Holistic medicine seeks to treat the body as a whole, rather than just the symptoms of a disorder, making it a unique and powerful method of combating illness. A common condition that benefits from alternative approaches is chronic back pain, which can range from a dull ache to a sharp pierce to a burning sensation. Many patients turn to traditional therapies to address the problem, but continue to struggle with the crippling emotional and physical symptoms of back pain. The available prescription medicines (antidepressants, pain relievers, anticonvulsants, and opioids) are extremely powerful and can result in serious side effects, often without long-term solutions. Holistic approaches, then, are an indispensable alternative in the treatment of chronic back pain.
Identifying the Causes of Chronic Back Pain
Chronic back pain is a complex and varied condition. The first step in treating it effectively is to understand its causes — this is where the healing process begins. A few of the common factors that cause chronic pain in the back include:
- Injuries. Injuries due to falls, accidents, sports, or repetitive damage over time can cause chronic back pain. Pulled muscles, spinal fractures, and ligament damage can also cause or compound the back pain.
- Mechanical problems. Issues regarding the spinal column or its surrounding muscles such as scoliosis, muscle tension, and kyphosis are also associated with chronic back pain.
- Disease and disorder. Diseases or disorders such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and spondylitis can all result in chronic back pain as well. Other unchecked medical conditions such as kidney stones and endometriosis can also introduce similar symptoms.
- Pregnancy. The weight of pregnancy has been known to cause severe back pain. Most women are relieved of this particular cause after giving birth, but the experience of pain when expecting can be a challenge.
- Infections and tumors. Though these are the least frequent causes of chronic back pain, they are another potential source. Patients have experienced back pain from spinal tumors and disc infections, which can become extremely painful over time.
- Mental causes. Recent studies suggest that back pain might manifest as a mind-body disorder that can cause anxiety to the emotional mind. That anxiety, in turn, can cause further pain and prevent its reduction. Factors such as stress, negative lifestyle choices, repressed feelings, and depression can all lead to a physical experience of pain.
It is important to note that back pain can result from a number of factors, many of them unique to the individual. Furthermore, these factors often interrelate – lifestyle choices, for instance, might cause an old injury where symptoms are, in turn, compounded by stress. The key is to identify the main causes and reasons for back pain, then explore the appropriate treatments. This is where holistic methods become important options.
Exploring Holistic Approaches
A number of holistic approaches to chronic back pain include:
- Acupuncture. This ancient Chinese holistic treatment has been proven immensely helpful for those suffering from chronic back pain. Though the mechanics of acupuncture remain something of a mystery, it has been known to dramatically relieve pain. More importantly, acupuncture generally introduces no side effects, making it a safe and reliable option for treatment when appropriately administered.
- Exercise. Though fitness might seem difficult or unpleasant to engage in with back pain, regular physical activity is remarkably beneficial for those who struggle with pain. Studies have shown that it results in overall energy boosts, strengthens core functioning, and improves moods — all of which are instrumental in aiding your body and mind against back pain. More specifically, targeted exercises can physically strengthen key areas contributing to the problem. Under the guidance of trained physiotherapists and coaches, a personalized workout regimen can work wonders in alleviating back pain.
- Stress-reduction techniques. “Reducing stress is really crucial in pain management,” argues Seddon R. Savage, M.D., incoming president of the American Pain Society. Dr. Savage is right: Stress can compound pain and slow the healing process. Powerful holistic approaches in reducing stress include:
- Yoga. This is the ideal exercise for those suffering from back pain, as it strengthens and stretches the body without too much intensity. Yoga also introduces different levels, philosophies, and variations to accommodate the patient’s unique profile — a cornerstone of the holistic tradition.
- Massage. An effective massage can do wonders to relax a patient and heal the underlying wounds that cause back pain — both mental and physical. Stress reduction is a powerful side benefit of massage. Patients can also learn the core principles of massage and administer it to themselves in a localized way.
- Hypnosis. A technique used in certain disciplines of therapy, hypnosis can be useful for mental causes of pain by uncovering memories, attitudes, and behaviors that contribute to pain.
- Relaxation therapy. In this approach, patients are taught to release the tension causing back pain by focusing on their breathing and learning to control bodily processes.
- Chiropractic manipulation. Chiropractors administer adjustments and other treatments that can, in some circumstances, manually manipulate the pain caused by problematic joints in the body. It is generally considered more effective for sudden and acute back pain — particularly in the period immediately after an injury — and less effective for chronic back pain.
- Knowledge Therapy. When back pain is emotionally upset, knowledge therapy can become a powerful treatment option. Dr. John Sarno of the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in New York defined the treatment as a teaching process in which trained professionals help patients address repressed feelings, memories, and emotionally charged sensitive issues that are contributing to their pain. Patients are then empowered to alleviate themselves of their own painful symptoms. While the method takes tremendous understanding and long-term commitment, many consider it a revolutionary therapy that has changed millions of lives. The method largely places the power of healing in the patient’s control (rather than the doctor’s), bringing the patient into the center of his or her own treatment.
Holistic Freedom From Chronic Back Pain
If you suffer from chronic back pain, holistic treatments offer a compelling alternative to traditional approaches. Holistic techniques are generally less invasive, result in fewer side effects, and generate remarkable results when administered correctly. They might hold the key to your freedom from chronic pain.
It is important, however, to take the time to understand the techniques that work best for your unique situation — the personalization of holistic medicine is part of its power. Consider discussing your options with a professional and embrace the process of picking the right treatment with sound, clinical judgment.