Most Popular Back Pain Articles
By Dr. Mercola
Back pain is a common health issue today that affects at least eight out of 10 people. It is a prevalent problem among Americans. In fact, statistics from the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) reveal that at least 31 million Americans experience lower back pain at any given time.
The ACA report also says that:
- One-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year.
- Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work. In fact, it is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office (next to upper-respiratory infections).
- As many as 75 to 85 percent of the population will experience a back problem at some time in their lives. In most cases, this pain is mechanical in nature – it is NOT caused by a serious medical condition, such as inflammatory arthritis or fracture.
Chronic back pain has become such a debilitating problem – and it’s costly, too. According to the ACA, Americans spend at least 86 billion dollars each year on back pain—and that’s just for the more easily identified costs!
I cannot stress enough that preventing or treating disease is possible without the intervention of medications. The same is true for back pain. You only need to address the root cause of the problem by changing your lifestyle and the way you eat and move.
Below is a discussion of the potential causes of back pain, my recommendations for back pain treatment, and how you can alleviate this problem without putting any additional burden on your health.
What Are the Common Causes of Back Pain?
Accidents and sports injuries are the most common causes of chronic back pain. But sometimes, even simple activities or movements – like bending over to pick up an object from the floor – can trigger pain.
There are also a number of other factors that can increase your risk of back pain, such as:
||Poor physical conditioning facilitated by inactivity
||Internal disease, such as kidney stones, infections, blood clots
|Obesity - According to a study posted in the Journal of American Epidemiology, overweight and obese people had a higher prevalence of low back pain than non-overweight individuals.1
||Osteoporosis or bone loss (as measured by the Z-score and not the young adult-based T-score)
A Sedentary Lifestyle and Too Much Sitting Put You at Risk of Back Pain – and Much More
There is one common denominator among most patients who suffer from severe cases of chronic pain: sedentary lifestyle. A majority of back, neck, and other muscle pains are related to imbalanced distribution of force throughout your body, which is created by working or staying in unnatural positions for extended periods.
What’s more, prolonged sitting and poor posture are major risk factors of not only back pain, but also of weight gain, obesity, joint problems, nerve problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, and other debilitating diseases. In fact, mounting research found that prolonged sitting is now an independent risk factor for poor health and premature death—even if you exercise regularly!
To learn more about the dangers of too much sitting and the importance of regularly getting out of your chair, I recommend you to see my interview with Dr. Joan Vernikos, author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals and former director of NASA's Life Sciences Division. Dr. Vernikos, who was one of the primary doctors that ensured the health of the astronauts as they went into space, gives a very intensive explanation on how you can simply and easily counteract the ill effects of sitting.
The Price You Pay for Poor Emotional Health
There’s increasing evidence that back pain and other types of pain may be exacerbated by psychological or emotional issues. It is my experience that emotional health and your ability to effectively address your stress is an essential component for optimal health, and can have a major influence on whether or not you're effectively eliminating your pain.
If you have any underlying emotional issues and unresolved trauma, it can profoundly influence your health, particularly in terms of physical pain. A 2004 study on back pain supports this theory. Its researchers followed 100 patients over the course of four years. All of the patients, who were back pain-free at the start of the study, underwent psychological tests. Afterwards, the researchers compared which of the participants remained pain-free and which ones developed back pain.
According to the results, the people who scored poorly on the psychological tests were three times more likely to report having experienced back pain by the end of the study.
Many health experts from various fields of medicine agree that emotional and psychological trauma has severe effects on a person’s risk of acquiring chronic pain. One example is Dr. John Sarno, a psychiatrist who uses mind-body techniques to treat patients with severe low back pain. He specializes in helping individuals who already had surgery for low back pain but did not get any relief.
This is one tough group of patients – yet Dr. Sarno has a greater than 80 percent success rate! He uses techniques like the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), an acupuncture-like technique that stimulates meridian points throughout your body. Read more about EFT. Sadly, many people dismiss these types of treatment strategies simply because they seem "too simple to be effective." Unfortunately, they believe that in order to get back pain relief, they need to undergo radical treatment or take medications.
The Dangers of Drugs for Back Pain Treatment
Conventional health care practitioners are quick to prescribe medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, and even opioids for chronic pain. But even if these medications can provide immediate back pain relief, their effect is only temporary – the pain will come back sooner or later and in some cases will cause hyperalgesia, or increased sensitivity to pain!
