Back pain treatment is a hotly debated topic. Every week you can read a least one research study that claims a popular, conventional treatment is ineffective. Even the most established treatments such as physical therapy do not escape the headlines. Only recently researchers at Warwick University (UK) found that one session just offering advice to back pain sufferers achieved the same results as six weeks of physiotherapy!
Of course, conducting such a large study is difficult as there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration. What sort of treatment was given? What was the quality and experience of the therapists used? Did the subject all have the same cause of back pain? Did they carry out the exercises or advice as instructed?
This last question is the big one in my view. All courses of back pain treatment usually involve some sort of exercise or instruction on how to sit, stand or move to reduce the stress on the back. But are we capable of following this advice? Most therapists in conventional medicine make the assumption that we can.
However, if back pain is not due to a specific medical condition is it usually a muscular problem. The human body is perfectly capable of supporting itself with minimal muscular effort. Postural muscles are 'designed' to provide long periods of sustained activity to keep us upright and balanced. The phasic muscles (or movement muscles) are for short bursts of activity such as lifting your arm or turning your head. This is a bit of a simplification because all muscles provide a mixture of both functions but it will do for this example.
In my opinion, back pain and other muscular-skeletal problems can occur when we 'misuse' our body, or in other words use the wrong muscles to sit, stand and move. If we're not moving correctly I our daily activities we're going to do the same when trying to perform corrective exercises.
I see many people who tighten their lower back muscles to sit and stand up straight – these are the wrong muscles! They should not be active to keep you upright, this should be a function performed by muscles higher up that will balance your upper body on your spine.
So if someone suffering with their back is not 'using' themselves correctly how are they suddenly supposed to know how to use it right for exercising or trying to correct their posture? This is why I believe conventional back pain treatment does not offer the best solution.
Physical therapy, osteopathic, chiropractic and acupuncture treatments do get results and I recommend people to get a diagnosis and initial help from a qualified practitioner. In the short-term, manipulative treatment will help to get you moving and back onto your feet. However, I do not see these therapies as a long-term solution because they rarely get to the cause of 'misuse' and you could find yourself returning to your therapist on a regular basis.
If you are looking to address the cause of neck, back or shoulder pain you'll need to go deeper. Your muscles are only doing what you tell them to do, but, and here is the big question, do you know what you are telling them to do? In place of exercise I believe a course of re-education will achieve far more by removing your bad habits that are causing your discomfort.
Roy Palmer is a teacher of movement re-education and author of 7 Seconds to Pain Relief, secrets of lasting relief from back, neck & shoulder pain. He has helped back pain
sufferers, sports people and performing artists over the last 12 years. He is also the author of three books on the subject of performance enhancement, injury prevention and rehabilitation for athletes.
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