Losing weight, changing dietary and exercise habits, and reducing stress may not seem like common prescriptions for treating those chronic aches and pains that ail your back but Sinett, owner of Midtown Chiropractic Health and Wellness practice in New York City has seen success in eliminating back pain by approaching it with wholistic measures. Sinett says, "The truth is, back pain is almost always has a multi-factorial cause, and not addressing all pieces of the puzzle means managing back pain rather than treating it."
Causes of back pain
The three main causes of back pain are structural (injuries or imbalances affecting joints and muscles), nutritional (poor dietary habits and hormone imbalances), and emotional (negative or repressed emotions).Sinett explains, "This dynamic triad is in constant flux. If one side gets thrown off balance, the other sides will be affected as well." He adds, "In treating back pain, I always make sure to address each of these areas because they almost always overlap."Terry L., an account executive for an advertising firm, has allowed her desk job to get in the way of taking care of herself. As a result, she has gained weight over the past year, exercises rarely, feels stressed out most days of the week, and has developed chronic pain in her lower back. "I wake up with back pain, I go through my day with back pain, and I lay in bed at night with back pain," she says. Terry gets regular massage treatments, takes over-the-counter pain killers, and does try to do yoga stretches at work — but they are merely temporary fixes.This is an example of the multi-factorial root that causes and exacerbates back pain. Overweight people tend to have more back pain because of the pressure on their spine, a structural problem. But even if she simply ate better, increased her exercise, and lost some weight, she may still experience back pain. Based on Sinett's recommendations, she needs to also address her chronic stress levels.Chronic stress results in higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), which lead to inflammation and can aggravate the tissues in the back. Additionally, when Terry is stressed, she tends to reach for sugary, low-nutrition foods as well as high-sugar, high-calorie gourmet coffees. This sidelines her healthy diet intentions and increases her risk of gaining weight. It is a vicious cycle that perpetuates her aching back and thwarts her desire for a healthy lifestyle.Terry is not alone. A similar situation is found in smokers. Sinett explains, "Smoking cigarettes actually causes a structural problem within the back by dehydrating the spinal discs, resulting in serious pain." He adds, "However, many smokers also lead less healthful lifestyles, including drinking more caffeine and exercising less." If they break their bad habits, not only will they likely experience less back pain, they will be improving their overall health.
Treating Back Pain
According to Sinett, the benefits of a multi-factorial approach is that you can usually work on one aspect of back pain by taking care of another part of the triad — and wind up solving multiple problems at once.This approach of treating the root cause rather than just the symptom is referred to as the "back door approach." In other words, it is not always what hurts that actually needs to be fixed. If someone is suffering from back pain from emotional causes, the back door approach would be to treat the emotional stress to relieve the back pain without ever touching the back.For example, exercise and stretching is a proven stress reliever. So even though exercise might not seem like the best cure for back pain, in this case it might just do the trick. The results are then cyclic — as you reduce stress, back pain decreases, mood improves, and you are less likely to consume sugary foods or too much caffeine.On the same note, someone who has great difficulty changing their diet might fare better by first focusing on structure and stress reduction. If they do improve their back health and reduce their stress levels, their cravings for sugary foods are diminished because the body is in better balance. Once again, an effect of the back door approach — by impacting one aspect of back pain you can solve the other two.
Strategies to Reduce Back Pain
1. Keep stress levels under control. This means effectively juggling work, family, and personal needs. Sinett says, "Over time I have learned that this is one of the areas that most people neglect most. Finding the right ways to deal with stress (which can be different for everyone) is one of the healthiest things that you do for yourself." Further, if you don't take care of yourself, other areas in your life will ultimately suffer, too.2. Maintain dietary balance and decrease overall portion size. Eat a variety of healthful foods, avoid most processed foods, and choose organic whenever possible. Sinett shares, "I definitely still enjoy an occasional bowl of ice cream, dessert or potato chips, but I always aim for moderation. You'll find that filling your body with healthful foods leaves little room for the not so healthy stuff!" Overeating, especially unhealthy foods, causes fluctuations in blood sugar and digestive irritation and overload. Unstable blood sugar can cause irregular moods, which lead to stress and inflammation in the body. Digestive irritation and inflammation causes stomach upset, muscles cramps, body aches, and back pain. A healthy, balanced diet can have anti-inflammatory effects on the body.3. Take care of your structure. Get treated once a week by a chiropractor, get a massage on a monthly basis, and stretch and exercise regularly. Go for a daily walk and practice yoga — both can improve your fitness and the strength of your back. Additionally, specific core exercises can help you protect your back from strain and injury. Consider signing up with a personal trainer or instructor to learn how Pilates can improve your overall health.Sinett says, "I'd like to leave you with this: If you have back pain, embrace the pain and figure out what your body is telling you. You may not like the message, but you can be sure that if you work on the emotional, chemical, and physical aspects of your health, it will be more than your back that feels better!"For more information on back pain, sign up for Dr. Sinett's periodic newsletter Balance in the Body or check out his book The Truth About Back Pain.