Thursday, August 20, 2009

7 Tips to Help Low Back Pain

7 Tips to Help Low Back Pain

Many of you have no doubt suffered from bouts of low back pain. It often arrives without direct trauma, or can seem more severe than the minor incident that caused the pain.

The tendency is to assume that you have slipped a disc, pinched a nerve (both of which are less common that you would think), or that your degenerative joint disease is getting worse. The tendency then is to slow down, stop exercising, and protect the area at all costs.

It is common knowledge now that immobilizing your neck with a cervical collar is not beneficial following a whiplash incident, so why assume it would be a good idea following a suspected back injury.

Now I am not saying that you should ignore your back pain and go do something extremely physically taxing, but I am suggesting that you not panic, and proceed with your normal activities of daily living. What you don’t want to do is be fearful of your back as being a delicate little stem that could snap at any minute. This idea is just not true!

So here are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with back pain.

1. Degenerative changes in your spine are common, and not necessarily painful. Almost anyone over the age of 40 can probably find degenerative changes on an X-ray. It doesn’t mean you are destined to a life of back instability and pain. It doesn’t really mean much of anything, except that you have probably been walking and bending for about 40 years or so!

2. Only about 4 percent of back pain sufferers have an actual structural problem, such as a herniated disc. (1) Of these, many will heal without medical or surgical intervention. It should also be noted that many people with structural problems in their spine don’t even have pain! (2)

3. Almost all back pain complaints can most probably be attributed to muscle pain to some degree, (3) with myofascial trigger points being the biggest factor. (4) There are even trigger points whose referral pain can mimic sciatic nerve pain, making you even more scared that
something very serious is going on.

4. There is a strong correlation between stress levels and bouts of low back pain. (5) Some researchers believe stress is the biggest factor. Makes sense when you take into account that there is often no logical physical explanation for a low back pain flare up.

5. It is possible to have a major injury to your back, but it is also accompanied by a major and obvious cause, such as strenuous pulling or lifting, followed by immediate and severe pain. In cases such as this, you should seek medical attention.

6. Heat application often helps ease low back pain. This is due to the fact that there is usually no inflammation happening in the area (unless you did accomplish #5 above, in which case hold off on the heat), and the heat helps relax the spasm and trigger points in the muscles.

7. Treatments that focus on relaxing and oxygenating the muscles can help with low back pain. Massage, chiropractic, mobilizations, and yoga, are just a few examples.

The next time you are dealing with low back pain of unknown origin, take a moment to think about these tips. The chances of your pain being from a severe structural issue are actually a lot less likely that most people think.

Your best approach is to view your condition with an open mind, do some self -assessment to see where you are at emotionally, do what you need to help relax the muscle tissue, take a deep breath and stop stressing about it, because the stress could just be making it worse!

Do you see how easy it is to get into a pain cycle – you are stressed, and tense your tissues more than normal, which constricts blood vessels and leads to oxygen deprived tissues. These unhealthy tissues start to form trigger points and send pain signals, alerting you that there is
something wrong. You feel the pain, and think you have “put your back out”. You don’t know how you did it, but are scared that if you do too much it will go out even more, so you tense up more. This causes even more blood restriction, more pain, and yup, yet more stress. And so the cycle continues.

Break the cycle, and get back to your life!

PS – as mentioned above, there are times when a serious low back injury can occur and if you think this might be the case, please see your family doctor. Also, if your pain is progressively getting worse, causing neurological deficits, is accompanied by other strange but seemingly unrelated symptoms, or has continued for well over a month, please seek medical advice.

(1) Deyo et al. N Engl J Med. 2001
(2) Splithoff. J Am Med Assoc. 1953 Sarno (p23)
(3) Evans. N Engl J Med. 2001
(4) Davies et al. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, p 24
(5) Waters et al. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2004