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Home > Health & Disease in Naturopathy > Joint and Muscle Ailments > Backache
Backache, one of the most common ailments, is widely prevalent these days due to sedentary living habits and hazardous work patterns. The psychological conditions associated with emotional stress, which bring about spasm of the muscles, may also cause backache. As the back bears the weight of the entire body it gives way when it has to carry an extra load in the case of persons who are overweight.

The back, a complex structure of muscles, bone and elastic tissue, is known as the life-bone of the body. The spine is made of 24 blocks of bone piled one on top of the other. Sandwiched between these bony blocks are cushions of cartilage and elastic tissues called intervertebral discs. The vertebral discs act as shock absorbers for the back. Mobility would be impossible without discs.

Sometimes these pulp potrudes a little due to cushion rupture. The process is erroneously called a `slipped` disc. If the cushion disappears entirely, the result is known as a degenerated disc. In slipped-disc trouble, the nerve,is affected in such a way that the pain radiates down the thigh and leg. If the disc `slips` in the neck area, it causes numbness and pain radiates to the arms.

Disc trouble does not occur suddenly but builds up over a long time. The backbone forms a protective arch over the vertebrae and spinal cord and protects the spinal nerves that are interwoven through the spinal column. There is a close relationship between the bones, discs, joint muscles and nerves in the back and the slightest problem or injury to the back or neck area can have disastrous effects.

Symptoms of Backache are:
In most cases of backache, the pain is usually felt either in the middle of the back or lower down. It may spread to both sides of the waist and the hips. With acute pain, the patient is unable to move and is bedridden.

About 90 Percent of backache patients suffer from what is ailed cervical or lumber spondylosis. It is a degenerative disorder in which the vertebral bone or the intervertebral disc becomes soft and loses shape. As a result of this, the spine loses its flexibility.

Causes of Backache:
The main causes of backache and spondylosis are muscular tension, joint strain, poor posture and incorrect nutrition resulting from dietetic errors and lack of exercise. Acute or chronic illnesses like kidney or prostate problems, female disorders, influenza and arthritis, may also lead to backache. Other causes include stress and strain resulting from sitting for a long time, improper lifting of weights, high heels and emotional problems which may cause painful muscle cramping.

Poor posture results from soft chairs and coaches, which Militate slouching and sitting incorrectly. Shoes with high heels place a tremendous strain on the back and other muscles of the body. Sleeping on too soft a mattress which results in an improper back and neck posture, can cause tension, headaches and pain in the upper and lower back.

Another major cause of back problems and tense muscles is lack of exercise. Modem conveniences have made office work easier. The easy life can lead to obesity which puts a great strain on the back. When muscles are not exercised and remain weak, the chances of injury to them is increased manifold.

Treatment of Backache:
Drugs prescribed to relieve pain or relax muscles in backache disorders do not cure common back problems. These can become habit forming and may actually perpetuate the disease in case of excessive intake.

Certain safety measures, especially for people in sedentary occupation, are necessary to relieve and prevent backache. The most important of these is exercise which improves the supply of nutrients to spinal discs, thereby delaying the process of deterioration that comes with age and eventually affects everybody. Safe exercises include walking, swimming and bicycling. The latter should be done keeping the back upright. Controlling one`s weight is another important step towards relieving backache as excess weight greatly increases the stress on soft back tissues.

Those with sedentary occupations should take a break to stand up every hour. Soft cushioned seats should be avoided arid position should be changed as often as possible. Persons with back problems should sleep on a firm mattress on their sides with knees bent at right angles to the torso. They should take care never to bend from the waist down to lift any object but instead should squat close to the object, bending the knees but keeping the back straight, and then stand up slowly.

Neck tension arising from long hours at the desk or behind the wheel of the car can be relieved by certain neck exercises. These include rotating the head clockwise and anti-clockwise, allowing the head to drop forward and backwards as far as possible and turning the head to the right and left as far as possible several times. These exercises help to loosen up contracted neck muscles which may restrict blood supply to the head.

