Take back your back
Back pain is common, but the fix isn’t, which is where alternative therapies come to the fore. Back pain expert Beth Murinson reports.
Trigger point therapy Pioneered by Dr Janet Travell, who was President Kennedy’s personal doctor, a specialist trained in this therapy will use a variety of techniques to release myofascial trigger points – hard, tender knots of muscles – including acupuncture needles and pressure.
Myofascial release massage This is based on the idea that fibrous connections build up between tissues that are not subjected to full movements; over time, these connections tighten and shorten, leading to stiffness, restricted movement and chronic pain. Myofascial release massage aims to release these connections through kneading, rolling and deep pressure. It can feel a bit strange as it focuses on the spaces between muscles, rather than the muscles themselves, but it can be tremendously beneficial.
Cranio-sacral massage Most conventional medical practitioners have been slow to recognise that there is a patterned flow of spinal fluid through the central spinal canal. Further, the fact that this fluid is pulsatile (beats or throbs) has only recently been acknowledged. Through gentle application of pressure and repositioning the head, spine, and back, the therapist seeks to re-establish subtle rhythms of the body.
Rolfing The goal of rolfing is to correct abnormalities in musculoskeletal alignment and reorient the body segments so they are aligned with the earth’s gravitational field.
Find a practitioner: www.naturaltherapypages.com.au
Try the chiro cure
Chiropractors have a distinct advantage over the garden-variety doctor in the extent of training that they receive in disorders of the back and spine. The well-prepared chiropractor will have a much more detailed theoretical understanding of spine mechanics and greater working knowledge of effective mechanical solutions to spine problems through their training.
A study in the Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapies indicates that chiropractic care is effective at relieving pain and disability, associated with high levels of patient satisfaction, and less expensive than primary care management of back pain.
Find a chiropractor: www.chiropractors.asn.au
Vitamin B12 helps alleviate back pain, according to a clinical trial in Pharmacological Science. It is an essential element in the metabolism of muscles and nerves. In conditions of deficiency, people experience depression, bizarre tingling sensations, and often diffuse, poorly explained pains. B12 deficiency is more prevalent than previously thought – it may exceed 15 percent of the population - and increases with age. Recommended intake levels are relatively small: 2.4mcg daily for most adults. Good food sources include beef liver, trout, salmon, and fortified cereal.
Take the pressure down
Acupressure is widely used for back pain. One technique involves placing pressure on a spot located on either side of the spine at about waist level: this point is called the B23 spot. Find it as follows – sit upright or stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold out your hands, palm side downwards, with the thumb sticking out. Now position your hands so they touch your waist on either side, your thumb touching your back and your elbows sticking out to the side. Move your hands to the midline of your back until your thumbs are about three inches from each other on either side of the spine. At this point, increase the pressure that the thumbs are applying by pressing your elbows backward and arching the back gently. Plus, a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that acupuncture improved back pain more than medication and physical therapy.
Pick your pills
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, compounds that are normally found in joints, are commonly used as dietary supplements for arthritis and back pain because they contribute to joint motions that are smooth and relatively painless. Glucosamine is thought to work by blocking the release of signalling factors that drive inflammation; chondroitin may block pain-sensing nerves.
Make mine Mozart
According to a study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, listening to classical music reduced back pain in patients with osteoarthritis (OA). Those who listened to 20 minutes of Mozart selections every morning for two weeks reported significantly less pain than those who did not listen to the music.
Be posture perfect
The Alexander Technique - a system of body movement and motor training designed to optimise physical function and reduce the stress of everyday activities - has long been popular with actors and musicians, to whom closely attuned body awareness is essential. A British Journal of Sports Medicine study showed it provides long-term relief from chronic or recurrent back pain. www.alexandertechnique.com.au
Feldenkrais is a movement-training method designed to re-educate the body to move more intuitively. One technique in particular, a variation on the butterfly stretch, is very helpful for anyone with sacroiliac pain because of the effect it has on freeing up the hip joints. www.feldenkrais.org.au
Qi gong is a moving meditation designed to promote the flow of energy and centre the person; specifically, it will help improve your balance and lower body strength. www.taichiaustralia.com.au
When all else fails, meditate
Clinical studies show that meditation, when routinely practised, has important positive effects in the lives of people with back pain. One of the best forms is progressive relaxation. It begins by focusing attention on the muscles of the feet: first tense those muscles and then relax them. Slowly, calmly breathing in and out, attention then proceeds to the lower leg, upper leg, and onward, part by part. A large Cochrane Review analysis showed that progressive relaxation had a significant positive effect in reducing back pain. www.meditation.org.au