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Treat Your Own Back Pain

Healing With Your Mind

Treat Your Own Back Pain

By Gerri Shapiro, MS Ed.

Your back may have "gone out" as soon as you leaned down to pet your cat, but don't blame poor Fluffy for the agony you're now in.   Most likely, your back has undergone years of abuse while you slouched in front of the TV or hunched over a desk.

For most of us, back pain is a cumulative process resulting from chronic poor posture and sedentary habits. Poor lifting and bending habits can also contribute to back pain.

Most back pain is preventable, and the back pain you may be experiencing now can be treated without surgery or elaborate and expensive treatments.


Until recently, heavy lifting was thought to be the main cause of back pain, but studies now indicate that SITTING causes the most problems. Sitting puts a lot of strain on our lower back. The longer we sit, the more it hurts. That's because 40 percent more weight is placed on the lower spine when we are sitting. Our body, particularly our spine, was not designed to sit in chairs for hours on end.


If you must sit, choose a straight chair with a firm back. Avoid soft sofas and stuffed chairs. If you have a job where you sit for long periods of time, get up and walk around for a few minutes every half hour or so.

Whenever possible, choose a chair with armrests to relive the pressure your dangling arms apply to your lower spine. It should also contain lower back support. This type of chair is called an ergonomic chair. Ergonomic chairs are designed to take the needs of your body into account. They usually:

*   provide support so you can sit up straight
*   allow you to change positions easily
*   distribute your weight evenly.

While they do not solve the problem completely, they can provide good support and are better for your back than a poorly designed chair.


Soft or sagging mattresses do not support your back. Test your mattress. Lie on your back and slide your hand under your lower back. If there is large gap, your mattress may be too hard. If you have to squeeze your hand in, it is probably too soft. If your hand slides in fairly easily, the mattress is probably just right for you.


"Without a doubt, stretching is far more important for the relief of back pain than strengthening exercise, "
according to Doug Lewis, N.D., Chairperson Physical Medicine Department, Bastyr College.

Try gentle stretches. Gentle stretches can actually help you heal more quickly. While lying down, try bringing your knees up toward your chest. Then pull your knees toward you slightly. Take deep breaths. Stretch. Then relax. Repeat a few times.


Bodywork includes all the various forms of massage and therapies that can be used to treat back pain. Among the wide variety of techniques to choose from, the Bowen Technique stands out in its ability to be used by the lay person, with the help of a friend or family member.

Boasting an 85-90% success rate for getting rid of back pain, the Bowen Technique is gentle, painless and easy to learn (there is only one basic move). It can provide you with a wonderful self-healing tool you can use right at home. (see )


When back pain hits, immediately drink two large glasses of water. This can often provide relief within minutes. Muscle aches and back pain are frequently connected to dehydration. The body needs a minimum of eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily.


Long-term bed rest is no longer considered necessary for most cases of back pain. Actually, the lack of activity may contribute to recurring back problems. When back pain strikes, your first impulse may be to get into bed, but recent studies have found that activity is the better antidote. Try to get regular moderate exercise. Activities that are good for the back include swimming, bicycling, walking and rowing.


Relaxation techniques provide a useful means of managing pain. Research by psychologist Francis Keefe at Duke University has shown that relaxation can be effective for patients with back pain. Several relaxation techniques are available which encourage relaxation of the back muscles. These include biofeedback, meditation, visualization, self-hypnosis and affirmations. They all help promote mental and emotional relaxation.


Treatment with essential oils can often help relieve the painful muscle spasms that contribute to back pain. Several of these--sage, rosemary, thyme, horsebalm and mountain dittany--are rich in thymol and carvacrol, compounds that help muscles relax.


Biofeedback procedures are useful in managing back pain. The technique known as electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback alerts you to electrical activity from muscle tension, thus helping you control it and diminish the pain it causes.


Imagine that you're carrying a 100-pound bag on your back. Drop the bag, open it and examine the contents. There may be a lot of stuff in that bag-- anger, frustration, depression, painful memories-- that you can throw away to lighten your load. You may want to try this exercise once a day for several minutes every time you have a bout of back pain.


Homeopathy is most helpful in the acute stage of back pain to combat inflammation. If the problem is persistent and recurring, treatment under the advice of a homeopath is recommended, as there are many backache remedies.


According to Neal Barnard, M.D., author of several books on the healing properties of foods, most vegetables and fruits, are excellent painkillers. Although food will not relieve pain quickly in the way that conventional medications do, they will affect the underlying inflammation and degeneration, which pain killers do not.


Most back pain can be avoided by taking the simple preventative step of staying in good physical condition. The key to avoiding most back pain is to minimize the stress on your back.

*  The most important preventive measure for back pain is practicing good
   posture when standing or sitting.

*  If you stand for long periods at work, wear flat shoes with good support.
   You can also get a box about 6 inches high to rest one foot on from time to

*  Before you lift anything, remember to bend you knees. Keep your back
   straight and try not to bend at the waist, as this increases the stress on
   your back. Hold the load close to your body and lift with your legs instead
  of your back.

       Keeping your back healthy is something you can work on every day -
                                         not just when pain strikes.



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