The diet of those suffering from backache should consist of a salad of raw vegetables such as tomato, carrot, cabbage, cucumber, radish, lettuce and at least two steamed or lightly cooked vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, spinach and plenty of fruits, all except bananas. The patients should have four meals daily. They may take fruits and milk during breakfast, steamed vegetables and whole wheat chappatis during lunch, fresh fruit or fruit juice in the evening and a bowl of raw salad and sprouts during dinner.

The patients should avoid fatty, spicy and fried foods, curd, sweetmeats, sugar, condiments as well as tea and coffee. Those who smoke and take tobacco in any form should give them up completely.

Proteins and vitamin C are necessary for the development of a healthy bone metrix. Vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus and the essential trace minerals are essential for healthy bones. Foods that have been processed for storage to avoid spoiling have few nutrients and should be eliminated from the diet. Vitamin C has proved helpful in relieving low-back pain and averting spinal disc operations.

Hot fomentations, alternate sponging or application of radiant heat to the back will also give immediate relief. Yogic asanas which are beneficial in the treatment of backache are bhujangasana, shalabhasana, halasana, uttanpadasana and shavasana.

The back can be strengthened through proper nutrition, exercise and relaxation and in the process general health will also improve.

Back Care in Daily Activities
We should learn to remain vigilant about how we use our back during common daily activities, which would save it from being exposed to any physical - mechanical strain. This learning of proper use of back is one of the major components of back care apart from the exercise programme. Discussed underneath, are some of the common activities like standing, sitting, sleeping and lifting from the floor along with some general instructions to improve our efficiency during these activities.

I. How To Stand

a. Stand tall with your weight evenly distributed on both the feet.
b. Keep the muscles of your thigh and calf in both the legs relaxed and do not keep the knees pressed backward.
c. Tilt the pelvis backward thus reducing the arching in the lumbar region.
d. Do not slouch or stand in the military fashion with chest prominent and shoulders braced back.

1) Standing for Long Time:
a. Keep the pelvis tilted backward with reduced arch in the lumber region.
b. Alternately shift your weight from side to side.
c. Occasionally raise your heels and stretch yourself up.
d. Alternately rest right, then left foot on a two or three inches high stool.
e. Wear shoes with minimum heel- avoid shoes with high heels.

II. Sitting

1) The Proper Chair
a. When sitting in the chair, your knees should be approximately at the same level, as your hips- feet should be firmly touching the floor.
b. The depth of the chair should not be more than the length of your thigh so that when you sit taking the support of the back of the chair, the front edge of the seat should not press hard against the back of your knees.

2) How to Sit
a. Sit first at the front edge of the seat and then scoot back to the backrest. This way you are able to keep your center of gravity over your base of support.

3) Sitting for a Long Time
a. Select the best available chair - avoid over stuffed or too soft chair.
b. Use the backrest of the chair for supporting your vertebral column in such a way that you do not have to keep the lumbar region arched.
c. If the chair is too high use a footstool.
d. Cross your legs occasionally and only for short period.
e. Avoid keeping the legs crossed for long time.
f. Avoid sitting on the ground for too long and without back support when you have a back pain.

III. Sleeping

1) The Proper Mattress & Pillow
a. Use a firm mattress, which is not too soft or too hard. It should be firm enough to hold your body level after allowing the projected parts like shoulder, buttock to fit into the mattress. Avoid sleeping on ground or a hard board directly.
b. When the frame of the cot is sagging, use the hard board underneath the mattress to give a firm support for the body.
c. Use the woolen blanket underneath the mattress, if sleeping on the ground paved with marble tiles, especially in winter season to avoid heat loss through the mattress.
d. Use thin pillow while lying on the back, whereas use appropriately thick pillow equal to the breadth of your shoulder while lying on the side so that the neck vertebrae remain level with rest of the spine.

