It’ll take a combination of visits to the doctor and change to a healthier lifestyle to stop it from resurging now and then.
An estimated 65 million Americans suffer from at least one instance of back pain, with a quarter being adults experiencing persistent episodes. It’s one of the costliest medical conditions in the U.S., with direct and indirect costs amounting to around USD$12 billion a year. Physically and financially aside, it can also affect people emotionally. (1)
Treatment for back pain ranges from home remedies to surgery (for the worst cases), but it can recur like many other health conditions. One study estimates that a third of resolved low back pain cases tend to return after a year. (2)
To mitigate or prevent any chance of back pain returning, health experts recommend the following best practices:
- Consider chiropractic care
According to data from a survey done in 1999, 83% of adults with back pain say they consult a physician and take prescription drugs. The figure is evidently higher than the 65% of adults who do the same for any other condition. Only 20% considered seeing a chiropractor, while 8% said they would see a physical or occupational therapist. (1)
While these figures may suggest that physicians are the go-to people for back pain, they don’t essentially imply that they’re more effective. In a randomized survey of over 600 patients, the satisfaction score for people who received chiropractic care was higher than those who received medical care. Getting an in-depth explanation of their treatment plan helped increase scores. (3)
Most back pain problems are right up the chiropractor’s field of expertise, and there are scores of them in major cities. Extensive online directories, such as the National Chiropractors Association and other sites, provide information on chiropractors in various localities around the U.S. Some directories even allow filtering results by technique (e.g., biomechanics, orthospinology).
- Stay physically active
There’s no doubt that back pain can severely hamper one’s movement, so it’s somewhat sensible to limit it as much as possible. But studies prove that it’s no reason not to get regular exercise or, at the very least, stay physically active.
A review of 21 relevant studies involving over 30,000 subjects in 2010 (updated as of 2019) had found that regular exercise decreased one-year back pain recurrence rates by as much as 26%. Almost half of the subjects who didn’t exercise said their back pain returned after one year. On the other hand, only roughly a third of the group who exercised say their back pain recurred. (4)
The effects of exercise on the back are well-documented, among them being:
- Allowing fluid exchange between discs, which reduces swelling
- Maintaining the flexibility of tendon and ligament fibers
- Strengthening supporting muscles in the back and abdomen
- Releasing endorphins that lessen pain perception (5)
Nevertheless, the review also quickly points out that there’s no one-size-fits-all exercise regime. There are too many factors to consider, such as the patient’s fitness and severity of the back pain. Health experts recommend consulting a physician or chiropractor before engaging in any routine, the latter searchable through resources, like Chiropractic Economics and others.
If exercise isn’t possible for some reason, staying on the move as often as possible is an excellent alternative. However, avoid doing anything that can strain the back, such as heavy lifting.
- Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet
As less apparent as it may seem, dietary choices are perhaps the aspect of mitigating back pain that yields the most effect. The link between eating balanced meals and its contribution to the body’s overall recovery needs no introduction, given the countless studies that have proven it.
One of the more recent research has discovered that adopting an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce incidences of back pain. Based on data of nearly 4,000 subjects from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (ca. 2003-2004), researchers determined that people who ate a pro-inflammatory diet had a 42% higher risk of recurring back pain than those that didn’t.
These findings make sense when considering that pain is the body’s inflammatory response to infection or injury. Foods that promote inflammation include refined grains and other refined food and beverage products, the same ones linked to unhealthy blood sugar spikes and obesity.
Meanwhile, as the research also says, foods that inhibit inflammation are akin to a Mediterranean diet. This diet focuses on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and some fish––rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
Some examples include:
- Tuna and salmon
- Several types of berries
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Olives and olive oil
The manner of preparing such a diet can also reduce inflammation even further. Recipes that call for steaming or braising instead of frying or cooking can lower the amount of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) produced. High AGE levels can force an inflammatory response, which won’t help manage back pain.
- Consider painkillers as a last resort
As mentioned earlier, most people with back pain often take prescription drugs to alleviate its effects. Hence, doctors prescribe a broad range of painkillers––from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to opioids.
However, doctors are also wary of the risk of over-dependence these medications can sometimes induce. Opioids, for instance, are a grave health concern in the U.S., with more than half of drug overdose deaths caused by such drugs. The more of these painkillers people take daily and the longer they do, the greater the risk of harm.
As such, health experts advise only considering painkillers as a last resort, notably if the back pain persists for more than three months. At this stage, the back pain can be considered chronic, which warrants a visit to the physician or chiropractor. In the end, a few stretches and a well-rounded diet are safer options than drugs.
As discussed in this piece, back pain has no universal cure, much like most health conditions. It’ll take a combination of visits to the doctor and change to a healthier lifestyle to stop it from resurging now and then. If it reaches the point that this solution can’t effectively manage back pain, a doctor’s prescription may be in order.
- “Chronic Back Pain”, Source: https://hpi.georgetown.edu/backpain/
- “Risk of Recurrence of Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review”, Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28355981/
- “Comparing the Satisfaction of Low Back Pain Patients Randomized to Receive Medical or Chiropractic Care: Results From the UCLA Low-Back Pain Study”, Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447298/
- “Can exercise prevent recurrent low back pain?”, Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK284937/
- “How Exercise Helps the Back”, Source: https://www.spine-health.com/wellness/exercise/how-exercise-helps-back