What’s more, medications touted to provide back pain relief are saddled with severe side effects. For example, NSAIDs, one of the most commonly prescribed drugs on the market, not only put you at a two- to four-fold higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems, but may also cause:
- Severe gastrointestinal problems, like digestive tract bleeding
- Increased blood pressure
- Kidney problems
Be mindful that these life-threatening side effects of painkillers are not restricted to prescription NSAIDs like Celebrex, but may also come from over-the-counter drugs like aspirin, Advil, and Motrin.
Opioid painkillers like OxyContin, which are also commonly prescribed for back pain relief, also have a highly addictive nature. In fact, opioids are among the most commonly abused prescription drugs today, and are a leading contributor to the increasing rates of fatal prescription drug overdoses. This is why back pain is now one of the primary reasons why so many American adults get addicted to painkillers.
The bottom line is that painkillers always come with risks. Unfortunately, if you consult your conventional physician about your chronic back pain, he will often prescribe a long-term treatment plan that may include anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants and possibly other types of pain medication or even anti-seizure drugs – a poisonous chemical cocktail that will put your health at severe risk!
Is Your Physician Prescribing This Expensive But Dangerous Drug for Back Pain?
Big Pharma recently began promoting Humira, an expensive drug with a price tag of nearly 20,000 dollars a year. Humira is touted to help treat ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic inflammatory disease of the axial skeleton, which includes the spine. It is outrageous how drug companies promote this dangerous drug for an exceedingly rare cause of low back pain – one that is only responsible for less than a tenth of a tenth of one percent of low back pain! What’s more, Humira may cause severe side effects, such as:
- Serious infections
- Increased risk of lymphoma and other cancers
- Hepatitis B infection
- Allergic reactions
- Liver, nervous system, and blood problems
- Heart failure
- Immune reactions, such as lupus-like syndrome
This is just the short list; Humira may have even more damaging effects on your health only to emerge later through post-marketing surveillance in exposed populations who are being forced to act as living guinea pigs.
Cut Your Risk of Back Pain Right from the Start!
As with any health condition or disease, preventing back pain is better than trying to cure it after it has set in, and may be too late. So even if you’re not experiencing back pain symptoms, I would recommend you follow these simple tips:
- Always stretch before any strenuous physical activity. In fact, I strongly advise you to engage in a regular stretching program. My favorite is active isolated stretching (AIS), developed by Aaron Mattes. It's completely different from the traditional type of stretching, and is a great way to get flexibility back into your system.
- Do not slouch when standing or sitting.
- If you spend most of your time sitting, pay careful attention to consciously sucking in your belly and rotating your pelvis slightly up. At the same time, you should keep your head back, with your ears over your shoulders and your shoulder blades pinched. This posture will keep your spine in proper alignment. Do this every hour you’re sitting, holding the muscles tight for several minutes.
- Sit in chairs or car seats with good lumbar support.
- Switch your sitting positions often. I would also recommend periodically walking around or gently stretching your muscles to relieve tension.
- Avoid bending over without supporting your back.
- Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes. Women should also refrain from wearing heels all the time.
- Sleep on your side to reduce any curve in your spine. You should also sleep on a firm surface.
- When weight-lifting using your legs, always keep your back straight.
- Maintain an optimal weight.
- Quit smoking. Smoking reduces blood flow to your lower spine, causing the spinal discs to degenerate.
- Get enough vitamin D from sun exposure daily, as vitamin D helps keep your bones, including your spine, strong.
- Drink plenty of water to enhance the height of your intervertebral disks. Since your body is composed mostly of water, staying hydrated will keep you fluid and reduce stiffness.
How to Relieve Back Pain Naturally
If you are already suffering from chronic back pain or pain of any kind, you should understand that there are many safe and effective alternatives to prescription and over-the-counter painkillers, though they may require some patience. Here are some strategies I highly recommend:
One of the best tactics to help treat back pain is to see a qualified chiropractor. I am an avid supporter of the chiropractic philosophy, which puts great emphasis on your body's innate healing wisdom and does not rely on “Band-Aids” like drugs and surgery.
The problem is that a lot of people ignore chiropractic care, thinking that it’s just “pushing bones into place.” However, there’s a whole lot more to chiropractic care. In fact, one of the basic foundations of this health system is “vitalism” – recognizing that the human body has an innate healing intelligence or ‘life force’ that guides and directs your body's healing process.
