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The Truth About Back Pain

by Dr. Todd Sinett

Back pain epidemic
If you've ever suffered from back pain, I probably don't need to make the case for how prevalent it really is. But for those lucky few out there who have managed to stay back pain-free, America is suffering from back pain in epidemic proportions. Fifty percent of the work force will complain of back pain this year and 85% of us will suffer from back pain in our lifetimes. That's a whole lot of people! Back pain is the second leading cause of missed work days -- in fact, only the common cold causes more missed days. Sadly, we spend 90 Billion dollars trying to diagnose and treat back pain each year (a dramatic increase year after year) while the amount of people who suffer from back pain is steadily increasing not decreasing.

Is back pain inevitable?
With so many people experiencing back pain, a very normal question to ask is “Is back pain a normal part of life?” I’ll answer this definitively right now… absolutely not. Back pain is not normal. Some experts might try to lead us to believe that the answer is “yes”, based on statistics of just how many of us experience back pain. They’ve even created an entire language to describe back pain as if it were an unpreventable and incurable disease, with terms like “degenerative disc disease”. However, just because misery has a lot of company doesn't mean it’s normal. The good news is, for the vast majority of us, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Truth About Back Pain
The reason that we have so much back pain in our society is because we don't understand all the causes of back pain. Typically, back pain is only diagnosed and treated as a structural problem. A doctor hears the words “back pain” and immediately looks to the spine for answers. This current approach spends its time trying to get rid of the pain, rather than getting to the cause of the pain, and that is a problem.

You may be asking why we wouldn’t look to the spine to deliver answers on the cause of back pain. One way to explain this better is by using the smoke alarm analogy. If you hear a smoke alarm going off, you would not just look in the immediate area for the potential source of smoke. Smoke travels far and can come from surprising sources. You also wouldn’t remove the battery from the detector to stop the alarm; instead you’d find the source of the smoke and put out the fire.

A painful back is your body alerting you that something is wrong. This alert merits a search for the source of the pain. But, just because your back happens to be the place where your body keeps its “smoke alarm”, doesn’t mean that it’s the cause of the pain. Since most treatments are solely focused on one third of the information, the real cause and subsequent cure are missed. Unfortunately, failure is guaranteed if we continue with this approach.

Getting to the bottom of back pain
To get rid of back pain, it’s imperative that we establish that there are causes of back pain aside from problems with the spine. There are three possible causes of back pain:

1. Structural imbalance: An imbalance in, or misalignment of, muscles, bones, nerves, ligaments, etc. This is where we have devoted most of our research, energy, time, and money. While structural problems can be a cause for back pain, it’s important to consider numbers 2 and 3 on this list.

2. Emotions and stress: Emotions and stress can cause chemical changes in the body. A Stanford University study concluded that emotional stress and outlook is the most important predictor and cause of back pain

3. Diet and nutrition: What you eat and drink can affect your muscular system and create back pain. Too much of certain foods, or overeating in general, can result in elevated cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that the body produces that increases your inflammatory responses. When cortisol levels are high over a period of time, the risk of suffering from back pain increases.

And, these three causes also affect one another. For instance, overeating not only raises Cortisol levels, but it can cause someone to become overweight – which then puts stress on joints and can cause structural imbalance. Long term stress can cause us to exercise less, because we may feel like we don’t have time, and that can lead to structural imbalances and can also affect our appetites.

Three Tips for Reducing and preventing back pain
The most important lesson that I can share is to understand the truth about back pain. You need to listen to your body when you experience pain to understand why it is sending you this message. Ignoring it and hoping that it will go away, or treating the direct pain with medication, will never result in long term health and pain relief. Here are a few tips from my book, The Truth About Back Pain.

1. Reduce your stress levels and relax. If you have a busy schedule, plan time to do something relaxing (playing with your kids, a yoga class, a walk in the park, a couple minutes of meditation, a massage, a haircut, lunch with a friend, etc.) right into your schedule and stick to it like your job depends on it!

2. Exercise, stretch, and move around. Eighty five percent of us fail to get regular exercise and 85% of us suffer from back pain. That’s no coincidence. Exercise also serves as a means of relieving stress – so get out there and go for a walk to prevent back pain on several levels.

3. Eat healthful foods in appropriate amounts. A properly functioning digestive system will help to keep the muscular system properly functioning. Not to mention, eating well means feeling energetic and more positive and that leads to major stress reduction.

Dr. Todd Sinett, Chiropractor and best selling author of “The Truth About Back Pain” aims to educate others how to cure and prevent chronic back pain. Steering away from doctors in his field, Dr. Sinett believes that by focusing on the whole body and the three levels of the core: Structural, Chemical, and Emotional one can improve ones overall health.

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