Alternative therapies for low back pain

Americans are experiencing a dramatic surge in back pain in the last 50 years. Research estimates that 80 percent of adults will eventually suffer from the condition. Once called lumbago, this current ''epidemic'' comes at a time when fewer and fewer people are engaged in demanding physical labor. This is a puzzling statistic considering that we tend to believe that it is the individual involved in ''back breaking labor'' who suffers more backaches.

Many cases can be specifically traced to structural defects yet many times spinal X-rays or MRI scans of seemingly normal individuals reveal bulging disks and other spinal abnormalities while suffering little or no pain. Doctors also see the opposite where an individual has seemingly no abnormalities yet suffers with debilitating pain.

The pain is real, no doubt, and the root cause may be more deep seated than we think. Dr. John Sarno at the world-renowed Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, N.Y.U. Medical Center, strongly believes that most cases of chronic back pain are caused by intense psychological stress.

Louise Hay, famous for her books on healing including You Can Heal Your Life, has similar beliefs. She states that low back pain comes from undue worry over money and finances. Imagine that in this culture!

Whether an individual is suffering with low back pain and actually has abnormalities is really academic, they want pain relief and they want it now. In most, or many, cases, relieving the pain which allows for some healing will eventually help bring them around to looking at lifestyles and the emotional and psychological issues that may be part of the picture -- especially if the pain has been severe and/or disabling.

Most individuals will respond best to a combination of natural therapies; let's take a look at what's available:

Helpful supplements

Calcium and Magnesium will help strengthen the bones and the ligamentous muscle attachments. Most experts emphasize the magnesium as it keeps calcium in solution, aiding as a muscle relaxant.

Glucosamine sulfate, the darling of the arthritis world, helps build cartilage, including the tissue supporting spinal disks.

White willow bark (the forerunner of aspirin) and boswellia, and ayurvedic herbal both work to relieve pain and inflammation.

Digestive enzymes especially bromelain (the pineapple enzyme) work as natural anti inflammatories.

Body work

Getting massage, learning relaxation techniques, acupressure and acupuncture, learning the Alexander technique, all help retrain, reeducate, realign overstressed overused muscle groups. Body work is a must when dealing with low back chronic pain.

Exercise and lifestyle changes

Learning stretching and maintaining a regular fitness program is the single most important thing you can do to prevent and heal from back pain. Movement increases your back's flexibility, strengthens and helps rehydrate disks. Good posture, including the right work chair, good shoes (orthotics if necessary), standing correctly, and lifting are equally as important. Maintaining the proper weight is also imperative.

The cycle of chronic low back pain may be a difficult one to overcome but not impossible. When using a natural approach, a combination of therapies is your best bet. Call the doctor; don't wait if pain becomes disabling or if you experience numbness or tingling in the arms or legs.

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online March 21, 2000

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