The back is the most sensitive part of the human body. It is often the first part of the body to detect disease and the first to alert its owner to the presence of a problem in the body. This is why backache is the most common presenting complaint in medicine.
Despite the commonness of back problems, they are also the problems for which you are least likely to receive help from your doctor. Many doctors do not appreciate the complex and varied causation of back problems. Many doctors will treat the pain of a back syndrome and never understand the origin of the back pain itself.
Of course, doctors think about such things as cancer, and cancer can certainly be a cause of backache. It is important to consider the possibility of cancer and either make the diagnosis or rule the diagnosis out of the list of possibilities. While it is true that a backache, especially one of recent onset, may indicate a cancerous or ulcerative condition of the internal organs, it is not likely. When a backache has been present for years, it becomes very unlikely that the origin is from a life-threatening disease.
I want to talk to you here about the common and yet unappreciated causes of back syndromes. Most chronic back problems have several origins, and only if all the contributing factors are eliminated will the backache clear up completely. The most common initiating cause of a chronic back problem is chronic injury.
Larry Bird, the great professional basketball player, had his career ended with a back problem from chronic injury. Every time a basketball player leaps for the ball, he comes down to a small, perhaps only microscopic, injury on impact. Although each injury is almost insignificant in itself, when you add up thousands and tens of thousands of small injuries, the effect becomes noticeable.
I know a guy who thought he was taking great care of his health by running five times every week, three miles each time. He did this from age eighteen until age 36 before his back finally complained at the end of a marathon. Despite this warning signal from his back, he continued to run regularly until age 48 when he was forced by back pain to put an end to his running career. This fellow especially enjoyed fast running, in which the speed involved required that he raise his knees and pound the ground. He usually ran on sidewalks and streets, sometimes on tracks and occasionally through wooded areas. He finally went for an evaluation and was amazed to see on his x-ray that he had destroyed two intervertebral discs in his lower back.
Years later, this guy went to his friend, an orthopedic surgeon, finally ready for surgery. His surgeon friend was honest and told him that surgery probably would not help. His friend said these words: "There is nothing I can do to help. You will always have this problem. You had better just learn to live with it!"
In desperation, he tried one thing after another to cure his aching back. During this period he pushed his stiff back to the sitting position with his good right arm every morning and waited for his wife to tie his shoes, because he could not reach his feet due to back pain. That was four years ago. Today this person is completely pain free, can lift anything he wishes without fear of injury and has earned a blue belt in Tang So Do Karate. I know this fellow very well. I am this fellow. From this intimate case study of myself, I learned most of what I know about curing back problems. Let me tell you what I have learned about back problems.
Lesson 1: Never give up.
Do not lose hope for a normal back. If an authority figure tells you to learn to accept your back problem, excuse yourself and leave. Do not return. This person does not know much. Never accept your back problem as the way it must be for the rest of your life. Do not "learn to live with it." If you do, you will cease your search for a cure, and you will therefore not find a cure.
Lesson 2: Make lifestyle changes.
The low back is the most sensitive organ in the body. If you are stressing your body with a lousy diet, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, poor sleep habits, poor relationships, then change all that. Start eating right, drop tobacco and alcohol, exercise regularly, assign the proper hours for sleep, clean up your relationships, take your vitamins — especially take liberal amounts of vitamin C. You may be surprised to discover that these actions alone will eradicate your back problem and if not completely eradicate them, you can certainly expect changes for the better.
Lesson 3: Prolotherapy
When ligaments are severely damaged, they are not going to repair themselves on their own and no amount of chiropractic work is going to repair them. They need the help of prolotherapy, which involves the injection of a proliferative solution into the back. The presence of this proliferative solution attracts macrophages and fibroblasts, cells whose job it is to move in, clean up and repair a damaged area of the body. The prolotherapy solution mimics an acute injury, calling these cells to move in and repair damaged ligaments. If you have damaged ligaments, only prolotherapy is going to restore your back to health. The other things you can do will not cure it. However, even prolotherapy cannot do the job unless you make those lifestyle changes listed above. Until that happens, your ability to heal is impaired, and prolotherapy depends upon your ability to heal.
