Standing upright frees up our hands to use tools and has helped make humans the dominant species on the planet. But our bodies pay a price—often in the form of back pain.
The human spine bears a tremendous amount of weight, which compresses and stresses the vertebrae and protective disks. The lumbar curve helps maintain our center of gravity but places excessive pressure on the lower back. Staying erect and particularly walking are complex feats of muscle activity. No wonder vertebral compression fractures, spinal misalignment, herniated and bulging disks, arthritis of the spinal column, muscle aches and spasms, sciatica, and other back pain issues are so common.
Sitting for much of the day, as most of us do, makes matters worse, and poor posture further stresses the spine and the core muscles that support it. Inactivity leads to atrophy of these muscles (back, abdomen, pelvis, and hips), and excess weight, especially belly fat, compounds the problem. A lifetime of wear and tear also factors in; spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal, affects most people over age 50.
Eighty percent of Americans have experienced back pain, and we collectively spend more than $100 billion per year seeking relief. Let’s review the treatments for back pain that are currently available.
Pros and Cons of Painkillers
Over-the-counter painkillers like aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve) are usually first on the list. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) do help with back pain, and occasional use may be warranted, but their side effects are no joke. Long-term use—10 days or more—of therapeutic doses is associated with gastrointestinal ulceration and bleeding and increased risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney problems, and death.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is no longer considered to be an option, as a recent study found it was ineffective for back pain. Furthermore, with higher doses, liver toxicity is a serious concern.
Then there are narcotic or opioid drugs. American doctors are way too cavalier about prescribing these highly addictive medications for chronic pain. I know they’re trying to help their patients, and everyone thinks, “It could never happen to me.” But the fastest-growing group of people who are addicted to these heroin-like drugs are men and women ages 50-69.
Corticosteroids are also used as treatments for back pain. Typically administered by epidural injection into the space between the vertebrae and the spinal cord, steroids reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Sometimes these injections provide profound relief; other times they don’t work at all.
MRIs for Back Pain = Gateway to Surgery
Your doctor may also recommend an MRI or CT scan. I suggest waiting until you’ve given conservative treatments for back pain a chance to work. All sorts of irregularities show up on these imaging tests, even in healthy, pain-free individuals, and in many cases there’s little correlation between MRI findings and symptoms.
Nevertheless, an “abnormal” MRI can put you on the fast track to surgery. This is great for hospitals and orthopedic surgeons, because spinal surgery is a major source of revenue—complex surgeries involving decompression and spinal fusion cost upwards of $100,000! But it’s not necessarily good for patients. In addition to the potential risk of bleeding, infection, and other complications of any surgery, at least 20 percent of patients continue to have pain. This is so common that it has a name: failed back surgery syndrome.
There is certainly a place for MRIs and CTs, but the way they’re used now funnels far too many patients into unnecessary procedures. In one recent study, patients who had surgery for disk problems were no better off two years later than those who had physical therapy and other noninvasive therapies.
Safe, Lasting Treatments for Back Pain
At Whitaker Wellness, we don’t waste our patients’ time and money on superfluous diagnostics. Instead, we focus on treatment with therapies that have helped thousands of patients reduce or eliminate back pain.
Acupuncture is one of the best-studied alternative therapies for pain relief. “After 10 months of lower back pain, which woke me at night and made it impossible to find a comfortable position during the day, I took a friend’s advice and tried acupuncture. I was nervous about the needles, but it really helps. I am not completely pain-free yet, but acupuncture provides tremendous relief.”— E.D., California
Stem Cell Therapy harnesses your body’s own stem cells—the ultimate regenerative mechanism. “In November, I had stem cell therapy for chronic back and hip pain. Before treatment, by early afternoon my lower back would begin to ache and continued to get worse as the day went on. I no longer have pain in my lower back or hips, even when I have a busy day!” — L.P., Nebraska
Topical DMSO and NSAIDs rubbed into problem areas deliver pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory compounds right where they’re needed. “I use DMSO on my lower back almost every day. My wife dislikes the smell but she does not complain because she knows how much it helps me.” — Max, Georgia; “I love the topical NSAID Dr. Whitaker prescribed. It is a terrific painkiller, but it does not have the side effects of oral drugs.”— Rob, Louisiana
Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) isolated from your own blood, jumpstarts the healing process and rapidly relieves inflammation. “I am so grateful to have found PRP. The pain is almost gone, and I had forgotten how wonderful it is to get a good night’s sleep—my energy and vitality are back. PRP is amazing!” — Christine, Texas
High-Intensity Laser directs high-energy wavelengths of light that stimulate tissue repair deep into damaged areas. “I was playing a lot of golf, and the torqueing motion did a number on my lower back. After several laser treatments at Whitaker Wellness, I’m back on top of my game.” — Jay, California
Prolotherapy is an injection therapy that strengthens the ligaments that hold the vertebrae in place, resulting in better alignment and taking pressure off the nerves. “I tweaked my lower back in an intensive exercise class and had pain shooting down my leg. I went to Dr. Whitaker’s clinic for prolotherapy, and over a couple of weeks the pain resolved and never returned.” — Louise, California
Supplements such as curcumin, boswellia, omega-3 fatty acids, UC-II (type II collagen), bromelain, astaxanthin, and ginger work on inflammation pathways to safely reduce pain. “I have been using Meriva twice a day for back pain and it has greatly reduced the issue.”— Steve, California. “Since I began taking krill oil, I have noticed a huge difference in my back pain and range of motion.”— Julie, California
Chiropractic is a popular manipulative therapy for back pain that many swear by. “I hurt my back trying to corral my three-year-old during a cross-country flight, but an exercise injury a few days later was the straw that broke the camel’s back (pun intended). For the next month, I went to my chiropractor twice a week. Slowly but surely, the pain diminished, and I was able to resume the active lifestyle I’m used to.”— Liz, California
Core Strengthening Exercises help stabilize the spine are perhaps the single best way to prevent back pain. “I credit CrossFit training with ending years of chronic lower back pain. I have tried many therapies, but this has provided lasting relief.” — Connie, California
My Recommendations for Treating Back Pain
These back pain relieving therapies are available under one roof at Whitaker Wellness. To see if our back pain treatments are right for you, call 866-944-8253 or fill out this form for a consultation with one of our friendly and knowledgeable Patient Services Representatives.