Have you ever suffered from back pain at least once in your life? The majority would probably show afflicted faces. Indeed, it is a very common issue which affects around 43% of the population in the UK. Despite most of the time the pain comes for just a few days, some of us can be affected by chronic back pain. In this case, back pain could negatively affect your daily life such as your performances at work, your mood or mental health.
Thankfully, relief is possible for adopting some remedies to cope with it:
- The physical aspect of the back pain
Probably your first thought is to skip work and lie on your couch until the pain goes away. However, sitting can cause more stress for your hurting back whereas staying active and try activities such as yoga or pilates can be really helpful to minimise pain. You will learn how to keep the right posture and how to increase strength and flexibility at once. Also, it is good to reduce your stress which is due to all challenges of life and this will help your muscles to relax. Obviously, if you feel that your body is too under pressure, you can ask for help for certain poses to be sure you are performing it correctly without causing excessive strain for your back. In a nutshell, yoga therapy can be your medicine for your body and your mental wellbeing.
- The emotional aspect of the back pain
Stress level is often very high within back pain patients and can be an influencing factor for avoiding everyday activities to be sure not to feel the pain. Also, emotions like fear and anxiety can be the cause for your back pain according to Harvard Medical School. Indeed, the mind can make you feel the pain as a protective barrier in order not to focus on these emotions which could generate a psychological breakdown. Psychotherapy can support the emergence of these hidden emotions and you will discover the cause of your negative feelings and how to accept and live with them. In this way, the mind will send negative input to our body since the breakdown danger disappeared.
TOGETHER We can do it!
The best thing to do if you are looking for help is combining physical and psychological treatments. Taking a holistic answer to this issue which considers not only the physical aspect but also other factors influencing the pain which are the social and psychological factors could be very effective to deal with this recurrent and disabling condition. Always think about wellness and balance in every daily activity which is vital to make positive changes about medical conditions such as low back pain.
We are inundated with choices in every area of life compared to previous generations. There are now thousands of electricity and gas tariffs and suppliers that you can compare on hundreds of comparison sites. There are almost as many choices of hot and cold beverage in your high street coffee shop. While choice and personalisation can feel like a nice thing it can also leave us feeling overwhelmed and even when we do make a choice we often end up wondering whether we’ve really made the best one anyway.
It’s difficult enough choosing a coffee let alone choosing a clinic or a healthcare professional to help you deal with a chronic health condition. If you have a chronic health problem (or problems) it’s likely that you’ve tried various different ways of tackling it – from seeing your GP or a specialist, to researching for yourself, self-help, or consulting other healthcare professionals. If all of these endeavours have not got to the bottom of your problem you’re likely to feel frustrated and disappointed at the waste of time, money, and hope – and the fact that you’re still suffering.
When you’re continuing to look for help and solutions it can be incredibly confusing. Even if we confine ourselves to back pain (approximately 1,110,000,000 Google results) the information and misinformation out there is truly mind-boggling. You want to make the best possible choices for you but how do you even begin to narrow down your options?
As a clinical team specialising in helping patients with chronic back pain we have some advice for you to consider when choosing (or not choosing) a clinic.
- Don’t choose a clinic or a clinician who can’t talk to you about and demonstrate the positive (and less positive) results that they have achieved with patients like you. By that I mean patients with very similar conditions to you. Back pain isn’t a condition, it’s a symptom. Back pain can have a myriad of causes. If someone simply says they ‘treat back pain’ they may not have the sufficient expertise to help with YOUR type of back pain.
- Don’t choose a clinic or clinician who can’t provide you with any patient testimonials or who nobody you know has ever had good results with. Check out their social media reviews or there are lots of social media forums (support groups for health conditions, local community groups etc. or just your friendship groups) where you can ask for recommendations or post about a clinic you’re thinking of visiting to see if anyone has any experience. Of course just because others have had good or bad experiences doesn’t automatically mean you will; but it can help to reassure you and make your choice easier.
- On the other hand don’t choose a clinic or clinician just because they helped your friend / auntie / brother-in-law’s half-sister. Their problems and needs might have been quite different than yours. Also speak to the clinic about your specific healthcare and personal needs to better establish if they are right for you.
- Don’t choose anything or anyone who claims a 100% success rate or to be able to treat every type of back pain. There is no clinical evidence of a single product or individual being able to demonstrate this kind of success.
- Don’t choose a clinic without speaking to their team and asking lots of questions. You need to feel comfortable with the personality or ‘vibe’ of the clinic as well as its clinical reputation. If you don’t feel that they ‘get’ you and that you can put your trust in them you are far less likely to achieve satisfactory results. Some clinics (like ours) are very happy to have you visit the clinic to speak to someone in the team and have a look round before you book an initial appointment. This is a good thing. Take advantage of it.
- Don’t choose a clinic just because it has a shiny website or marketing materials. While this can sometimes indicate that the clinic is successful and professional it can also indicate that they have focused more on brochureware than on patient care. Have a look for yourself at the premises – perhaps pop in and speak to the reception team prior to booking an appointment. This will give you a better sense of the real clinic.