Lesson 4: Colon cleansing
You may be one of those people who, despite a healthy diet of vegetables, including lots of fiber, still has a sluggish colon. I suggest going on a juice fast of seven days (see the section on juice fasting) and having a few visits to a colon therapist (see section on the colon). You will be amazed at the difference a clean colon will make to your back. After your colon is cleansed, work out a dietary and herbal program with your colon therapist to keep it clean. This will involve eating right: low fat, no chocolate, plenty of fiber, no coffee. (I didn't say no caffeine, I said no coffee. Coffee is loaded with toxins other than caffeine, and some of them, notably tannic acid, help degenerate both the back and the adrenal glands — therefore, no decaf either.)
Lesson 5: Do daily specific exercises for the muscles of your back.
Part of the problem in most backaches is poor tone in the muscles of the back. This comes from lack of the right kind of exercise. When pain builds up in the back, the structures of the back reflexly try to hold motion to a minimum. This results in degeneration of the muscle tissue of the back. You need to build up the strength of both the flexors and extensors of the back.
The flexors are made stronger by doing what are called "crunchies." Lie flat on your back, put your hands behind your head, and flex your abdomen, bringing your chin a few inches closer to your pelvis, touching your chest with the point of your chin. As you do this, your shoulders and shoulder blades should come off the floor about two inches. Relax and repeat. Find your tolerance level, and build from there. A good routine is 100 crunchies every day. If you can do them all at one time, great, do it. If you cannot, keep working at it every day, doing 100 per day divided into several sessions until you can do 100 at one session.
Avoid full sit ups. Full set ups put an unnatural strain on your lower back and can result in back problems, even if you have none now.
After your abdominal muscles are strong, you are ready to start on your back extensors. Lie face down and bow your back bringing your head a few inches closer to your ankles and your chest, toes and knees off the floor. Now, swim, with one hand in front and the other behind; reverse and repeat. Build up to maintaining this position with this action for at least three minutes.
An even better exercise, once you have advanced your strength to the task, is done with a Roman hyperextension machine. This device makes it possible to lie face down, with a couple of stable pads at your anterior hip level and your ankles held in place from behind with a bar. With your hands behind your head in this position, allow your head to drop down forming a reverse, up-side-down L-shape with your body as viewed from your right side. Straighten your back bringing your body into a straight line again. Repeat this exercise until exhaustion.
You can find a Roman hyperextension machine at almost any health club and, if your back problem is helped by this exercise, you might be wise to purchase one for your own private use at home. I use mine every day — 40 hyperextensions per session.
Lesson 6: Chelation Therapy
If you have done all of the above and your back still hurts, it is time to take the next step. Chelation therapy is a potent treatment of the arthritic component of your back problem.
The addition of AMP (adenosine monophosphate) to the chelation mixture addresses a poorly appreciated problem of back disorders: the degenerated condition of the muscles of the back. When the back is in pain for protracted periods of time, the muscles do a thing called "splinting." When a muscle splints, it is straining to hold the joint structures in place.
Splinting occurs when the other structures of the back (bones, joints and ligaments) are damaged and cannot hold the back in proper alignment. This happens, for example, when an intervertebral disc collapses and brings the vertebrae closer together than they were meant to be. It also happens when there is ligament damage.
Ligaments are the cables, so to speak, in the back structure, which can be compared to a suspension bridge. When they break or become stretched out of shape, the vertebrae go out of alignment. Then the paraspinal muscles try to fill in for the damaged ligaments by holding (splinting) the spine in a rigid alignment. Muscles are not made for constant strain, and they eventually degenerate from this activity.
AMP is the first step in the biochemistry of building the substance the body itself manufactures to store energy (ATP - adenosine triphosphate) which is used by muscles in movement. When there is a lot of splinting, the muscle becomes exhausted. Supplying new AMP for the muscles is like fueling up a car. Muscle tissue is given a new lease on life.
Another item (you can take orally), which is a precursor of ATP, is creatine. I recommend five grams per day. This is especially useful when taken before exercise to increase the muscular strength of the back. However, the problem of splinting may still be present, therefore.
