How to live pain-free with a healthy back
by Mimi Solaire —
Back pain? You are far from alone. Back problems have become epidemic. Eighty percent of all Americans suffer from back pain at some time in their lives. Usually, the pain is sudden — like a toothache. And like having a toothache, life revolves around seeking pain relief.
There is much debate about the best way to relieve back pain. There also are myths regarding the causes of back pain which may influence our choice of treatment options. In an effort to alleviate our pain, we may even subject ourselves to unnecessary treatments or give up activities we love.
Here are facts about back pain:
- Less than 4 percent of back pain is structural.
- A herniated disc does not cause pain in most cases.
- Most people experience back pain between ages 30-60.
- After age 60, the rate of back pain decreases.
- Most back pain fades in six to eight weeks, regardless of the type of treatment.
- Our bodies are experts at healing, if we give them time.
- The back pain epidemic is less than 50 years old — about as long as our sedentary lifestyle.
Now let us look at the real cause of back pain — stress. There are two types of stress, repetitive and mental.
Repetitive stress is caused by performing the same activity (or inactivity) too often, too strenuously or a combination of both. In the case of back pain, the stress comes from too much sitting. Proper body mechanics depend upon good muscle tone to maintain the lumbar and cervical spinal curves. Being overweight also will put severe pressure on the back and jeopardize the spinal curves. Activities such as running, rowing, biking or dancing can trigger an attack if the proper body mechanics are not followed.
As evidence of the mind-body connection, the muscles can contract when the mind perceives something as stressful. Contracted muscles create lactic acid, which creates pain. The nerves affected are peripheral nerves to the muscles. Dr. Jonh Sarno calls this condition tension myositis syndrome (TMS), which results from mild blood deprivation (lack of oxygen) to muscles and nerves of the neck, shoulders, back and buttocks. TMS is a harmless condition of the soft tissue caused by repressed emotions. The mind perceives the body as tight or compromised, and these conditions manifest as fear, anger and vulnerability. In order to break the cycle, treatment must focus on both mind and body.
Care and management of the back is our personal responsibility. Self-treatment ultimately brings about better and longer lasting results than any other form of therapy.
Like the toothache, back pain has been accumulating unconsciously until a trigger brings the pain to our attention. Like healthy teeth, prevention is the cure. Reducing mental stress begins by acknowledging the sources of stress and making appropriate changes. Often, the sources are not easily changed, but we can balance the stress by taking time to relax. Relaxation does not mean watching TV or reading, but practicing meditation or deep breathing. There are many good teachers and tapes available to guide you.
Exercise can help release lactic acid as well as secrete endorphins, which are our internal pharmacy of mood elevators. Yoga is ideal for people with back pain since its gentle movements coordinate with breath and body awareness. Yoga is the best mind-body therapy. By taking just 15 minutes a day to stretch and tone your body, you will feel better, more relaxed, healthier — and be free of back pain.
Mimi Solaire is a yoga instructor who conducts workshops and classes on relieving chronic pain, back pain and stress. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.mimisolaire.com.
Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 24, Number 2, April/May 2005.