- On the other hand don’t choose a clinic just because it’s cheap. It’s often the case that you get what you pay for. Even good clinics run offers from time to time but clinics that consistently charge under the market rate for a service might have to do so because they aren’t good enough to hold on to their new patients.
Of course there are lots of other factors that can come in to your choice of clinic. But we’ll leave it to 7 for now. After all, you already have more than enough choices to consider. Venti Soy Quadruple Shot Latte with No Foam anyone?
It’s a bit of a cliche isn’t it? The stereotype of the headachey woman who uses ‘one of her heads’ as an excuse for anything from not wanting sex to skiving off work or just not wanting to deal with an emotionally-tense situation. As with most stereotypes there is certainly some truth in this one – science has proven that women really do suffer from more headaches. But science has also shown that headaches are not just in women’s ‘heads’ – in their minds – and we now understand much better why women are more prone to headaches than men.
It’s not that long ago that many doctors believed that headaches in women were due to ‘hysteria’ and an inability to manage stress. Women who experienced headaches (or mental health issues) were often ridiculed and dismissed when seeking help for their headaches and even seen as malingerers.
Thankfully our clinical understanding of headaches has moved on significantly with the advancement of research and clinical practice in fields including endocrinology, imaging and pharmacology. Historically the vast majority of medical research has been carried out using male patients but we increasingly understand that in many ways women’s bodies do not respond in the same way as men’s. In the case of headaches there are different things happening physiologically in the bodies of men and women, and ultimately, headaches are rooted in biology.
Many studies have been conducted that suggest women are more prone to migraines (around 3 times as many women as men) and they’re actually more prone to other types of general headaches as well.
One of the biggest reasons why women get more headaches is hormone fluctuation during the menstrual cycle. Oestrogen is a hormone that has been closely linked to headaches and it is much more prevalent in women. Both in terms of headaches and other types of chronic pain there is evidence that levels of pain tend to vary based through a woman’s menstrual cycle, and that some pains feel worse during the premenstrual period and during menstruation.
There’s also a phenomenon called cortical spreading depression (CSD) that is believed to cause headaches, and evidence that women may have a lower threshold for CSD compared to males. Another theory is that females have thicker gray matter in parts of the brain that manage pain processing, whereas other studies point to adverse childhood experiences and more exposure to physical abuse as reasons why women have more headaches.
Researchers have also found that women tend to experience stronger episodes of chronic pain that lasts longer than men. This goes beyond pain in the head and can extend to the neck, back, knee, and shoulder too. Other conditions, like fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome, are also more common among women. When several of these conditions occur simultaneously in the body, the pain can become unbearable and lead to psychological problems and permanent disability. Too often these pain symptoms and conditions are seen and treated as ‘separate’ illnesses where they may actually have similar underlying causes and ‘interact’ with one another. Treatment for some conditions can even have side effects that worsen other pain symptoms (have a look at the possible side effects leaflets of many over the counter and prescription medications and ‘headaches’ will very often be inclued).
Men and Headaches
Although women are more prone to headaches overall, that certainly doesn’t mean that men don’t get them. Younger boys have more headaches than young girls – until girls reach puberty. Although headaches are more common among women there are specific types of headaches that disproportionately occur in men – cluster headaches, for example, are six times more frequent in men. Men in their 20s to 50s are most likely to develop these types of headaches, with genetics, smoking, and alcohol use
Some psychologists and doctors believe that in general, men focus on the physical effects of pain, while women focus on the emotional effects. Since emotions associated with pain are usually ‘negative’, those who focus on emotions may feel a second dimension of pain on top of the physical.
What can you do about your headaches?
If you suffer with severe or frequent headaches it can be debilitating. Fortunately in the vast majority of cases the underlying causes are not sinister (e.g. brain tumours) but it can be frustratingly difficult to identify what factors are causing your particular headaches to recur as it is often a combination of things.
There are a number of underlying medical conditions that can cause chronic headache symptoms – for example anaemia (low iron, B12, folate), Vitamin D deficiency and menopause – many of which can be checked for with a blood test and are quite easily treated. If you suffer with chronic headaches and your GP hasn’t spoken to you or looked into these possibilities it’s well worth speaking to them again.
Having an understanding of some of the things that can cause headaches specifically in women and keeping a headache diary might help you to identify patterns and triggers for your headaches and this can also be really useful information for your doctor or clinician. Your doctor may be able to advise lifestyle changes that might help – for example, reducing consumption of alcohol, caffeine and carbonated soft drinks.
If you’ve ruled out any sinister or underlying causes, tried some lifestyle adjustments, and you find that you are still having headaches, you might consider a consultation with a physical therapist – like a chiropractor or osteopath who specialises in treating patients with chronic headaches. Recurring headaches can often originate from, be made worse by, or be accompanied by, symptoms in the face, jaw, neck, shoulders, and upper back. By looking at the patterns of tension and alignment in your whole upper body, and treating areas surrounding and connecting into your head, therapists may be able to help you to achieve a gradual – or in some cases a rapid- improvement in both the frequency and severity of their headaches.
