If there is one condition that people connect with seeking a chiropractor, it’s certainly back pain. For my first few years in practice I would estimate 75% of my patients had this as their primary reason for coming in. The causes are varied but primarily include injury (fall, sports, car accident, etc.), repetitive strain, being overweight, and inactivity.
It is extremely common to treat this kind of pain with OTC pain meds such as Tylenol or Advil. This is the most likely approach whether you see your physician for the pain or you self treat without consulting your medical doctor. Of course for many people whose pain is extreme, prescription medications are prescribed. Getting rid of the pain and regaining normal function are obviously the objectives and these meds can sometimes achieve the goals but at what cost?
When we use medications to treat a mechanical problem involving the joints and muscles of the body, we have two primary problems. First, we aren’t getting at the cause. No attempt is being made to correct the joint or soft tissue issue responsible for the pain. As the symptoms diminish over time we forget about the underlying problem (if it was ever acknowledged to begin with) and we ignore that we probably have a festering situation which will most likely rear its ugly head again in the future. Small problems tend to become bigger problems when ignored and that’s exactly the case with musculoskeletal issues and a primary reason we develop arthritic joints with the passing years. If I took one or two pain med pills every six months or less often, I wouldn’t be concerned about damaging my health but to regularly use any sort of synthetic medicine regularly or on-going is going to cause harm to our health. The second primary problem with using meds for back pain is the damaging effects the drugs have on our overall health. I recommend always considering your health account…are you making deposits by naturally taking great care of yourself or are you withdrawing too often by using drugs or other behaviors that don’t benefit your health?
The majority of research these days clearly shows that inactivity is a primary culprit in risk of having back pain. We all know how easy it is to be sedentary today. With a phone and laptop, you really only need to move to go to the bathroom and to get food. Otherwise, it is quite possible to stay sitting on the couch, in bed, or at your desk non-stop. In my clinical experience, people who are less active, and especially if also overweight, are the majority of back pain sufferers. There are many considerations when correctly treating someone with back pain. Subluxations, weight management, muscle imbalances, flat feet, chronic inflammation, and numerous other factors need to be considered and potentially addressed. The core protocol however that the majority of my back pain patients receive is an activity regimen that gives the skeletal system what it wants and needs: motion.
A big key to treating and preventing back pain is appropriate motion. I break the exercises down into three categories and prescribe them in order. The first is gentle and slowly increasing motion. I teach people how to use an exercise ball and to simulate hula dancing for example. Walking is great but it’s linear and doesn’t adequately address all the joints. Next, as symptoms lessen and healing with chiropractic adjustments is progressing I introduce stretching but not usually sooner. The third step is strengthening exercise which is so important in gaining a stabilized condition but should only be incorporated as the musculoskeletal function is normalizing. There are some truly great, effective, natural supplements that can aid with pain, spasm, and inflammation during these episodes too. Among my favorites is Boswellia which is available on line and at all health food stores. It’s very safe and when you take enough, it works very well in place of OTC meds. There are other nutritional considerations with back pain but that’s another blog entry. My recommendation is to realize that your future health is greatly influenced by today’s activities. If your back hurts, what else is going on that you’re not aware of? If you have inflammation in your joints, what other things are being silently affected and what is the underlying cause to begin with? These are some of the reasons I encourage our full science based nutritional workup so often.
In terms of prevention, apply the same three steps above on a daily basis and get adjusted regularly to keep your back pain free and functioning optimally. Whatever your fitness level, keep performing non-strenuous motion (sitting on a ball and continuously moving or Salsa dancing for instance). Maintain flexibility—have a stretching routine. Stay strong with resistance exercises that include back strengthening. Come see us for guidance and recommendations specific to your own situation.
Harris Meyer, DC