This morning on “FOX & Friends” I spoke about lower back pain, a very common problem for millions of Americans. I myself get my bouts of pain and know how hard it is to find a quick solution.
Now this blog is not long enough to get into all the mechanisms of back pain, so I am going to concentrate on the simple causes and some of the newest natural treatments.
Since the lower back supports most of our weight, one of the most common reasons for pain is injury. Yes, injury – straining your back muscles or ligaments from inappropriate lifting, sitting, posture, being overweight, or just not knowing your personal limits (we know who we are). This muscle injury leads to inflammation and pain. Of course, there are other reasons for back pain, especially the chronic types – like osteoarthritis or herniated discs. In these conditions nerve compressions are involved and, of course, there are no simple solutions.
But let's stick to simple back pain. I think that for most of us who get these types of back pains, one of the lessons we always miss is to "learn from our mistakes." Yes, lose some weight, improve your posture, exercise properly, watch how you bend when lifting objects, and, YES, get rid of that old chair and invest a few bucks in a good desk chair.
So what should we do about a back injury? First, rest. This allows your muscles to relax and reduces the inflammation. You can alternate warm and cold compresses on the area (switch every 10 minutes). Proper use of ibuprofen or acetaminophen could help with the discomfort. Gentle stretching or water exercise could help you return to normal function.
Nowadays people are turning to complementary therapy for everything, and back pain is no exception. Acupuncture is widely used with good benefits. Massage therapy given by properly trained professionals helps to relieve soft tissue muscle tensions.
A recent article published in The Cochrane Library reviewed 10 studies looking at the effectiveness of some herbal medicines. First, the authors conclude that further studies are needed, and that some of the articles they reviewed were limited in scope and length. But they found some interesting secondary conclusions. Three herbal medicines – devil's claw (what a name), white willow bark, and cayenne – might reduce back pain.
Devil's claw, at a dose of 60 mg, reduced pain as effective as Vioxx (which is no longer available due to side effects) in most patients tested.
White willow bark, at a 120 mg dose, reduced pain more than a placebo.
Applying cayenne as a plaster to the affected area also seems to help with local inflammation.
It is important to note that pregnant women and children shouldn’t take these herbs. For the rest of you, remember all of these products can have side effects such intestinal irritations and allergic reactions. They can also interact with other medications such as aspirin, ACE inhibitors and blood thinners. That is why you need to always inform your doctor as well as your pharmacist if you plan to use any of these complementary treatments.
Remember, the FDA does not regulate these herbal products or manufacturing standards. But, at least it seems that our simple list of solutions is getting longer.
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Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Click here for more information on Dr. Manny's work with Hackensack University Medical Center. Visit AskDrManny.com for more.