Lesson 7: Pulsed Stimulation Therapy (PSE)
Also, called "Pulsing Stimulation Therapy
," this high tech therapy was developed in the U.S., but ironically, because of the (let's be generous) shortsighted nature of our FDA, is not available in the U.S. If you want it, you have to travel to Canada, Mexico, or Europe (notably Germany). The technology involves surrounding the spine in a semicircular apparatus which emits square-wave pulses in radio-frequency ranges which have been found to stimulate chondrocytes (the cells which make cartilage). A series of ten 45 minute treatments is usually followed by gradual improvement over a 6-10 month period reflecting regeneration of cartilaginous tissue (the intervertebral discs). I have had this therapy and read the research and I can vouch for its efficacy. When the discs are extremely thin, producing bone on bone contact, this is the only therapy I have found which helps.
Lesson 8: Use Chondrotin Sulfate, Glucosamine, and MSM
These three substances are used by the body to make and repair cartilage, tendon, ligament, joint fluid, heart valves, eyes and blood vessels. In the face of chronic injury, the body simply cannot make enough to make a major repair possible. A degenerated disc in the back is a classic example. Taking these supplements makes possible the repair of joints, which were once thought to be beyond repair.
Lesson 9: Avoid vigorous manipulation of joints.
Chiropractic manipulation of joints can help you feel better, no doubt about it, especially early in the disease process. It is important for you to know that such manipulation is not curative of the disease process. No number of manipulations will make your collapsed disc become normal again and no amount of manipulation will make your ligaments repair themselves.
If your chiropractor performs dramatic, vigorous manipulation, while this may feel better in the short-run, in the long-run this type of spinal manipulation will damage your back by further ripping already torn and degenerated ligaments. Therefore, the alignment will not hold, and you will soon be back for another adjustment.
If you do have chiropractic manipulation, go to a chiropractor who appreciates the value of gentle manipulation over dramatic, vigorous manipulations. Determine this by interviewing the chiropractor by phone before you make an appointment. If you do go in for treatment, and you find the adjustment to be too vigorous, do not hesitate to say so. Say this word: "STOP!" It is your body, and it is your right to stop anyone from damaging your body.
Lesson 10: Avoid back surgery.
The rationale for back surgery is to stabilize the vertebrae by fusing unstable vertebrae together (spinal fusion) after removing diseased discs (laminectomy). Hopefully, the vertebrae grow together and become one unit.
This may or may not stabilize the spine. If it does, it does so at the expense of mobility. Two, three, four, or five vertebrae, fused together as one, also move as one. This makes for an unnatural stiffness. If stability is not attained through fusion, pain continues, and you have lost time and money having surgery, and you still have a painful back. Also, you have risked your life by going under anesthesia.
It is very possible to achieve stability through fusion surgery and still have the same old back pain. The reason for this is that there is more involved in back pain than unstable joints. The degeneration of muscle tissue from months and perhaps years of splinting must be corrected, or pain will persist. Removing discs stands a good chance of making the problem worse, because with each disc removed, the vertebral column becomes shorter. The muscle and ligament structures of the back are made for a certain length in the vertebral column. When you shorten that length, the structures which attach to the vertebrae become less functional.
Also avoid back surgery because there are far better ways to handle your back or neck problem, as we already have seen. If you already have had back surgery and still have a back problem (as usually is the case) do not despair. Follow this program, and it should work for you as well as if you had never consented to surgery.
Lesson 11: Do not take anti-inflammatory drugs, prescription or over-the-counter.
The pharmaceutical industry is up to its old tricks: profits by whatever means necessary. Several new (therefore patentable) anti-inflammatory medications have been developed which are a lot like aspirin in effect, except that they cost a fortune. The effect usually is dramatic for the first few days, and then the effect is no better than normal aspirin.
All anti-inflammatory agents retard healing and healing is, in the long run, the most important aspect in your recovery of normal function. Avoid all drugs in treating a back problem. This applies especially to steroids. This class of drugs, which includes cortisone, hydrocortisone and prednisone, has a dramatic pain-relieving effect and powerful anti-inflammatory effects, but these effects wear off after a week or so. The down side of steroids is that they do more than simply retard healing, they actually promote degeneration of tissues. In the long run, your back problem will be much worse for having used steroids — as will your immune system.