Qualified chiropractic, osteopathic, and naturopathic physicians are reliable, as they have received extensive training in the management of musculoskeletal disorders during their course of graduate healthcare training, which lasts between four to six years. These health experts have comprehensive training in musculoskeletal management.
Many studies have confirmed that chiropractic management is much safer and less expensive than allopathic medical treatments, especially when used for low-back pain treatment.
What’s more, researchers have also found that chiropractic adjustments may affect the chemistry of biological processes on a cellular level. Chiropractic care can affect the basic physiological processes that profoundly influence oxidative stress, immune function and DNA repair. This means that aside from addressing any immediate spinal misalignment that might cause back pain, chiropractic care can also help address, prevent and treat deeper dysfunctions in your body.
Interrupt Your Sitting… Or Better Yet, Sit As Little As Possible
I’ve previously recommended standing up and doing some exercises at your desk to counteract the negative effects of sitting. But after my discussion with Dr. James Levine, author of Get Up!: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, I’m convinced that standing for 10 minutes for every hour of sitting is really the bare minimum, BUT it’s still far from ideal. What I was doing wasn’t enough; In fact, I really believe the answer is to stand up as much as possible.
Now I have implemented a new modification to my lifestyle, and that is to sit as little as possible, at least less than an hour a day.
I recently went on a coast to coast, 6,000 mile tour, and decided to try an experiment: I avoided sitting as much as I could. For example, in one room, I placed the mini fridge on the desk to make a modified standing desk. In the other room, I used a waste paper basket on another desk. By doing this, I was able to reduce my 12 to 14 hours of daily sitting to just under an hour.
I noticed one incredible effect after doing this experiment: the back pain I’ve struggled with for many years simply disappeared! Normally, it would start after I’d walk or stand for more than 30 minutes, but after I reduced my sitting, the pain vanished.
I have also incorporated walking at least 10,000 steps a day, in addition to my regular fitness regime. I encourage you to get a reliable fitness tracker that would help you track how much you walk every day. Some fitness trackers also record how much sleep you’re getting, and can help motivate you to get to bed earlier so you can get eight hours of sleep.
Exercises for Back Pain
Exercise and being physically active help strengthen the muscles of your spine, radically reducing back pain. Here are some exercise routines that can specifically target back pain:
One of the best back pain exercises I recommend is Foundation Training, created by chiropractor Dr. Eric Goodman. He developed it to address his own chronic back pain.
Foundation Training exercises are simple but powerful structural movements that help strengthen and realign your body posture and address the root cause of lower back pain, which is related to weakness and imbalance among your posterior chain of muscles that are caused by a sedentary lifestyle and too much sitting.
Foundation Training focuses on your core – the part of your body connected to your pelvis, whether above or below it. These include your hamstrings, glutes, and adductor muscles. Foundation Training teaches all these muscles to work together through integrated chains of movement, which is how you’re structurally designed to move, as opposed to compartmentalized movements like crunches.
Every exercise included in Foundation Training lengthens the front of your body, which is over-tightened, and strengthens the back of your body, helping you stand tall and move with grace and flexibility.
Anyone who wants to do Foundation Training must learn “The Founder,” the key basic exercise. The Founder disperses your weight through the posterior chains, helping to reinforce proper movement while strengthening the entire back of your body. This excellent exercise can help reverse the effects of frequent and prolonged sitting that may lead to back pain. To learn how to do the Founder, watch this video:
Created by “posture guru” Esther Gokhale, this method allows you to rediscover your primal posture, which is the way your body was designed to stand, sit, and move. Her techniques teach you how to sit, lay, stand, and walk with proper posture. The Gokhale Method course is just six lessons long, each one lasting 1.5 hours if done in a group, or 45 minutes for one-on-one sessions. One of the best parts of this method is that you can learn everything you need to know to make you completely independent: you won’t have to see a chiropractor on a regular basis or hire a Pilates trainer for the rest of your life to help you manage your pain.
For about this technique and demonstrations of the exercises, please read my previous article, "The Gokhale Method: Banish Pain by Relearning Proper Posture."
Egoscue Exercises, a series of stretches and special exercises that help restore your muscular balance and skeletal alignment. I often spend at least one hour or more doing an Egoscue exercise called “The Tower.” It’s simple – you only need to lie on the floor and allow your pelvis and thoracic spine to relax. I found this exercise tremendously helpful for treating my chronic low back pain, which is now gone.
