Health Topic of the Month August 2017

So, You Have Back Pain? Join the Club.

Sounds pessimistic, doesn’t it? Yet for most American adults, it is a reality that we’re dealing with. The American Spinal Decompression Association says that 80% of Americans will suffer from lower back pain at some point in our lives. The National Institute of Health says that back pain becomes more and more common the older you get, with most of us first experiencing it somewhere between age 30 and 40. So, what can you do about it? Here’s the good news: whether you want to prevent it from starting or manage the pain and work through it, there’s quite a bit you can do.

Let’s Start with How You Sleep

back painIf you’re a chronic back pain sufferer, you’ve probably spent quite a bit of money over the years buying different pillows, maybe a new mattress or two and even a few mattress pads. There are some out there that can help, but one of the biggest things that can help, and not cost you a dime, is making changes to how you sleep.

The Mayo Clinic has a great slide show about different sleeping positions and their effect on your back.  For instance:

  • If you sleep on your side, keep your legs up toward your chest.
  • If you’re a back sleeper, keep a pillow under your knees to help maintain the curve of your lower back.
  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach. It’s just not good on your back.

Spine Health also has a lot of tips specifically for those suffering from lower back pain. They say that when it comes to the lower back, no specific sleeping position is going to work for everyone. Instead, you have to adjust position based on the specific condition causing your pain. For instance, if you have a herniated disc, you may want to sleep on your stomach. It just depends on what kind of disc herniation you have.

Eat Your Way to Relief

The Cleveland Clinic has what it calls The Healthy Back Diet, which identifies common foods that can cause inflammation. You’ll want to either cut these out of your diet completely, or at least scale back how often you eat them. That includes:

  • Red Meat
  • Processed Foods
  • White Bread
  • Whole-fat Dairy
  • Sugary Drinks
  • Fried Foods
  • Anything containing “partially hydrogenated oil”

The Cleveland Clinic recommends back pain suffers follow the Mediterranean diet. This diet is high in anti-inflammatory foods. Here’s a bit of how that works:

  • Your meals should be mostly vegetables
  • At least one meal a week should be a fish high in omega-3, such as salmon
  • Only eat poultry or eggs every other day
  • Avoid other meats and sweets as much as possible
  • Drink red wine! (But don’t overdo it.)
  • Stay hydrated

The AARP also has some great recommendations around pain fighting foods, and some great recipes to go with those foods. The following are the foods they recommend:

  • Red grapes – because they have a compound that blocks enzymes that contribute to tissue degeneration
  • Ginger – it’s a painkiller
  • Cherries – high in antioxidants
  • Coffee – it enhances common painkillers such as aspirin

Treatment Options – What Works, What Doesn’t

An investigative journalist suffering from chronic back pain went on a mission looking for ways to alleviate her pain. She published a book about what she learned through the process, which is summed up in this article from PBS Newshour. Her advice:

  • Be wary of sugar.
  • Opioids are not likely to help.
  • Neither are standing desk or expensive chairs.

But what may help is yoga – as long as you’re not the type to push yourself to do more than your body can handle. Workouts specifically for the back can help as well.

The other big takeaway – changing the way you think about back pain. She says to remember that hurt is not the same thing as harm. Therefore, just because your back hurts, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily harmful to be active.

“Moving is the key. Our bodies are not built to sit or stand in one place for hours at a time,” she says.

The Mayo Clinic agrees on the importance of moving, stating “Bed rest isn’t recommended.”

They say that most back pain can be treated at home with over-the-counter pain relievers and heat or ice. Additionally, very few people will need surgery for back pain, but physical therapy can be a great option if you need it.

When it comes to trying acupuncture, the Mayo Clinic says, “Many people who have chronic low back pain have found acupuncture to be helpful. But the scientific evidence to support these claims has been mixed, partly because it can be difficult to devise a good form of sham acupuncture for comparison.”

Another popular form of therapy is massage. That is effective according to a NPR report citing the Annals of Internal Medicine. So, if you’re suffering from back pain, consider giving massage therapy a try.

Prevent Pain Before It Starts

One the best things you can do for your back is to prevent pain from happening in the first place. Of course, some things can be out of your control. But it’s important to take steps with what you can control.

Going back to the beginning of this article, make a point to follow the sleep tips. Not only can those help ease back pain, they can help to prevent it as well.

Working out your core muscles is another way to prevent back pain, according to HealthLine. They also recommend:

  • Increasing your calcium and vitamin D intake. But we recommend being conscious of supplements.
  • Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes
  • Maintain good posture
  • Avoid sitting or standing too long
  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking can restrict blood flow to the disks in your spine.
  • Don’t carry heavy loads. If you have a lot of stuff, get a rolling cart to help you carry it around.
  • Stretch frequently

Everyday Health also has a few recommendations not on this list that could be helpful. They recommend healthy eating as a prevention method, saying it prevents unnecessary stress to your body. Speaking of stress, that’s another recommendation. Reduce stress. Why? Because it has a great impact on our back health. The constant tensing of our back muscles can cause back pain.

We’d love to hear from you! What helps ease your back pain? Let us know on our Facebook page!