Oh my aching back! Most of us will say this several times over the course of our lifetime. Sometimes it's a chronic issue, a deep nagging ache that impacts daily activities. Other times, it's sudden and acute and amazingly painful, the result of a "wrong move" from lifting a small child, unloading groceries, or working around the yard. Back pain affects up to 80% of Americans annually and is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Back muscles attach to the spine, neck, shoulders, ribs and hips, which means that nearly every movement requires use of the very muscles designed to support and protect the spine. When we experience pain, it's typically from a combination of factors: structural, lifestyle, work, stress, and previous or repetitive injuries.
Behaviors that contribute to back pain include:
- Sitting for too long
- Improper form while lifting objects or reaching overhead
- Failure to stretch and strengthen back muscles through exercise
- Poor eating habits resulting in a lack of nutrients that nourish muscles and bones
A holistic approach to back care addresses nutrition, exercise, supporting the body's ability to minimize inflammation, and habits that reduce stress and tension. It's important to find the cause of the pain. A physician may refer you for muscle testing, imaging of muscles and bones, as well as for physical therapy.
GET THE EXERCISE HIGH. Keep fit and trim with consistent aerobic exercise and strength training. Exercise releases endorphins, brain hormones that reduce pain (as long as you don't over exert). It also helps maintain healthy body weight, reducing stress on joints and muscles, particularly the back and hips. Warm up at the start, and cool down at the end of your workout to prevent injury.
REDUCE INFLAMMATION. A diet of whole foods, preferably organic, gives your body most of what it needs to fend off inflammation. Be sure to reduce exposure to environmental toxins, manage stress, and supplement with essential minerals. A turmeric supplement helps quell disease-causing inflammation; ask your doctor if it's right for you.
CONSIDER TRACE MINERALS. Several minerals are key for healthy bones and muscles; these can be deficient in the soil where food is grown, leading to deficiencies in your diet. Magnesium, potassium and zinc are trace minerals that work in concert with one another. Ask your doctor about them.
STRETCH OUT TENSION. Yoga has mind-body benefits for everyone. It's a great way to keep the back strong and limber. It can help reduce pain, minimize stress, and improve functional movement of the whole body.
QUIT SMOKING. Research shows a significant correlation between smoking and back pain. Holistic physicians can utilize acupuncture to help with smoking cessation, which can reduce back pain.
There are many other natural remedies for preventing and treating back pain, such as water therapy, massage, guided imagery, social support, and of course, a diet rich with leafy greens and assorted fruits. Don't wait for back pain to happen to you. Make an appointment today for a back care lifestyle check-up.
A traditional Southern embellishment to soups, stews, and entrées, collard greens provide an impressive array of key vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, K, C, the B-vitamin folate, iron, calcium, and manganese. These nutrients play an important role in protecting our cells from damage and supporting the body's natural processes for controlling inflammation. Collard greens tend to be less expensive than other cruciferous vegetables so you can really get a nutritious bang for your buck. It's best to buy organic greens to avoid contamination from insecticides, an issue with conventionally grown produce.
To receive the terrific benefits of this vegetable, include it in your diet several times a week-an optimal amount would be about 6-10 cups a week. Be careful not to overcook these greens or you'll wind-up with a rotten egg odor, not to mention pungent-tasting collard greens.
For cooking, slice thin strips of the greens, rinse and drain; then proceed to steam or sauté. When adding chopped collard greens to a favorite vegetable or meat-based soup/stew, stir the steamed greens in during the final minutes of cooking. You can also add collard greens to spaghetti sauce or to a vegetable lasagna recipe, in place of spinach. For a flavorful side dish, sauté collard greens with yellow onions and fresh garlic (or shallots). For a zesty salsa, combine cooked collard greens with fresh tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and jalapenos.
Recognized for its role in bone structure and proper function of nerves and muscles, magnesium has a multi-faceted role in disease prevention and health promotion. It is necessary for almost every chemical reaction that takes place in the body!
Here are just a few things magnesium can do for you:
- Calm your body by helping blood vessels dilate, which maintains lower blood pressure and makes it easier for the heart to pump blood.
