Sunday, October 12, 2008

Oh my Aching Back!

A few points from Thomas H. Reece, DO, ND, one of just a few practitioners with dual degrees in Naturopathic and Osteopathic Medicine.

Serious back problems usually involve pain that travels down the leg, producing numbness and a decrease in muscle strength (this may show up as a drop foot or you may simply notice that you are tripping on one foot). This kind of problem requires appropriate diagnosis and care not any attempts at self-treatment.

In the initial stages of back pain from a strained muscle, nothing is quite as simple and effective as ice and rest. It may be beneficial to stay in bed (or at least rest from normal activity) for a day or two after such a strain, but longer bed rest may do more harm than good, leading to further stiffness and weakness. It's best to return to some activity, such as walking on level ground, as soon as possible. Taking magnesium malate, enzymes and homeopathic arnica may help ease the pain of a strain. If back pain is severe (you can't move or you experience the serious symptoms noted above) or a seemingly simple strain persists for more than three days, see your physician for diagnosis and treatment.

A lack of exercise lies at the root of many back problems, with muscle weakness and stiffness opening the door to injury. Try daily exercises, carefully tailored to suit individual ability, consisting of muscle stretching and strengthening, endurance, low-impact aerobic exercise (e.g., walking or swimming), and spine stabilization exercises for deep abdominal muscles. Specific activities included walking on a treadmill, stationary cycling, step-ups and abdominal-strengthening exercises using a gym ball. Perform Qigong over Tai Chi... yoga or Pilates could also be beneficial if the instructor tailors the program to your specific needs.

Hot compresses relax muscles and increase blood flow to painful areas, while cold compresses reduce inflammation. With back strains, always use cold only during the first 48 to 72 hours, then alternate cold with hot. Apply alternate cold and hot packs to strained or sore areas of the back, using cold first. Use each for two to five minutes, for a total of 20 to 30 minutes, ending with cold. Instant cold and hot packs are widely available in drugstores or you can use moistened towels.

There are some natural solutions, however. Enzymes such as bromelain and herbs such as curcumin are known to have a natural anti-inflammatory impact. Also, supplements such as fish oil may help reduce inflammation and soothe back discomfort.

Many back problems stem from poor body mechanics or posture -- for example, lifting objects incorrectly or sitting hunched over a computer all day. Good body mechanics mean that you are standing, sitting and moving without putting undue stress on any muscles or joints. Before resorting to complicated, high-tech solutions for back pain, consider going the natural route. The truth is that most episodes of acute pain from back strain resolve on their own and low-tech, side-effect-free options work for many people.

No comments: