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Back pain is a very common condition that the majority of adults will experience at some point. It can range from irritating to debilitating, and can affect young and old. There are many different causes, and the appropriate treatment will vary with the individual case; however there are some general principles and ideas that could be of benefit to anyone suffering from back pain.
The most important first step is to check that the back pain is not a symptom of a different complaint. This can be related to how the pain started (e.g. slips and trips or lifting) or may be related to your heart or other organs. Visit nhsdirect for a list of key questions:
Upper Back Pain or Lower Back Pain
Your back is a complicated web of muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage and bones. Together, these give your back the strength to hold you up, the sensitivity to react to small instabilities when standing or walking, and flexibility. This combination of strength, sensitivity and flexibility means it is prone to aches and pains. Often people’s first port of call for a sore back is their GP. Your doctor may offer painkilling and anti-inflammatory drugs, physiotherapy or surgery, however there are a number of natural supplements, therapies and lifestyle choices that may also be beneficial. These are briefly discussed below:
First Things First – Posture is Vital: Look at how you sit, stand and sleep.
Our backs evolved over time and it is only
recently that we have started to spend so much time sitting at work,
driving our cars and other modern activities. Our posture plays a
fundamental role in the health of our back. This includes how we
stand and how we sleep. You can read about what makes a “good”
posture or consider taking a series of Hypnotherapy or Neuro-linguistic
programming can help. Acupuncture has also been shown to be
effective in pain management. Certain herbs may also be used,
however many of the effective pain relieving herbs are only
available with a prescription from a medical herbalist.
Herbs and Supplement
Depending on the underlying condition there may be suitable supplements. One common supplement is glucosomine which may be useful for osteo-arthritis (wear and tear). Herbs are also available which have anti-inflammatory properties (internally such as devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)and white willow (Salix alba) or externally such as arnica (Arnica montana)). If stress and tension play a role then you may need to address these areas with herbs such as passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) or valerian (Valeriana officinalis).
Hands on Treatments: Massage, Bowen and more
As discussed earlier, muscular tension can play a role in back pain. It is not uncommon for massage to focus on leg muscles such as hamstrings as well as the back, as tight hamstrings can lead to the back being pulled out of its natural position, leading to back pain. Finding a good massage therapist to ensure your muscles are relaxed and in a good condition can be an important first step in addressing back pain. Chiropractors or osteopaths may also help, focussing on the alignment of the spine and bones, however shiatsu and Bowen technique may also be considered. Acupuncture has been shown to help in studies and in England, NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) recommend acupuncture for some back pain. Manual Lymph Drainage may also be useful if there is a lot of inflammation or spasm, especially if those areas have not responded well to massage.
With the wide range of therapies available, it can be difficult to find the right one for you. Consider asking other people about their experience, discussing your needs with a therapist or asking a health professional for advice.
I hope this brief overview has been helpful. Back pain can be debilitating; but there are a range of ways to reduce your risk, or to manage/recover when it occurs.
Cautions: Please check that your back pain may be suitable for self treatment. Consider using NHS Direct, your GP or therapist.
One of the best-selling joint health supplements in the UK is glucosamine. Although best know for joint pain, such as for knee pain, it can also be useful for some cases of back pain, as the spinal column is a series of joints. Glucosamine is a naturally occurring molecule that your body makes and uses to build the "cushioning" between joints.This is done by improving the condition of cartilage between the joints and the synovial fluid around the joint.
Taking supplemental glucosamine can help your body to improve the condition of the "cushioning" in your joints. Over time this allows your body to reduce the inflammation in the joints.
The most effective form of glucosamine is considered to be Glucosamine Sulphate, as the sulphur is also beneficial for the joints. Glucosamine Sulphate is normally extracted from shellfish. For vegetarians or for people who are allergic to shellfish then a vegetarian option is available. We normally recommend ensuring you take a strong enough amount (typically 1000-1500mg of glucosamine sulphate). We also suggest assessing your current symptoms, so that you can assess the benefits over a 4 to 8 week timescale.
Some people may benefit from taking a combination of Glucosamine and Chondroitin. Chondroitin is used by the body in a similar way to glucosamine, helping build the cushioning between the joint. However it is more expensive and less well absorbed than glucosamine so it may be worth trying glucosamine on its own first.
Cautions and Contraindications: Apart from people with a shellfish allergy, it is also suggested that diabetics are monitored if they are also taking glucosamine.
Herb of the Month – White Willow (Salix alba)
White willow is a herb with hundreds of years' traditional use. It shares the honour of being the historical origin of aspirin with meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). It was from white willow that aspirin was developed, however white willow does not have many of aspirin’s side effects. White willow contains a chemical called salicylic acid which has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used for inflammatory conditions including back pain.
It is most often taken as a tea (infused or decocted) or as a herbal tincture.
Cautions: White willow does not have the blood thinning properties of aspirin, and so does not have a specific role in heart health. We normally recommend seeking advice from your Doctor, Herbalist or other health professional if taking prescription medicines and thinking about self-treating with herbs.