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BackCare Awareness Week

Column #130, 15th October 2011

This week is BackCare Awareness Week (October 17th-23rd 2011).  The focus this year is on School Children and their teachers.  88% of school teachers are experiencing back pain around once a week and it is thought that overweight school bags and poorly-designed chairs are causing future problems for young backs.  What are the causes, treatments and prevention for back pain?

A Holistic Approach to Back Care

Today we will broaden our scope and take a holistic approach to back pain.  We will go beyond the standard approach of just looking at various exercises and get down to other potential root causes and open out our ideas for a successful solution.

Back Pain Prevalence

Around 70% of the population suffer from low back pain in their lifetime and is the second most common (next to the common cold) reason for visits to the Doctor.  A Survey by discovered that 88% of primary school teachers experienced back pain, most at least once a week while working at school, and 70% had sought medical treatment.

Their back problems were caused by “bending down to low tables (91%), sitting on children’s chairs (85%), and kneeling at low tables or on the floor (71%).”

Back Pain Rehabilitation

If you are a school teacher and suffer these challenges, what approach did you take to eliminate the pain?  Often the reply will be that therapeutic exercise solved the problem.  Indeed, this is an essential part of the puzzle, but there are many other factors that can get to the root cause and support your recovery.

Individuality of Back Pain

The fact is that there is never a one-size-fits-all remedy for everyone.  Whether you are a teacher, manual labourer, lawyer, or personal trainer, each person has his or her own unique answer to taking the pain away and getting back to full function.  Often the journey back to ‘pain free’ is hindered and regressed by doing whatever seemed to work for someone else, like a particular exercise or applying an ice pack or heat pad.  If you find out the individual cause of your back pain then you will have an individual treatment approach.

Assess for Success

The key to success is to assess.  When you see a specialist who can identify the mechanics of the back pain and then look into further factors, then you are equipped with the knowledge of where to start and what to do about it.  This is motivating and confidence building and has an extremely positive effect on the speed and outcome of your rehabilitation.

Holistic Approach to Chronic Back Pain

Holistic means that we will view things as a whole.  In the case of health and fitness, we will look at the whole individual.  Only when we do this and acknowledge that the human body is a system of systems (musculoskeletal, digestive, respiratory etc) that all affect each other, will we really reach our true potential.  Some health practitioners state that an imbalance in one system will affect the others and any number of symptoms will arise.  If you suffer from chronic back pain here are some influential factors; mechanics of the injury, the respiratory system, jaw (TMJ) and cranial (skull) alignment, vision and hearing, organ health and emotions.

Whilst this is in no way diagnostic and you should always consult your GP first, these are important areas to consider as causes of back pain:

  • The Mechanics of the Injury.  What is going on at the joint, spinal, neural, muscular level?  Do you know whether you are dealing with for example, pain at the sacroiliac joint (very base of spine) or with a disc problem in the lumbar (lower) spine?  Once this is identified you are a long way to deciding the best method of treatment.  If this pain is not acute and has been building up over a long time (chronic), then the whole body must be assessed.  As an example, at Functional Health and Performance when we thoroughly assess, the cause of the problem is often found not at the site of pain.  An old ankle sprain or hamstring strain may well be influencing the function of the back and need conditioning to alleviate the pain.
  • The Respiratory system.  Often underestimated, your breathing pattern will have a major impact on the function of your back/spine.  The diaphragm is deeply attached to the spine and when it is not moving smoothly, stabilizing correctly or there is chronic tension, there will be stress or compensatory movement patterns that can cause dysfunction.  In addition as breathing helps maintain the acid/alkaline balance in the body, its balance is essential to create a healing environment.
  • Jaw (TMJ) and Cranial (skull) alignment.  We bite down (masticate) around 4,000 times per day and this represents a huge amount of faulty recruitment if the jaw is misaligned.   Given that the body regards the head and this joint so important, if there are problems, there will likely be compensatory patterns from below the head down.  Hence if the spine or pelvis tilts, rotates, bends in an attempt to help the above problem then we may suffer pain somewhere below.  This pain however, is considered a best-case scenario until the jaw alignment is restored.
  • Vision and Hearing.  As greatly utilised sense systems, it has been observed that certain dysfunctions in hearing and eyesight can affect the posture and alignment of the body.
  • Our Organ health, such as our digestive system, liver and bladder, will impact on the levels of inflammation and strength of the body, causing pain to joints and tissues in some cases.
  • Emotions can play a significant part in our physical health as well as our mental health.

These are purely examples of how getting to the root cause can alleviate back pain.  Hopefully your pain is quickly and easily sorted, but if you find that it is persistent and chronic and you have been passed from practitioner to practitioner, then consider how taking a holistic approach could be the answer.

Jack Walton
Written on Monday, 17 October 2011 00:00 by Jack Walton

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