More than 540 million people globally suffer from back pain at any point in their lives, but treating this debilitating condition can be done naturally.
Back pain is caused by a number of factors such as injuries, activities, posture, heredity, and malignant tumors. Depending on the severity of the pain, it can impact a person's ability to move and quality of life especially those from the lower-income to the middle-income bracket of the society.
"We don't think about [back pain] the same way as cancer or heart attacks. But if you look at disability it causes, especially in middle- and low-income where there isn't a safety net, it impacts half a billion people," said co-author Roger Chou, a physician at the Oregon Health and Science University.
The study, which was published in The Lancet journal, identified that back pain among Nigerian rural farmers reduced their workload by half, thereby decreasing their income. Australian elderly people who suffer from back pain have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the management of their condition.
Studies have shown that people experiencing back pain have been using therapies that do not significantly reduce their level of pain. Evidence has shown that patients seek medical care in the emergency department where they are given opioid medication and are advised to rest or stop working.
An estimated 2.6 million Americans visit the emergency room for the treatment of lower back pain. A 2009 research reported that about 60 percent of back pain patients were prescribed with opioid medicine, and only half of the population with chronic pain was advised to do exercise.
Andrea Furlan, a pain researcher at the Institute of Work and Health in Toronto, said lack of understanding of the causes of back pain is what alleviates the problem. She added that many doctors are not certified pain management specialists, so their initial response would be surgery injections and opioids.
Meanwhile, in India, back pain patients are advised to have a complete bed rest while South Africans resort to pain medication as their sole option.
Alternatives To Pain Killers
Dr. Judith Turner, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said pain management should not be all about medications.
She instead advised clinicians and patients to consider cognitive-behavioral therapies where they are taught to apply mental strategies to reduce pain and manage stress. These include breathing exercises, imagery, and muscle relaxation.
"Clinical guidelines recommend exercise and psychological therapies as first-line treatments for persistent back pain, but many patients are not prescribed exercise, and very few receive psychological treatments," Turner said.
Furlan's group at Cochrane evaluated 30 studies of 3,500 patients with back pain and found that cognitive behavioral therapies were more effective than medical and physical therapy.
Scholars recommend that maintaining an active lifestyle and doing stretching exercises should be the first step to managing back pain. The absence or the lack of exercise can cause muscle stiffness, circle swelling, and decreased bone density.
Researchers also debunked previous knowledge that lifting heavy weights can cause strain in the back muscles. Maintaining a good posture in doing any activity also reduces the risks of back pain.