It’s not surprising that back pain is one of the top reasons people visit their health providers. While sometimes it’s due to an accident or injury that is out of our control, much of the time, back pain is caused by things we can address in our everyday lives.
Three chiropractors from across the state of Georgia offer practical tips to manage back pain. Below, Dr. Ben McDowell of McDowell Chiropractic in Roswell; Dr. Mary Watkins of Watkins Total Healthcare in Gainesville; and Dr. Michael Vaughn of Savannah Chiropractic Center in Savannah shared insights into natural pain relief to help people live free of back pain and potentially dangerous therapies such as opioid pain medication.
Before we dig in to managing pain at home, it’s important to note that people with a severe acute injury should not stretch or try to self-treat other than using ice, because stretching or heat could potentially make certain injuries worse. Read tips for managing sudden severe back pain here.
Support your spine while you sleep
Dr. Mary Watkins: When you’re resting, your body is healing. That’s why proper support and body posturing while sleeping is essential to healing. I work with my clients to learn proper sleeping positions.
Most of the time, the better position is lying on the back. Most people say they’re not comfortable lying flat. The tip is to bend the knees to a 45-degree angle and tuck a pillow underneath the knees to tilt the pelvis. This position relieves the lower back. The neck also needs a pillow that supports the neck in a natural curve. There are a lot of pillows out there with cervical (neck) support.
Sometimes people say there’s no way they can sleep on their back. When sleeping on the side, it’s really important to keep the spine in alignment because there’s more twisting that can happen. Typically, one leg is slung over the other one which twists the spine. The way to sleep on the side is with a 45-degree bend in knees with a pillow between the knees to prevent the spine and pelvis from twisting. And it’s important to totally avoid laying on the stomach. It is the worst for the lower back and the neck too!
These techniques can make a big difference in managing their chronic conditions.
Condition your body
Dr. Michael Vaughn: Statistically, 80% of us are going to have some form of back pain in our lifetime. Today’s MRIs are finding that muscle that is typically pretty lean is not as toned as it should be and is being replaced by fat. These muscles are supposed to be supporting our backs and skeletal system.
A lot of pain relief goes back to conditioning. Strengthening and stretching regularly can really help relieve back pain. The muscles help fortify the area that’s in pain.
Proper lifting is important. Toes, knees and nose are on the same plane facing the same way for lifting. You shouldn’t be bending and twisting at the same time you’re lifting – a lot of people get in trouble doing that.
Reconfigure your office
Dr. Mary Watkins: We talk a lot about ergonomics with patients because their work situation is creating problems for them. I go into businesses and do worksite assessments. A lot of the times we look at whether they have a proper chair supporting their spine and if they are sitting at the right height. Desk height is not as much of a problem as the chair fitting correctly. Desks are made for 6’ tall people and are too high for most people. The solution is a chair that is adjustable and raises you up to the desk.
The standup desk where you can change from sitting to standing and not have one particular posture all day long is one of the best options. Paying attention to the ergonomics of your workspace can make such a difference.
Right now we have all kinds of people working from home. They’re working on their laptop, often sitting with their laptop in their lap and their neck bent to see the screen.
Dr. Michael Vaughn: People need to sit up straight. I say, “Make sure your feet are on the ground, you’re tucking your gut in, you’re relaxing your shoulders and your head is reaching toward the ceiling – the things your grandma told you.”
Eat a balanced diet
Dr. Michael Vaughn: We’re not eating as nutritiously as we should and that can have an impact on our spines. We need to feed the muscle with good wholesome food so it brings proper nutrients to body to perform better. I’m not talking about supplementation. I’m talking about making sure to eat your veggies to get calcium and magnesium, which are good for your muscles. When you’re shopping in the supermarket, stay in the outer side of the store – the further in you go, the food is more processed and less nutritious.
Use ice for flare-ups
Dr. Mary Watkins: What I tell my patients is that there are going to be flare-ups. If they have to do an activity that will cause a flare-up, the best thing they can do is calm down the inflammation. Keep an ice pack in your freezer at all times. If you have a flare up, use ice, calm it down. Stick with ice always.
Dr. Michael Vaughn: If a patient has persisting back pain, they need to be evaluated. The condition could be something the chiropractor can fix or evaluate and refer to an orthopedic or neurologist or physical therapist. In the worst cases I evaluate, I have an orthopedic and a neurological group that I refer to.
Dr. Ben McDowell: A recent WEBMD study showed that chiropractic decreases the cost of treating back pain by about 30%, and decreases surgeries associated with back pain by about 30% too! It is now recommended as first-line treatment.
Choose natural pain relief
Dr. Ben McDowell: More than 100 people die every day from prescription pain medication for chronic pain. For chronic back pain, there is no safer or more cost-effective treatment than chiropractic care.
One of my patients is a lady who was referred to us by her pain management medical doctor. While a patient can simply walk into any chiropractor office in the state of Georgia without a referral, she trusted her physician who trusted us to see if we could help her get her medicine dosages down.
She relayed that she hadn’t been able to feel her feet below the knees for a decade – that she had to prop her feet up on the wall lying in bed to get to sleep because her upper legs hurt so badly. She couldn’t do yoga anymore and couldn’t take care of her aging mother or her son. We started to adjust her spine, and she started to improve in how she felt. After a little while, she was able to feel her legs again, and soon she didn’t have to sleep with her legs propped up. She also went back to yoga, her favorite form of exercise. She was able to take care of her mother and her son is now with her at every appointment. She says she has her life back and is cleared by her referring physician to stop taking the opioid pain medication.
Dr. Michael Vaughn: A recent study showed a 57% reduction in opioid use when chiropractic care is utilized in treatment for low back pain.
I’ve had a number of patients come in here and say “I was treated with opioids and spend $30,000 to $50,000 in rehab to come off of opioids. Now I have back pain and was just prescribed the same stuff that I got released from rehab for taking.” They never thought about a chiropractor from the beginning, but when they come to us, we’ve been able to help them.
Follow through with your care plan
Dr. Ben McDowell: A chiropractor is the only licensed doctor in the world who can give an adjustment, which moves bones in your spine back into the proper position and removes interference from the nerves that exit from in between the individual vertebrae (bones of the spine). When this interference is removed, the central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord – can carry messages of function and healing to all organs and parts of the body that are at the end of those nerves. This is how the body knows how to function and how to heal itself.
For patients who have had back pain, it’s essential to follow through with the entire recommendation of care that the chiropractor gives. Do not simply stop when the pain is gone, or it will come back with a vengeance; healing takes time! Imagine if you stopped working out when you started losing weight. It would most certainly come back.
Join a wellness program
Dr. Mary Watkins: Our spine is the protector of our nervous systems. People hear that once you start coming to the chiropractor, they want to keep you coming forever.
In our office, our patients thrive in our monthly wellness program. It’s similar to what we all do with our teeth. We brush, floss and visit the dentist every six months to have cleanings and X-rays to maintain the health of our teeth.