High-Intensity Interval Training
You should also include high-intensity sessions, like Peak Fitness, in your exercise routine, although you only need to do these once or twice a week at the most. You should also include exercises that not only challenge your body intensely, but also promote muscle strength, balance, and flexibility. Remember to build up your abdominals to avoid back pain. And, as mentioned above, always do some stretching and warm-ups before engaging in strenuous physical activity.
Remember, though, that just because you exercise regularly doesn’t mean that you can justify your long hours spent sitting. In fact, even if you're fairly physically active, you may still succumb to back pain and other health problems if you spend most of your day behind a desk or on the couch. This phenomenon is called the "active couch potato effect." In order to avoid this, you must make it a habit to break the pattern of sitting as frequently as possible. Dr. Goodman says:
"Stand up throughout the day to stretch your body appropriately, the way it is meant to be stretched. The simple act of standing as tall as possible for a minute or two will help break the pattern of sitting, as long as you repeat it frequently. Be sure that while standing you take full deep breaths to expand your torso as well. We often have very shallow breath while we sit, counter that with big deep breaths as often as you can throughout the day.
My opinion is that people should not go longer than 30 minutes in a chair without standing, deep breathing, walking and stretching. If you think I am crazy for asking that much of you, then I suggest you not go longer than 20 minutes."
Yoga may be an effective strategy for alleviating back pain by making people more aware of how they move their bodies. The benefits of yoga were proven in a study of more than 100 adults with lower back pain. After taking weekly yoga classes for 12 weeks, the participants, who were between ages 20 to 64, experienced improvement in their body function and a reduced need for pain medication. At the end of the study, only 21 percent of the patients who take the yoga class were taking pain medication, down from almost 60 percent at the start.
Getting a massage is another simple strategy I recommend to help ease not only your back pain (and other types of pain), but anxiety as well. Massage offers real health benefits that are being recognized even by conventional hospitals, making it a standard therapy for surgery patients. Massage releases endorphins that help induce relaxation, relieve pain, and reduce levels of stress chemicals, such as cortisol and noradrenaline. It also reverses the damaging effects of stress by slowing your heart rate, respiration, and metabolism and lowering raised blood pressure.
|Ease your tense and knotted muscles and stiff joints, improving mobility and flexibility
||Relieve pain caused by migraines, labor, fibromyalgia, and even cancer
|Relax and soften your injured and overused muscles, reducing spasms and cramping
||Stimulate your lymph system, which is your body's natural defense against toxic invaders
|Reduce recovery time for strenuous workouts and eliminate subsequent pains of the athlete at any level
||Provide arthritis pain relief by increasing joint flexibility
|Reduce and realign scar tissue after healing has occurred
||Reduce post-surgery adhesions and edema
|Boost your level of alertness and attention
||Contribute to shorter labor and reduce tearing for expectant mothers
|Decrease symptoms of PMS
||Reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and ease insomnia
Some people immediately think of having back surgery just to alleviate the pain, but I strongly advise against it unless you’ve exhausted the other treatment options mentioned above. However, if none of these strategies work, I advise you to try K-Laser – it’s just that good.
Infrared K-Laser therapy works by stimulating the cytochrome oxidase enzyme in your cells' mitochondria. It enhances microcirculation and stimulates the red blood cell flow in the area being treated. K-Laser therapy helps reduce pain and inflammation and enhances tissue healing in hard and soft tissues, including your muscles, bones, and ligaments. It also returns venous and lymphatic function, as your tissues become oxygenated.
I highly recommend K-Laser because it is the only Class 4 therapy laser that utilizes three infrared wavelengths that can deeply penetrate into your body to reach areas like your spine and hip. It also costs just a fraction of surgery and does not have any detrimental side effects – a great advantage, since surgery can not only have life-threatening side effects, but also exposes you to dangerous hospital infections.
Structural Decompression Breathing
Dr. Goodman also advises structural decompression breathing to improve posture and eliminate back pain. When done properly, it will help lengthen your hip flexors, stabilize your spine, and support your core using transverse abdominal muscles. This strengthens your back and keeps your chest high and open. Here’s how to do structured decompression breathing:
- Whether sitting down or standing, put your thumbs at the base of your rib cage, positioning your pinkies at the pointy bones at the front of your waist. Think of the space between your fingers as a measuring stick.
