By definition, chronic pain is any pain that lasts for longer than 12 weeks. About 80% of adults experience low back pain at some point, and of those, about 20% develop chronic back pain. There are numerous causes for this which can be either physical or emotional in nature, or some combination of both. Many ways to treat low back pain exists, but the cost of treatment and the naturalness of medications is a growing concern among many people today.
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
The vast majority of low back pain is mechanical in nature. That
- Sprains and strains Sprains are caused by overstretching or tearing ligaments, and strains are tears in tendon or muscle. Both can occur from twisting or lifting something improperly, lifting something too heavy, or overstretching. Such movements may also trigger spasms in back muscles, which can also be painful.
- Intervertebral disc degeneration is one of the most common mechanical causes of low back pain, and it occurs when the usually rubbery discs lose integrity. In a healthy back, intervertebral discs provide height and allow bending, flexion, and torsion of the lower back. As the discs deteriorate, they lose their cushioning ability.
- Herniated or ruptured discs can occur when the intervertebral discs become compressed and bulge outward (herniation) or rupture, causing low back pain.
- Radiculopathy is a condition caused by compression, inflammation and/or injury to a spinal nerve root. Pressure on the nerve root results in pain, numbness, or a tingling sensation that travels or radiates to other areas of the body that are served by that nerve. Radiculopathy may occur when spinal stenosis or a herniated or ruptured disc compresses the nerve root.
- Sciatica is a form of radiculopathy caused by compression of the sciatic nerve, the large nerve that travels through the buttocks and extends down the back of the leg. This compression causes shock-like or burning low back pain combined with pain through the buttocks and down one leg, occasionally reaching the foot. In the most extreme cases, when the nerve is pinched between the disc and the adjacent bone, the symptoms may involve not only pain, but numbness and muscle weakness in the leg because of interrupted nerve signaling. The condition may also be caused by a tumor or cyst that presses on the sciatic nerve or its roots.
- Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which a vertebra of the lower spine slips out of place, pinching the nerves exiting the spinal column.
- A traumatic injury, such as from playing sports, car accidents, or a fall can injure tendons, ligaments or muscle resulting in low back pain. Traumatic injury may also cause the spine to become overly compressed, which in turn can cause an intervertebral disc to rupture or herniate, exerting pressure on any of the nerves rooted to the spinal cord. When spinal nerves become compressed and irritated, back pain and sciatica may result.
- Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal column that puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves that can cause pain or numbness with walking and over time leads to leg weakness and sensory loss.
- Skeletal irregularities include scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that does not usually cause pain until middle age; lordosis, an abnormally accentuated arch in the lower back; and other congenital anomalies of the spine.
Other lower back pain causes that aren’t mechanical are more rare, but can be contributed to conditions such as:
- Infections are not a common cause of back pain. However, infections can cause pain when they involve the vertebrae, a condition called osteomyelitis; the intervertebral discs, called discitis; or the sacroiliac joints connecting the lower spine to the pelvis, called sacroiliitis.
- Tumors are a relatively rare cause of back pain. Occasionally, tumors begin in the back, but more often they appear in the back as a result of cancer that has spread from elsewhere in the body.
- Cauda equina syndrome is a serious but rare complication of a ruptured disc. It occurs when disc material is pushed into the spinal canal and compresses the bundle of lumbar and sacral nerve roots, causing loss of bladder and bowel control. Permanent neurological damage may result if this syndrome is left untreated.
- Abdominal aortic aneurysms occur when the large blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs becomes abnormally enlarged. Back pain can be a sign that the aneurysm is becoming larger and that the risk of rupture should be assessed.
- Kidney stones can cause sharp pain in the lower back, usually on one side.
- Inflammatory diseases of the joints such as arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis as well as spondylitis, an inflammation of the vertebrae, can also cause low back pain. Spondylitis is also called spondyloarthritis or spondyloarthropathy.
- Osteoporosis is a metabolic bone disease marked by a progressive decrease in bone density and strength, which can lead to painful fractures of the vertebrae.
- Endometriosis is the buildup of uterine tissue in places outside the uterus.
- Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain syndrome involving widespread muscle pain and fatigue.
