At any given time, 20 percent of us have back pain. During the last year, 40 percent of us have had back pain. Throughout our lives, 80 percent of us will have had back pain. Recent reviews suggest that more and more back pain sufferers are using our health care system to diagnose and treat their pain, with more than 20 million back pain-related visits per year.
We're spending more money on back pain while disability from back pain is increasing.
In order to understand this, you must understand that back pain and disability from back pain are separate phenomena. Back pain doesn't change. If you took an arbitrary poll anywhere in the world today or even if you traveled back in time and took that poll, you would find that the above percentages consistently apply.
Polling disability as a result of that back pain, in contrast, would yield results that vary wildly. It's largely a peculiar phenomenon of westernized cultures.
Part of the reason that our system fails us is that we're inundated with a slew of harmful myths. These myths set a destructive tone and lead us astray. Here are four common misconceptions regarding pain, four things you can do to help alleviate it, as well as a few easy exercises to help you decrease the frequency, intensity and duration of you back pain.
What doesn't work?
1. The status quo.
When you see a health care provider, the treatment you receive is based on what that provider does — not on what's wrong with you. When you see a chiropractor, you receive chiropractic. When you see a pain management doctor, you get an injection. When you see a surgeon…. You get the idea!
2. Assuming that back pain arises from something "broken."
Back pain is seldom the result of an injury. It should be regarded as "part of life," just like a cold or a headache. It can improve without being "fixed."
3. Letting "pain be your guide" as you increase activities.
We're programed to interpret pain as nature's warning sign. Although this it true at times, most of the time, adherence to this philosophy leads us to improve more slowly and less completely than we would otherwise.
4. Altering your work environment or the physical demands of your job.
This "common sense" principle doesn't predictably lead to a decrease in pain or disability.
So, what does work?
1. Don't assume that your health care provider knows what's best for you.
Their advice is often self-serving and not in your best interest. It's up to you to be circumspect and to question the validity of every proposed treatment. If it seems wrong for you, it probably is. Back pain is your responsibility.
2. Remember that back pain usually gets better.
The natural history of acute back pain is typically one of improvement. Remember, also, that back pain tends to reoccur. It's essential that you engage in an exercise program for your core that will limit the frequency, duration, and intensity of exacerbated pain.
3. Harness the remarkable ability of you body to adapt.
Begin to increase activities and exercise even while still in pain. Yes, you can have setbacks, but patients "underachieve" much more than they "overdo it." Be willing to put up with some pain as you return to full activities.
4. Focus on enjoying your job rather than changing your work environment.
Increasing your job satisfaction is more likely to result in decreased disability than is a thorough ergonomic overhaul.
Do you see the common theme here? Back pain is your responsibility. You can't make it go away, but you can reduce the associated disability. You can also mitigate back pain by reducing the frequency, intensity, and duration of the inevitable recurrences.
Try these 3 simple exercises below three times a week to strengthen your core and improve your back pain.
1. Bird dog
This exercise strengthens your back and serves as a warm up. This is an endurance exercise. Get on your hands and knees on an exercise mat, with your knees directly under your hips and your wrists directly below your shoulders, fingers pointed forward.
Tighten your abdominal muscles to stabilize your spine. Keeping your head in a neutral position, simultaneously extend your left arm in front of you until it's parallel to the ground and extend your right (opposite) leg until it's also parallel to the ground. Hold this for two seconds then return to your starting position and repeat, reversing the the arm and leg you're extending.
Make gains by increasing the number of repetitions with good form.