2) Proper Position while Sleeping:
a. Lie on the side with back curled and hips and knees slightly flexed. Avoid twisting in the waistline area.
b. While lying on the back you may keep some soft pillow underneath your knee to keep them slightly flexed. It helps in keeping the lumber region in the proper position.
c. While sleeping on the side you may use pillow in between your calf muscles if your hips are broad and legs are thin - this prevents any twist in the lumbar region.
d. Do not sleep on your abdomen.
e. Do not read or watch TV in bed, neither propped up on your elbow or flat on your back.
f. Do not sleep sitting in chair with head on arm of the couch or in any other cramped position.

IV. Lifting from the Floor

1) Lifting Objects Properly from the Ground:
a. When the object is very heavy, you must never lift it alone; call someone for the help.
b. Face the object and never twist while lifting it.
c. Spread your legs to widen your base.
d. Distribute weight evenly over both feet.
e. Keep your back erect- vertical and without arching in the lumber region by keeping the pelvis tilted backward.
f. Assume a squatting or half-kneeling position maintaining a straight back.
g. Pick up the object and if it is large hold it as close to your body as possible.
h. While rising up let the muscles in the legs bear the strain. Keep the back straight and erect all through the process of rising up and do not tilt forward at all.

2) Carrying the Object, already Lifted:
a. Avoid carrying heavy luggage in your hand. Whenever possible use the luggage carrier or call someone for help.
b. While carrying the office briefcase ensure that you are not carrying anything extra which you are not going to use. Change the hands from right to left hand while carrying the briefcase.
c. While carrying babies, see that you do not keep your lumber region arched. Go on shifting the weight of the child from your right side to the left side.

Treatment For Lower Backache:

The following are elements of a program for treating low back pain:
  • Applying heat from a heating pad or hot water bottle.

  • Resting in bed on a firm mattress. Often it helps to lie on your back with your knees raised. However, some people prefer to lie on their side with their knees bent.

  • Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, or other anti-inflammatory medications; muscle relaxants; or other pain medications if recommended by your doctor.

  • Having your back massaged by a trained person.

  • Having traction, if recommended by your doctor.

  • Wearing a belt or corset to support your back.

  • Talking with a counselor, if your back pain is related to tension caused by emotional problems.

  • Beginning a program of physical therapy, or exercising on your own. Begin a regular exercise program to gently stretch and strengthen your muscles as soon as you can. Your doctor or physical therapist can recommend exercises that will not only help you feel better but will strengthen your muscles and help avoid back trouble later.

  • When the pain subsides, ask your doctor about starting an exercise program such as the following:
  • Exercise moderately every day, using stretching and warm- up exercises "suggested by your doctor or physical therapist.

  • Exercise vigorously for about 30 minutes two or three times a week by walking, swimming, using a stationary bicycle, or doing low-impact aerobics. Participating regularly in an exercise program will not only help your back, it will also help keep you healthier overall.

  • Self Treatment:

    In addition to considering the elements of a treatment plan given above, keep in mind these suggestions:
  • Apply an electric heating pad on a low setting (or a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel to avoid burning yourself) for 20 to 30 minutes. Applying an ice pack wrapped in a towel for 20 minutes, one to four times a day helps some people. (Set an alarm to avoid frostbite from using the ice pack too long.)

  • Put a pillow under your knees when you are lying down.

  • Sleep without a pillow under your head.

  • Lose weight if you are overweight.

  • Make it a habit to stand with your head up, shoulders straight, chest forward, weight balanced evenly on both feet, and pelvis tucked in.

  • However, limit your activities temporarily if:
  • Your symptoms return.

  • The pain increases when you are more active.

  • The pain increases within 24 hours after a new or higher level of activity.

  • Prevention of Backache:

    You can reduce the strain on your back by doing the following:
  • Do not push your arms when you move a heavy object. Turn around and push backwards so your legs take the strain.

  • Whenever you sit, sit in a straight-backed chair and hold your spine against the back of the chair.

  • Bend your knees and hips and keep your back straight when you lift a heavy object.

  • Avoid lifting heavy objects higher than your waist.