To think of your mind and body as separate entities is a fallacy. Emotions are not the sole product of your brain but are expressed, experienced, and stored in your body as well. There’s an easy way to understand this. Just think, when you’re sad or depressed, your body may express this feeling by slouching in your chair or humping over while you’re walking. Spending the better part of your time in such bad posture can and will inevitably lead to chronic back pain.
That was a minor example, so let me give you a more (not so) extreme one. Scoliosis is a major cause of back pain today. Most research claims that scoliosis is an idiopathic disease – that is, “relating to or denoting any disease or condition which arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown.” But other research links some cases to genetic predisposition, meaning it’s passed down through DNA.
But how does such a disease work its way into DNA in the first place? Let me point out that scientist have PROVEN that thoughts and emotions have the power to change DNA. And even personality types can be passed from parent to offspring. You could very well be dealing with emotional imprints left in your DNA by your great-grandparents that has been multiplied throughout the generations. Suddenly, a “spontaneous” condition like scoliosis appears. We all have painful memories – failure, disappointments, suffering, loss – hidden away in our MindBodies that fester and create wounds that never heal.
It’s important to pay attention to what’s going on in your body. Your body IS your subconscious mind. It will convey to you what you aren’t consciously aware of. Emotional pain in the back may be defined as where we store our unconscious emotions and excess tensions associated with anger, resentment, feeling unsupported and trying to be perfect, as well as money issues and indefinable fears that we are not prepared to handle and don’t want to acknowledge.
Self Care Remedies for Chronic Low Back Pain
First of all, let me say that some lower back issues, depending on the severity, should be checked out by a doctor. But with that being said, the majority of health professionals will not cure your ailment, but will only supply you with a “crutch.” At some point you’ll need to move away from using said crutch to be able to completely restore yourself.
For instance, did you know that even your eyes have muscles and can be trained to see more clearly? Wearing glasses is kind of like walking around on crutches for the rest of your life after breaking a leg. You would never do that right? At some point the crutch, or coping mechanism, needs to be put down.
1. Movement. Activities such as stretching, yoga, and exercise are particularly important for maintaining and building muscle strength and flexibility. Sedentary lifestyles can lead to ossification, which is the process by which cartilage and muscle tissue transform into bone from lack of movement.
2. Self-Massage. Getting massage offers countless benefits for healing pain, but sometimes it can be difficult finding a good therapist or affording the time and money costs. Self-massage is a perfect substitute. One very useful technique is to take two tennis balls and put them in a sock. Lie on the floor and place the tennis balls along the sides of your spine above your hips, and slowly roll back and forth. Experiment with rolling the balls
3. Sleeping Posture. Sleeping in pretty much any position other than on your back can cause spinal problems, but it can be uncomfortable getting used to.
- Sleeping On Your Back. When you sleep on your back, your spine is much more supported, which can cut down on soreness in the neck and back. Keeping your arms by your sides reduces strain on the shoulders as well. This position has been known to lead to snoring, but at least you won’t be in as much pain.
- Sleeping With Pillow Under Your Knees. Sleeping on your back with your hands by your sides is already great for your spine’s health. However, if you continue to have soreness in your lower back, you can sleep with a small pillow under your knees. This helps your body to maintain a healthy curve in the lower back. If need be, you can also use a rolled-up towel under the small of your back for even more support.
- Sleeping With A Pillow Between Your Knees. Placing a thick pillow between your knees can keep your torso from uncomfortably twisting when you are sleeping on your left side. Just draw your legs up slightly with the pillow between your legs to take
strainoff of your lower back. Be sure not to extend your arms out, though, or you will put strainon your shoulders and arms.
- Sleeping On Your Stomach. Sleeping on your stomach is not ideal for your neck because it can cause strain. However, if you aren’t experiencing neck pain but are experiencing lower back pain, try placing a towel or small pillow under your stomach and groin. This will help you to maintain proper lower back alignment, which will reduce your lower back pain in the long run. If this position causes you to feel any upper back strain, you can try sleeping without a pillow under your head.
4. Herbs. Herbs and supplements will probably not cure or prevent low back pain by themselves. But in combination with a high nutrition diet, exercise, and plenty of rest they can and will often increase your chances of curing lower back pain or offer long term relief.
