Thursday, December 13, 2012

Back Pain: Forming Your Treatment Team

Back pain affects around 80% of Americans.  Whether acute or chronic, if you have experienced back pain you know how debilitating it can be.  There are several reasons for back pain from structural, to postural, to degenerative discs.  Each one presents with different symptoms and unless the case is severe, most back pain can be alleviated with simple strengthening routines. 

Injuries come frequent for athletes…  most minor and treatable.  I spent my day yesterday having deep tissue therapy done to help correct an injury from a few months back.  (Tip: if your workout partner drops over 300lbs, don't try to catch it all yourself… and defiantly don't continue the workout after the injury happens).  Luckily, since I have experience with treating severe back injuries, this will be only a small obstacle.      

It took time but by using the techniques presented in this article I was able to rebuild my back strength after my injury in 2006.  Since then as a personal trainer, I have dozens of other back pain sufferers cope with their back problems.  From my experience I have learned that the best way to cope with chronic injury is to have a coordinated and experienced treatment team. 

Most people go through life with back pain and don't know why they have it.  The most common reason stems from just having weak back muscles or muscular imbalances.  As the muscles weaken, the spine, lumbar, hips, knees, neck, and shoulders are all pulled out of the correct postural zones and cause pain.  Most people then do the exact opposite of what they need to do and end up avoiding using the afflicted area instead of strengthening it.  Little things such as picking up a weight or even brushing one's teeth can throw out the back.  Years and years of this abuse adds up to chronic injuries such as degenerated discs, herniation, and postural deformities. 

All of this could be avoided if one just identified the issue early on and treated it.  Even if a person is experiencing issues currently, actions can be taken to help strengthen the body and alleviate the pain.

First thing a person needs to do is identify the problem.  Ask yourself the following questions…

~Is the pain sharp or a dull ache?
~Is the pain in the upper, middle, or lower back? 
~Is it on one or both sides? 
~Is there numbness or tingling radiating from the area?

Identifying each of these will help you assess the problem areas and also help any doctors you have on your treatment team.

A dull ache typically ends up being sore, weakened muscles and can be easy to treat while a sharp pain—especially one that radiates or causes numbness—should be treated as severe issue and a qualified professional should be consulted as-soon-as-possible.

There are several routes you can go, but no matter what you should consult a qualified professional.  This section breaks down each of those who may be able to help you.

1: A Orthopedic Surgeon or Neurologist specializing in Back Injuries. 
This should be your first action if you have severe pain.  These people should know what they are doing*.  They will be able to take xrays and MRIs to help diagnose the structural and neurological issues you are experiencing.  They can prescribe medications (typically pain killers and steroid injections) to alleviate the pain and allow you to perform exercises to strengthen the muscles around the problem areas. 
(*Notice I said "should"…  For every good doctor, there seems to be a dozen bad ones.  Research you doctor first, and if you feel uncomfortable with them find another one. )

2: Chiropractor
While not surgeons, a good Chiropractor will be able to assess if your problems stem from a structural or posture issue and be able to help treat it.  Many chiropractors also have access to tools such as a "Functional or Standing x-ray", Electro-Stimulation, and Ultrasound device which can help them diagnose and treat your symptoms. 

Avoid chiropractors who are quick to treat without clear diagnosis.  "Bonecrackers" are the ones who give chiropractics a bad name.

3: Massage Therapist
Like a Chiropractor, a Licensed Massage Therapist can help you assess and treat your injuries.  While Chiropractors deal with the structural issues of the skeletal system, Massage Therapists deal more with the connective tissues and muscular system of the body, manipulating it to make it more efficient.  A note, these typically will not be found in the mall doing chair massages.

4: Acupuncturist
There is no Ancient Chinese Secret…  While people try to put stone age mythology into medical practice, the core idea of acupuncture is sound.  Acupuncture is based around trigger point release and manipulation of the healing processes of the human body.  While not for everyone, acupuncture can be used as a pain reliever for joint pain, as well as help direct blood flow to problem areas.  Finding a good acupuncturist can be hard, so ask around and do your research before letting someone stick you with pins. 

5: Physical Therapist
A physical therapist is specialized is rehabilitating the human body after injury or surgery.  They typically use conservative exercise regiments and rehabilitative tools (e-stim, ultrasound, etc…) to help strengthen the body and get a person back to normal.

6: Personal Trainer
A personal trainer can help you maintain your body and help prevent any muscular weakness or imbalances that cause back pain.  Finding a good personal trainer who specializes in back pain can be a challenge, but once found they can help you lead a healthier life.

Once you have figured out what is going on, you can treat the problems.  Make sure each person in your treatment team has each other's information and make sure they communicate with each other.  Some treatments can conflict with each other.

I've been there.  So you cannot afford a treatment team…  well, thanks to the internet there are many online resources and forums that have people like me who just want to help others treat their problems.  Some problems can be as simple as fixing your posture or doing corrective exercises.  It's all about leaving pride behind and asking for help.

If you have chronic pain and are in need of help, feel free to email contact me through my facebook account or email me at lasharm(at)

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