For many headache sufferers even knowing that their headaches are not ‘all in their head’ and finding a clinician who is able to look at their headaches from different perspectives and ‘believes’ them can be a powerful first step.
It’s hard enough to lose weight when you don’t have any additional significant health issues. When you also have back pain it can seem like an impossible challenge. Unfortunately, many people (and healthcare professionals) don’t look at and treat these problems as interconnected.
It’s all very well advising someone to eat less and exercise more to lose weight but if they are hardly sleeping because of pain and seriously worried about injuring themselves by exercising, then weight loss is going to be a real challenge. The flip side is that as long as someone is overweight they are putting additional stress on their spine and other joints, and the quality of their sleep is likely to be affected, and their aches and pains increased. Add to the equation the mental health effects of being overweight, living with chronic pain, and poor sleep patterns and it’s no wonder that people can get trapped in this back-pain-weight-gain cycle for years , with both their mental and physical health affected.
So, what’s the answer?
The first thing to realise is that there can be many reasons why someone is overweight and has back pain so there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution as the promoters of some wonder diets and wonder back pain products would have you believe. What has worked for your friend’s back pain or weight loss might not work for you.
Secondly it’s important to remember that weight gain and chronic back pain don’t happen overnight and nor do they resolve overnight. So don’t set yourself up for failure by hoping for an overnight solution and being disappointed when that doesn’t work.
With that in mind, we recommend some key steps to start to tackle this vicious circl
- Get a proper diagnosis for your back pain
‘Back pain’ is not a diagnosis – it’s a symptom. You may have very similar symptoms to your friend BUT quite different underlying causes. So rather than jumping around aimlessly from one treatment to another the first thing you need is an accurate and detailed understanding of the underlying causes of your SPECIFIC back pain.
Until you know exactly why you have, keep getting, and can’t shift your back pain, you can’t treat it successfully.
There are very few doctors and healthcare professionals who specialise in chronic back pain. Find yourself someone who specialises in this treating long term back pain and ask them about their track record (ask for patient reviews or testimonials, case studies or other results) before consulting them.
2. A combination of treatments and self-care are usually required.
If you’ve had back pain for a while or it keeps coming back, it’s likely that you’ve tried various approaches to dealing with it. You may have tried various types of manual therapy like physio, exercise like pilates, or other therapies like acupuncture but if your pain hasn’t gone you may feel they ‘didn’t work’.
However, all the latest research points to the fact that an integrated approach to treatment of back pain is the most successful. Standalone treatments can temporarily relieve symptoms but it usually takes a combination of treatments and lifestyle changes to get to the root of the problem. It’s not that these treatments ‘don’t work’ it’s just that you need to have the right combination of treatments for your particular type of back pain.
Now that you have a proper diagnosis for your specific back pain it might be that treatments you have already ‘tried’ have a role to play in helping you to recover or perhaps something new that you haven’t tried. Again, ask your specialist lots of questions about why they recommend a particular combination of treatment for you and what results they’ve had with that approach.
3. Keep (or re-start) moving:
Contrary to popular mythology it’s rarely necessary or beneficial to rest or refrain from exercise if you have back pain. In fact, it’s important to keep as mobile as possible. However, it’s true that you can do further damage to an injured back (especially if there is discal injury) through poor exercise technique or just bad movement habits (like bending to lift using your spine for power rather than using the proper manual handling techniques).
Seek out an exercise professional who specialises in working with people with your type of back pain and get some coaching in safe and effective exercise techniques for you.
The endorphins released through exercise as well as motion itself can both have a positive effect on pain and mood, as well as boosting your metabolism to help with weight-loss.
4. Nutrition and hormones:
In the weight-loss equation nutrition is generally considered even more important than exercise. This is not about dieting, low calorie foods, or deprivation. It’s about eating a well-balanced diet with as little as possible processed food and sugar, with plenty of vegetables and fruit, protein and carbohydrates. It’s also really important both for weight and back health to keep well hydrated – aim to drink at least 2 litres of filtered water a day.
There’s an increasing body of evidence that both weight gain and chronic pain are made worse by foods that have an ‘inflammatory’ effect on the body (processed foods, alcohol and caffeine are examples). So by cutting down on these foods not only are you likely to lose weight but you may well see an improvement in pain and other health issues (like IBS, skin health etc.)
It’s also possible that an underlying deficiency or hormone imbalance (for example low testosterone, thyroid issues or vitamin B) could be contributing both to your weight gain and aches and pains. If you haven’t already been tested by your GP it is well worth asking for the relevant blood tests.
If you have been prescribed medication for back pain, or other health issues (perhaps for diabetes) it’s also worth speaking with your GP about how medications for one condition could possibly be increasing other side effects. Sometimes a change of prescription, or treatments or lifestyle changes that enable you to gradually reduce or remove your medications, can make a huge difference. Always consult your doctor before changing your medications.