- Pull your chin back so your chest is lifting upwards. Take three slow deep breaths as instructed below.
- The distance between your thumbs and pinkies should increase as you breathe in.
- When you breathe out, tighten your abdominal muscles so your torso will not collapse back down. This is the most important step: do not let your torso drop back down towards the pelvis as you exhale. It should be challenging, allowing you to feel your abdomen engage as you exhale.
Do this exercise for 30 seconds or so, and then resume your normal seated position. Over time, your muscles will get stronger, and your seated posture will gradually improve.
Other Strategies to Eliminate Chronic Back Pain (and Other Types of Pain)
In addition to the tips above, I also recommend these simple and natural ways to prevent and relieve back pain:
- Get sufficient high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are precursors to mediators of inflammation called prostaglandins. One of the best sources of omega-3s is krill oil supplement. The omega-3 fats EPA and DHA contained in krill oil have been found in many animal and clinical studies to have anti-inflammatory properties. Unlike fish oil, krill oil does not pose any toxicity and rancidity to your body, which may only damage your health. It is also far lower on the food chain, making it far less likely to accumulate environmental chemicals and toxins.
- Eliminate or radically reduce your intake of grains and sugars, especially fructose. Excessive intake of grains and sugars will elevate your insulin and leptin levels primarily through causing your body to be resistant to them, resulting in the increase of inflammatory prostaglandin production.
- Optimize your vitamin D (through regular and appropriate sun exposure) and vitamin K2 levels. These nutrients will help prevent the softening of your bones that can often lead to lower back pain.
- Ground yourself. Grounding, also known as Earthing, can help decrease inflammation in your body and relieve back pain and other types of pain. By walking barefoot on wet grass or sand, your body gets an adequate supply of electrons from the earth. These electrons are the “ultimate antioxidants” that act as powerful anti-inflammatories, and help your immune system function optimally. Walking barefoot is also a great way to strengthen your feet and arches.
As for back pain management, I suggest trying these natural solutions that provide excellent pain relief without any of the health hazards that pain medications often carry:
- Astaxanthin – This is one of the most effective oil-soluble antioxidants known to man today. Astaxanthin has very potent anti-inflammatory properties. In some cases, it may even be more effective than NSAIDs. You may need to take high doses of this antioxidant (as much as eight milligrams a day), though, to achieve this benefit.
- Ginger - This anti-inflammatory herb has pain relief and stomach-settling properties. Steep fresh ginger in boiling water to make a delicious and fragrant tea. Grating and adding it to your vegetable juice is a good idea as well.
- Curcumin – This is the primary therapeutic compound found in the spice turmeric. A study of osteoarthritis patients revealed curcumin’s pain relief effects: individuals who added 200 milligrams of curcumin a day to their treatment plan were found to have reduced pain and increased mobility. In fact, over 50 clinical studies have proven curcumin’s potent anti-inflammatory activity. There are also four studies that demonstrated its ability to reduce Tylenol-associated adverse health effects.
- Cayenne cream - Also known as capsaicin cream, this is a spice made from dried hot peppers. It alleviates pain by depleting the body's supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells that transmits pain signals to your brain.
- Boswellia - Also called boswellin or "Indian frankincense," this herb has been prized for thousands of years for its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. This is one of my personal favorites, as I have seen it work well with many of my rheumatoid arthritis patients.
- Bromelain – Found in pineapples, this protein-digesting enzyme is a natural anti-inflammatory. Bromelain can be used in supplement form, but eating fresh pineapple may also be helpful. Most of the bromelain is found within the pineapple’s core, so make sure you leave a little of the pulpy core intact when you eat the fruit.
- Cetyl myristoleate (CMO) - An oil found typically in fish and dairy butter, CMO acts as a "joint lubricant" and an anti-inflammatory. I use a topical preparation for myself to relieve ganglion cysts and alleviate mild annoying carpal tunnel syndrome that flares up when I type too much on non-ergonomic keyboards.
- Evening Primrose, Black Currant, and Borage Oils – The fatty acid gamma linoleic acid (GLA) found in these oils is useful for treating arthritic pain.
I strongly advise you to try these simple but successful back pain relief alternatives. Not only will they treat the underlying causes of back pain, but they can also spare you from additional harm, unlike pharmaceutical or surgical “Band-Aids.”