- Improve quality of sleep, a critical defense against stress.
- Help neutralize stomach acid and move stools through the intestine.
- Play a role in lowering blood sugar, a major issue in diabetes management and prevention.
- Help with prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, nerve and back pain.
Food sources of magnesium include leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish, fruits and whole grains. Because food levels of magnesium are affected by the quality of soil in which the food is grown, there have been huge declines in food-based magnesium content over the last few decades. Some people may be magnesium deficient and not realize that their symptoms of illness (e.g., headaches, muscle cramps, constipation) are related to insufficient magnesium.
There are different types of magnesium (e.g., citrate, glycinate) and various forms (pill, powder, liquid). Some forms may be better suited to different types of health issues. If you are concerned about magnesium deficiency due to dietary habits or physical symptoms, consult with your holistic practitioner to select the right type of magnesium supplement. Some forms of magnesium are poorly absorbed, so won't provide therapeutic benefit, and other forms can cause changes in bowel movements. If you are interested in discovering which nutrients- vitamins, minerals and antioxidants your body is deficient in, take a look at this micronutrient level test.
REDUCE PAIN AND INFLAMMATION WITH DEVIL'S CLAW (Harpagophytum procumbens)
Devil's Claw is indigenous to southern Africa where, for thousands of years, tribes prepared the herb as an internal remedy for migraine and gastrointestinal problems and to reduce fever. Salves were also prepared to heal skin conditions. Today, Devil's Claw is a scientifically validated remedy for pain and inflammation associated with degenerative joint conditions and back pain, as well as arthritis-related pain, fibromyalgia, and headaches. A key compound called harpagoside inhibits chemicals in the body that create inflammation.
A key benefit of Devil's Claw is that it's safe and has few to no side effects for most people. Clinical trials have found Devil's Claw as effective as many prescription drugs. It has been found effective for relief of knee and hip pain associated with osteoarthritis - as much as a 35% improvement after eight weeks of treatment. Other studies have shown taking standardized extract of devil's claw provides moderate relief for mild-to-moderate back, neck, or shoulder muscle pain. In a study of chronic low back pain, men and women who took Devil's Claw every day for a month reported less pain and needed fewer painkillers than those who took a placebo (sugar pill).
Devil's Claw is available in tea and capsule form, as well as tincture and extract. Different forms are more suitable to different health concerns. Devil's Claw is not recommended during pregnancy as it may stimulate uterine contractions. Also, Devil's Claw can interact with other medications. It's important to talk with your personal physician before taking this herb.
SOOTHE BACK PAIN WITH RESTORATIVE YOGA
A mind-body practice, Yoga combines physical poses called asanas, breathing exercises, and guided meditation in a session that is typically 75-minutes long. For many people, yoga is an effective way to reduce inflammation, relieve stress and muscle tension, and change habitual posture patterns that result in back pain.
While there are many styles of Yoga to choose from, Restorative Yoga is especially good for individuals with back pain because of its focus on supported poses rather than physical exertion through a sequence of poses. Restorative Yoga uses props - blocks, chairs, bars, cushions or blankets - to facilitate gentler movement of the body and proper alignment of joints and muscles. A Restorative Class makes yoga accessible to people with a wide range of physical challenges including arthritis, fibromyalgia, cancer and Multiple Sclerosis. When looking for a Restorative Class, ask about the instructor's certifications, as specialized training is necessary to teach classes for people experiencing chronic pain.
Recent studies conducted in the U.S., India, and the U.K. showed that over a 6-12 month period, practicing yoga reduced pain and enhanced functional ability in people with chronic non-specific lower back pain. Those practicing yoga were compared to groups who did not exercise at all, which is common among people with back pain. In another large study in the U.S., people who practiced yoga in weekly 75-min. classes had better back movement, used less pain medicine, and participants with moderate back pain experienced a reduction in pain symptoms. Also, there is compelling evidence that yoga and similar mind-body practices not only change physical patterns in the body, but also change the brain gray matter patterns associated with chronic pain. The National Institutes of Health recognizes yoga and similar mind-body practices for their protective effects on the mind, brain, and body.