Many people, especially in the Western world, suffer from pack pain, and very few treatments or medicines seem able to put this ailment to rest. Most seem designed to temporarily treat the pain rather than address the cause. I have found, however, that a regular routine of stretching works wonders to combat this problem.
It is becoming increasingly apparently that back pain is caused by modern lifestyles. We have become accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle of constant sitting and habitually do our sitting with poor posture; most of our jobs serve only to reinforce this behaviour, even when we have the best of intentions to be more active. The result — chronic back pain — is ubiquitous to the Western world. However, many traditional societies and agrarian societies display almost none of these same issues.
This was made evident recently by Esther Gokhale, a biochemist and licensed acupuncturist who, through her own research, found that several studies of traditional populations had reported very low rates of back pain among these groups. Gokhale actually spent a great deal of time visiting these cultures; for example, she visited tiny fishing towns in Portugal, remote deserts in Africa, and many other places.
“I went to villages where every kid under age 4 was crying because they were frightened to see somebody with white skin – they’d never seen a white person before.” (source)
She went to such effort because she herself has suffered from chronic back pain as well. She developed a herniated disc some time ago which, while eventually resolved through surgery, returned later to plague her once more. When this happened, she refused a second surgery and went on a mission to heal herself of a problem she was convinced that Western medicine could not.
What She Found
She noticed a common theme among societies that are far removed from modern day life, which is that they have what’s known at the “J” shaped spine. The typical American spine, which is shaped like the letter S, curves at both the top and the bottom.
“The J-shaped spine is what you see in Greek statues. It’s what you see in young children. It’s good design. . . . I’d like to go and take X-rays of indigenous populations and compare it to people in the Western world. I think that would be helpful” – Dr. Praveen Mummaneni, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco’s Spine Center. (source)
Dr. Mummaneni pointed out to NPR that nobody has ever conducted a study of traditional cultures to see why some have lower rates of back pain, and that nobody has even documented the shape of their spines.
While there are many possible reasons for back pain, I think it’s fairly safe to assume it has something to do with the modern day human lifestyle, given the fact that so many people in the industrialized world are suffering from it. As Mummaneni states, “I think the sedentary lifestyle promotes a lack of muscle tone and a lack of postural stability because the muscles get weak. Clearly, if we look at indigenous people around the world, they have strong muscles to support their bodies, especially strong abdominal muscles.”
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