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By Alexa Erickson of Collective Evolution
Back pain is a common ailment that affects at least eight out of ten people, with the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) reporting that at least 31 million Americans experience lower back pain at any given time. But why is it so common?
Among the most common culprits are poor posture, poor physical conditioning facilitated by inactivity, obesity, psychological/emotional stress, osteoporosis, and internal diseases like kidney stones, infections, and blood clots.
The structure of the back is complicated, to say the least. Made up of bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles, there is much opportunity to sprain, rupture, and irritate the inner workings that make it strong and supportive.
After ignoring the pain and taking it easy for some time, many people resort to popping painkillers to continue with their day-to-day life pain-free. But this often becomes habit and doesn’t actually treat the underlying issue, and longtime use can lead to liver damage, ulcers, and kidney damage, and potentially worsen problems with blood clotting, too.
Preventing or treating disease is absolutely possible without the intervention of medications, and the same can be said for back pain. Getting to the root of the cause by way of lifestyle changes, and implementing scientifically-proven remedies, should be your first resort.
Triangle pose, cobra pose, cat pose, and bridge pose are all incredibly beneficial asanas to help prevent as well as cure back pain safely and cheaply. Research has shown that the practice can reduce the severity of chronic low back pain, boost serotonin levels, enhance mental health, and promote better sleep. Iyengar yoga has also been shown to reduce the need for pain medication.
A common misconception when dealing with back pain is that bed rest and inactivity are the best cures. But being physically active is actually much more beneficial for strengthening the muscles of the spine in order to significantly reduce back pain.
“Why are we not prescribing an inexpensive, effective treatment? Some of it is, I think, we don’t think of exercise as being a treatment the way a tablet or a procedure or a physical therapy treatment might,” says Dr. Tim Carey, an internist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. “We’re a fairly pill-oriented society. Pills are easy to take, and as a doctor, pills are easy to prescribe.”
“What we do understand about the back it that the more you use it, the more likely you are to keep it strong, fit and healthy,” notes Chris Maher, a physical therapist turned health researcher at the University of Sydney in Australia.
One study discovered that, when back pain patients underwent a 10-week specific exercise treatment of the muscles surrounding the spine, they were able to hold static postures and perform tasks that once aggravated the pain. The research concluded that the treatment was much more effective than commonly prescribed treatments.
Epsom salt has great therapeutic value for back pain. A compound of magnesium and sulfur that’s easily absorbed into the body, mixing it in bath water, along with essential oil drops like lavender or ylang ylang, has been shown to improve blood circulation. The salt bath works to relax muscle spasms, sooth nerves, and relieve pain.
The Chinese remedy of acupuncture is commonly used for treating back pain. The practice involves inserting needles into key points of the body to correct energy flow. One study discovered that acupuncture applied to the most painful point of the back showed immediate relief after just a single stimulation in patients.
Cold therapy has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, and for good reason. The treatment uses ice packs, ice massage, or cold whirlpools to bring down the temperature of the skin and tissues beneath it to a depth of 2-4 cm. The result is a decrease in the activation of the pain receptors across the body called nociceptors, which carry pain signals to the brain. The therapy also decreases tissue metabolism, blood flow, inflammation, and muscle spasm.
Whether it’s for just a knot or a strange new pain, many people desire pressure on their pain points. When using a tool, device, or the help of another’s hands, a massage can bring immense relief to painful areas, and research shows that massage therapy is extremely beneficial for those suffering from back pain in particular. For instance, in one study of adults with low back pain, participants were given 30-minute massage therapy twice a week for five weeks. They reported less pain, less depression and anxiety, and better sleep.
Bonus: Think about the chair you sit in everyday. Is it causing you more pain or is it helping you to strengthen your back? There are chairs out there that can actually help you be more active and strengthen your core all at the same time. Check out the chair of the future that can truly help your lifestyle and health.