients most commonly don’t know what the cause of their pain is. But I always ask them, “What are you doing to contribute to your ongoing or repeated back strain?”

Here are some of the most common culprits and how you can avoid them:

Perpetual poor positions

The first most obvious cause of perpetual pain is simply too much bending or lifting in the wrong fashion, or sitting for prolonged periods in a poor posture. It can be a bed that sinks too deeply (too soft) or even wearing high heels.

When lifting, the solution is to crouch by bending your knees while keeping your low back erect and/or supported from gravity’s strain. Likewise, when sitting, keep the weight of your upper body aligned above your low back, and keep a natural curvature without tucking your buttocks under in order to keep gravity from putting pressure into the most vulnerable part of your spinal column: the joints (and soft intervertebral discs) of 4th and 5th lumbar — and your sacrum. And if you need to carry something heavy, keep it close to your body and all strain off your low back. Basically, let pain be your guide: if it strains don’t do it.

Weak supporting core muscles

This may seem obvious but if the muscles that support your pelvic bones and lower spine are wimpy, you’re at risk for low back pain. Therefore learn to do proper stretching and strengthening of your abdominal core and pelvic connective tissues.

Your back, side, pelvic, and butt muscles work in coordination with your abs for core movement, so learn to do lunges, squats, and planks [2] along with crunches for your core strengthening.

Other exercises are yoga and stretching, as determined in a study reported in the December 2011 Archives of Internal Medicine. [3] Here is a link to posture exercises to overcome: http://www.bodiempowerment.com/posture-correct-your-exaggerated-low-back-arch/ and here is another good link: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00302.

Foods you are allergic to

You may think this is a bit of a stretch to make this connection, but it is real for me. I eliminated bread and all other sources of gluten (foods containing wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and triticale) just a few months ago. Not only did my face rash clear up, but my back feels 90 percent healed!

I realize now that my low back exercises and posture awareness was doing very little for me because my back pain was from inflammation caused by the gluten protein! No more morning back stiffness, need for lumbar support pillows, desire for lumbar support bracing, or pain after crouching/bending/lifting. Other foods commonly known to trigger an immune hypersensitivity reaction are cow’s milk protein, refined sugars, and corn (80% is genetically modified in America).

Stress

It is very possible that stress from worrisome thoughts, anxious feelings, or strained relationships play a major role in back pain. You know by now that stress chemicals contribute to many areas of illness, including pain. This is where stress management techniques would be very helpful, such as deep breathing and relaxation exercises, guided imagery, or meditation to down-regulate the stress-tension-pain cycle. You may even consider medicinal treatment (natural supplements or prescription medication) to assist you with stress in order to lower your pain. Natural supplements are listed below.

Therapies

  • Cold laser: purchase your own online or ask for this therapy from your physical therapist or chiropractor.
  • Spinal manipulation: by a chiropractor keeps your joint mobile and healing
  • Physical therapy: can accelerate healing, and use of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is great to reduce pain.
  • Swimming can be great for this, and you can learn more about this here: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00302.

Natural supplements to reduce back pain

Pain relief can be found from certain natural and herbal remedies you can get without a prescription from your health food store. Let me give you a list of anti-inflammatory supplements:

  • SAMe 750 mg twice daily (an amino acid)
  • Systemic proteolytic enzymes between meals (purchase online). These modulate the components of your immune system involved with inflammation
  • Arnica, traumeel, or belladonna applied topically (low dose homeopathics)
  • Wintergreen (herb) applied topically
  • Devil’s Claw (herb) orally helps improve circulation in joints
  • Jamaican Dogwood (herb) is an anti-spasmodic (careful: don’t exceed dosing recommendations on the bottle)
  • Bromelain or Quercetin (between meals)
  • Chamomile tea or ginger root tea

For connective tissue support and long term anti-inflammatory effect:

  • Proline and Lysine (protein building blocks), and B vitamins (B12, B6, B complex)
  • Cod liver oil 3-6 grams daily: best for any musculoskeletal complaint

I’ll take up how to heal a herniated disc in my next article.

To feeling good for life,

Michael Cutler, M.D.
Easy Health Options

[1] https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2013/01/22/study-ids-the-top-10-reasons-for-doctors-visits
[2] http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/videos/exercises/plank.htm?lc=int_mb_1001
[3] Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Wellman RD, Cook AJ, Hawkes RJ, Delaney K, Deyo RA. A randomized trial comparing yoga, stretching, and a self-care book for chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med. 2011 Dec 12;171(22):2019-26.

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Dr. Michael Cutler

By Dr. Michael Cutler

Dr. Michael Cutler is a graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine and is a board-certified family physician with more than 20 years of experience. He serves as a medical liaison to alternative and traditional practicing physicians. His practice focuses on an integrative solution to health problems. Dr. Cutler is a sought-after speaker and lecturer on experiencing optimum health through natural medicines and founder of the original Easy Health Options™ newsletter — an advisory on natural healing therapies and nutrients. His current practice is San Diego Integrative Medicine, near San Diego, California.