Ultimate Back Pain Cheat Sheet

In case you missed it, last week’s blog discussed the new back pain guidelines for physicians. Notably, the new guidelines highlight the role of alternative therapies like acupuncture, massage yoga, and mindfulness for speeding back pain recovery. Naturally, we want to follow-up this week on what back pain sufferers can do to lead more pain-free lives and created the Ultimate Back Pain Cheat Sheet.

Back pain frequently has many components, and seldom is pain simply related to just an illness or injury. As one of my college professor used to say, “life is cumulative.” Our bodies and minds endure a lifetime of stress, emotions, physical trauma, and behaviors that can all impact back pain.

A number of studies have demonstrated that back pain is unique in that the usual causes of spinal pain (herniated or bulging discs, spinal misalignments, etc) are present both in the majority of people who have never experienced significant back pain and those with pain. In other words, there is little correlation between the experience of back pain and the physical condition of the spine.

This observation may be largely due to the role of the nervous system in triggering pain sensations. In many pain sufferers, the nervous system gets so wound up that the ability to properly interpret pain is not functioning normal. In these individuals, a major component to recovery can be doing things to help calm the nervous system down.

With this in mind, we created a cheat sheet of tools for back pain sufferers to consider incorporating into their lives.

Here is our cheat sheet for working through back pain:

  1. Practice Mindfulness.
    A study published in JAMA by researchers the University of Washington showed that training people with chronic low back pain in either Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) worked significantly better than medical care alone. The MBSR and CBT study participants showed greater improvement in back pain and disability. Mindfulness training teaches awareness and acceptance of the many moment-to-moment physical changes in our bodies, while letting go of our typical negative reactions. CBT uses a somewhat different approach. It focuses on observing and identifying our negative thought patterns about a particular issues (i.e. back pain), and then replacing our reaction with a more open and accurate pattern.

    Consider starting with 1-5 minutes of daily alone time. This can be with the eyes closed, and in a safe space. Start by watching your breathe. As you breath in, label it “In”, as you breath out label it “Out.” This helps quiet the mind and allows you to be present and in your own body. 
     
  2. Prioritize balance.
    An imbalanced life can lead to fatigue and added stress on the body: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Back pain in Chinese medicine is related to the kidneys which supplies our reserve energy to any organ running low on qi. From this prospective back pain is about preserving kidney health and stopping the energy drains in our lives. This means listening your body: when you are tired go to bed, when you are hungry eat, when you are thirsty drink. Reflect through out the day and give yourself permission to destress and take a break. Fear is the emotion of the kidneys.

    Consider finding time to journal daily on your emotions. Pain is affected daily by our thoughts, emotions, and feelings, and journaling is just one of many tools to help us process.

     
  3. Movement.
    If you are like most Americans, sitting is a major part of your day. We sit commuting through traffic, at the computer, work, and in front of the TV. For much of the population sitting can account for up to 8 hours daily. Spines that don’t move become inflexible and more prone to injury and pain. A lack of movement also does not allow the body to get nutrients and blood into the tissues and muscles, resulting in poor healing and impacting tissue health. Start by introducing your body to short walks.

    Consider walking to the corner of the street and back. If no pain, consider walking around the block next time, and gradually increase your walking time and distance daily. This should be relatively pain free, so if it is not scale things back or speak with your physician.

     
  4. Drink water.
    Most of us underestimate the effects of good hydration. When dehydrated the body is not as efficient at getting ride of waste materials, like lactic acid which can contribute to muscle pain and stiffness. Water is also one of the major components of the discs separating the vertebra in your back. These discs expand and contract like sponges, absorbing the impact of your daily activities and when dehydrated can loose their cushion.

    A good daily water goal is to drink at least 1/3 of your body weight in ounces.
     
  5. Seek out a professional to help.
    Back pain can be debilitating, and sometimes we all just need a little support. Back pain also can take some creative approaches to start healing and find new balance in your life.

Photo credit: Jean-Paul CHASSENET © 123rf.com