  • Hold packages you carry close to your body, with your arms bent.

  • Use a footrest for one foot when you stand or sit in one spot for a long time. This keeps your back straight.

  • Bend your knees when you bend over.

  • Sit close to the pedals when you drive and use your seat belt and a hard backrest or pillow.

  • Lie on your side with your knees bent when you sleep or rest. It may help to put a pillow between your knees.

  • Put a pillow under your knees when you sleep on your back.

  • Raise the foot of the bed 8 inches to discourage sleeping on your stomach unless you have other problems that require that you keep your head elevated.

  • Resting on the Back:

    To rest your back, hold each of these positions for 5 minutes or longer:
  • Lie on your back, bend your knees, and put pillows under your knees.

  • Lie on your back, put a pillow under your neck, bend your knees to a 90-degree angle, and put your lower legs and feet on a chair.

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees, and bring one knee up to your chest and hold it there. Repeat with the other knee and then bring both knees to your chest. When holding your knee to your chest, grab your thigh rather than your lower leg to avoid over flexing your knee.

  • Activities for Back Care:

  • Do exercises that will strengthen your back, leg, and abdominal muscles, such as walking, running, progressive resistance exercises, and supervised weightlifting.

  • Whenever possible, sit in straight-backed chairs with firm back support rather than chairs that are overstaffed or on rollers or in ones that swivel.

  • Wear low-heeled shoes and boots.

  • When lifting, squat close to the object, keep it close to your body, and lift it slowly, letting your legs do the work, not your back.

  • Stretch back and leg muscles before and after exercising.

  • Sleep on a firm, flat mattress.

  • Switch sitting positions frequently.

  • When you are standing still, place feet shoulder-width apart and periodically shift your weight from one foot to the other.

  • Move objects slowly and smoothly.

  • Do exercises to strengthen all of your abdominal muscles.

  • When working on a computer, use a document holder to angle your work and place your computer screen so you can look straight ahead rather than down.

  • Keep your weight under control, because extra pounds put a strain on your body, including your back.

  • Stop, if you experience pain while trying to lift something.

  • Sleep on your side with your knees bent, a small pillow or pad between your knees, and your hands near your side.

  • Look for opportunities to sit with your knees lower than your hips.

  • Ask a friend or friends for help when moving heavy objects, allowing for an equal distribution of the load up and down stairs.

  • On long driving trips, pull over regularly for short refreshing walks and stretches.

  • Learn ways to cope with emotional stress that might cause your back muscles to tighten.

  • When leaning forward, bend from your hips not your waist, keeping your neck and back as straight as possible.

  • When sitting in your car, try moving the seat forward so that your knees are about level with your hips.

  • Avoid crossing your legs.

  • Sit or stand so that you could drop an imaginary line straight from your ears, through your shoulders and your hips.

  • Turn your feet to face things you need instead of reaching off to the side or pulling things toward you.

  • To pick up objects that have fallen on the floor while you`re sitting, slide to the edge of your chair, place a hand on your knee or your desk to support your back, and keep one foot in front of you for additional support.

  • Take a few minutes to walk around the office or do some gentle stretches to relieve muscle tension.

  • When standing for a long time at home, use a footstool to rest one foot or open a cabinet door and rest a foot on the bottom shelf.

  • Use shopping bags with handles instead of balancing bags on your hips.

  • Use a step stool or ladder instead of reaching above your head with heavy objects.

  • When vacuuming, step forward or backward as you push the machine or vacuum wand. Don`t keep your feet planted in one place.

  • Place your television at, or slightly above, eye level.

  • When driving long distances, use a small pillow or rolled-up towel to support your lower back, use your armrests and adjust your headrest to relax your neck muscles when you are stopped.

  • Keep your wallet out of your back pocket when sitting.

  • Keep walkways, stairs, and halls clear and be on the lookout for tripping or slipping hazards.

  • Push a shopping cart or any rolling load in front of you instead of pulling it behind you.

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