Nearly 80% of adults experiencing some form of low back pain during their lives and, for older adults low back pain is one of the major health conditions leading to disability1. Too often we think of drugs and surgery as the only options. With the specter of addiction that surrounds pain killers and failure rates of spinal surgery ranging from 10% to 40%2 , many back pain sufferers feel that their only option is to “tough it out”.
If you are a person who is experiencing significant low back pain for the first time or if you have been nursing a slowly progressing back condition that is now beyond what you can manage yourself, you may be putting off care for the wrong reasons.
The How’s and Why’s of Back Pain
Though it has been regarded as a modern epidemic, when back pain affects you as an individual it feels personal and unique. That said, there are several major categories of low back pain and here are a few of the most common:
This type of injury results from overloading the back muscles or the connecting tendons and ligaments that hold the joints together. Sprain/strain injuries can occur suddenly from lifting a heavy object, or from a fall or a sports injury. Or, you can also develop a strain/sprain injury slowly over time from poor posture or too many hours performing repetitive a motion, i.e. keyboarding.
A common low back injury in which the jelly-like interior of the lumbar disc, normally contained by a thick fibrous outer ring, breaks through and encroaches on nearby nerve roots. Once released into the outer environment, a dramatic inflammatory response occurs, along with considerable pain and joint dysfunction. Small nerves within the discs themselves as well as large nerves that travel out from the spinal cord to the legs and internal organs such as the bladder and bowels can be affected. Disc problems affect up to one-third of the population.
Wear and tear that sets in over time, bringing with it inflammation, instability and pain. Also known simply as degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis results from a combination of traumatic and repetitive postural injuries, and is compounded by diminished muscle tone and loss of hydration associated with the aging process.
Narrowing of the spaces surrounding the central spinal cord or nerve roots, stenosis can be a particularly challenging condition to treat. Disc injuries that encroach on the cord or nerve roots are a form of stenosis. Osteoarthritis can cause bone spurs to form, leading to stenosis if they grow inward toward the cord or nerve roots. Certain conditions, such as Paget’s disease, can cause a generalized overgrowth of bone throughout the vertebral canal and nerve roots. Additionally, a small percentage of people are born with a congenitally narrow spinal canal.
An Ounce of Back Pain Prevention
Preventive maintenance can save you from some of the most common back pain conditions and reduce their severity when they do arise. Stretching and strengthening form the cornerstone of any healthy back routine. A combination of activities that maintain muscle tone and preserve mobility, such as walking, swimming, yoga and tai chi are wonderful in this regard because they move the back gently through all of its ranges of motion. These activities also serve an important nourishing function for the joints, which rely on the mechanics of movement to push waste products out and bringing in a fresh supply of oxygen and nutrients. Without exercise, joints become deprived of these vital substances and more susceptible to injury.
Complementary Chiropractic Care
One of the best ways to round out your preventive home care is with complementary healthcare. Many studies support complementary forms of care, particularly chiropractic, as an effective way to heal and prevent low back pain. Bottom line evidence from a review of health insurance claims that found that for patients who sought integrative care, including chiropractic, hospital admissions decreased by 43%, length of hospital stays decreased by 58.4% and pharmaceutical costs decreased by 51.8%3.
Because it works with the body’s inherent healing mechanisms, chiropractic care has been found to produce superior results compared to standard prescription drugs for low back pain, outperforming in some instances by more than five-fold in terms of both degree and speed of pain relief5,6. Chiropractic therapy also bears out over the longterm, according to one study in which participants, including some with stenosis, reported continued improvement a full year after receiving a 3-week course of chiropractic adjustments4. Older patients respond well to conservative chiropractic care, as evidenced by a study, in which the chiropractic care patients showed greater pain reduction despite being, on average, 10 years older and having more longstanding back conditions compared to those who received medical care6.
Objective evidence from a recent MRI study supports what chiropractic patients have been reporting for more than 100 years7. MRIs revealed that the spaces within the spinal joints was greater after chiropractic adjustments. Researchers theorize that chiropractic adjustments may work by breaking up adhesions in the joint connective tissues. By creating more space within the joint, chiropractic therapy may reduce pain and improve function by promoting increased range of motion and decreased tension in surrounding muscles.
With so much evidence accumulating in support of conservative measure such as chiropractic care its not surprising that a 2015 Gallup poll showed that a majority of U.S. adults now hold a positive view of chiropractic and believe that it is an effective method for treating back pain8.