- Aloe Vera. Aloe vera is commonly used when someone is trying to alleviate arthritis-related back pain. This herb comes in liquid form and you drink it as you would any type of juice. You can find this already prepared at a health food store. Just make sure to never drink aloe straight from the plant because this can cause gastrointestinal problems and high blood sugar.
- Boswellia. This herb has strong anti-inflammatory properties and it helps to block a substance called leukotrienes. Leukotrienes can attack the joint, including those in the spine, resulting in pain and reduced range of motion. Most people use this orally however, there are also creams available that you can apply directly to the affected area.
- Cat’s Claw. This anti-inflammatory herb helps to reduce swelling, which in turn, helps to reduce any pain. Back problems like spinal arthritis, sacroiliac joint inflammation and herniated discs often respond well to this herb since the root cause of the pain in these instances is intense inflammation. This is an herb that you will take orally, either with a pill or capsule, or you can make a tea. Due to the power of this herb, it is critical that you dose it exactly or else there is the risk of over stimulating the immune system.
- Eucalyptus. Eucalyptus can help to alleviate back pain similar to how ice does. It has a cooling sensation and eucalyptus leaf contains a substance called tannins. This substance is able to reduce pain by alleviating inflammation and the associated swelling. One of the best ways to use this herb is to apply it to the painful area and then follow up with heat to simultaneously dull pain and relax the muscles.
- Ginger. Ginger is most popular for its ability to calm nausea and promote a better appetite in those with digestive problems. However, one of the oldest uses for this herb is helping to alleviate pain by calming inflammation. It contains compounds that have the ability to calm inflammation nearly as effectively as over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Like most anti-inflammatory herbs, this works best when the back pain is related to inflammation, such as with muscle injuries and spinal arthritis.
- Turmeric. This is one of the most popular options when it comes to herbal remedies for back pain. Studies show that people get the most benefit from this herb when they take it orally. This means making a tea or taking it in pill or capsule form are the best options.
- White Willow Bark. This herbal remedy goes back to the days of Hippocrates when it comes to treating pain associated with inflammation. During that time, patients chewed on the bark to reap the benefits. Today, you can take it in tablet form or make a tea and drink it. It is important to dose this herb exactly because overdose can be dangerous and actually increase inflammation levels, worsening your pain and causing other potentially serious health issues.
- Valerian Root. Many people take valerian root for insomnia and anxiety because it is a very relaxing herb. The relaxing properties extend to the muscles and help to reduce nerve sensitivity. This makes this herb ideal for those who are experiencing muscle-related pain, such as muscle spasms, muscle tightness and muscle injuries, such as strains and sprains.
5. Meditation and Mindfulness-Based Remedies. In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn,
Kabat-Zinn wrote in the introduction of The Mindfulness Solution to Pain, “From the perspective of mindfulness, nothing needs fixing. Nothing needs to be forced to stop, or change, or go away… In MBSR, we emphasize that awareness and thinking are very different capacities. Both, of course, are extremely potent and valuable, but from the perspective of mindfulness, it is awareness that is healing, rather than mere thinking… Also, it is only awareness itself that can balance out all of our various inflammations of thought and the emotional agitations and distortions that accompany the frequent storms that blow through the mind, especially in the face of a chronic pain condition.”
3 Part, 10-minute (or longer) Meditation for Releasing Lower Back Pain
- Body Scan.A body scan involves bringing awareness to each body part, particularly the areas where you feel pain. You’re bringing attention to what your mind wants to move away from and instead of immediately reacting to your pain, the body scan teaches your mind to listen and experience what’s actually going on there.
. Whenpain arises, the mind may react automatically with thoughts such as “this hurts”, “I don’t like this”, or “this isn’t working.” Though you can’t stop these first few negative thoughts, you can calm your mind by opening and focusing your breath. Breath slowly and deeply into the areas of pain you are feeling and repeat to yourself “In” and “Out” as you inhale and exhale. As you exhale, focus on releasing the pain and relaxing your muscles in that area. Then whenever you are ready, move on to releasing the next area of pain.
- Binaural Beats. Binaural beats stabilize and rejuvenate the body and mind so that with more frequent practice, it becomes easier to reach the deep meditative state quicker.