Although the effect is not so quick and dramatic, I believe that in the long run the best medicine for a spinal problem includes a clean diet with vigorous vitamin, amino acid and essential fatty acid therapy. I refer you to the section on Nutrition Medicine
for a more complete discussion of this type of therapy. What is optimal for your overall health also is best for your back. The rule of thumb here is that if you need a prescription for it, it is no good for your back! Crazy world, is it not?
Lesson 12: Remember the adrenal gland.
Adrenal dysfunction is the most common and yet most undiagnosed organ dysfunction in the body. The adrenal gland is by far the most sensitive of the organs to the daily assault of the 500-plus synthetic chemicals the average person is exposed to during the average day in America. Future research may illuminate which of these chemicals do the most damage, but at this time all we can say for sure is that the adrenal glands take a beating. It is very common for them to wear out in middle age as measured by DHEA
(dehydroepiandrosterone) levels. (I refer you to the article on general discussion of adrenal fatigue
The point is that the effect on the body from a pair of exhausted adrenal glands includes an aching back. DHEA therapy turns out to be an important element which leads many people out of Backache Woods.
Lesson 13: Remember the thyroid gland.
The hormonal secretions of the thyroid gland control the basal metabolic rate — the speed with which the body carries out all of the chemical processes of life. Included in these processes is healing. If you are trying to persuade a part of your body to heal itself, and there exists a thyroid imbalance, that healing will progress more slowly than normal.
In the case of a back which is already diseased with damaged cartilage and weakened ligaments, the rate of healing in the presence of thyroid dysfunction
may not be fast enough to keep pace with the rate of breakdown. Normal use of the back induces microscopic injuries, which must be repaired in a timely fashion if they are not to accumulate and present themselves as a painful back condition.
The ability to repair tissue quickly declines with age, and an important component of this decline is not only the occasional falling off of thyroid hormone but also the increased resistance of tissue to respond to the thyroid hormone which is present. See the chapter on thyroid replacement therapy for more information.
Lesson 14: Remember the importance of digestion.
Good food and vitamins cannot make a difference in the process of healing, even in the presence of a strong thyroid, if the food you eat and the vitamins you take do not absorb well. If they remain in the gut and are therefore eliminated without entering your body, you have gained nothing from them. As surprising as it may seem, many people suffer from the inability to make sufficient stomach acid to initiate proper digestion. This condition is called "achlorhydria," if there is no ability to make stomach acid. It is called "hypochlorhydria
" if there is reduced ability to make stomach acid. Hypochlorhydria is present in fifteen percent of people who go to a doctor's office for evaluation at age thirty, thirty percent at age forty and fifty percent over sixty!
Lesson 15: Maintain a good attitude.
Having a bad back is no fun and the discomfort is magnified by the attitude of resignation you may encounter in the medical establishment. Many people with lumbago and neck problems simply give up and accept the life of an invalid. To handle your back problem, you must educate yourself and practice what you learn. The good news is that if you do this, your overall health will improve, you will feel much better and probably live a longer, happier, healthier life.
To get through the back problem to a restoration of full function requires that you educate yourself and think for yourself. The medical establishment does not know what to do for you as evidenced by the millions of people whose backs and necks are in pain at this very moment even after seeing their doctors and following their medical advice to the letter. Among these people are many doctors, some of them the same doctors you went to for your backache!
Lesson 16: Sleep on a supportive surface.
The surface you sleep on makes an enormous difference to your spine. It should be a solid surface but not rock hard. There should be no sway to it. The worst possible choice would be a hammock. The best choice, it my opinion, is a six inch thick layer of egg crate foam on top of a solid surface such as board. The foam provides comfort, and the hard surface under the foam provides support. If it is possible to sleep on your back, do so. If not, an extra pillow for support placed to the side of your abdomen as you lie in the prone position turned slightly to one side is very helpful. Experiment to find the best arrangement to fit your body.
Lesson 17: Colchicine
Intravenous and oral colchicine (an extract of the Autumn crocus
plant) is a powerful anti- inflammatory agent for the spinal nerve root and the intervertebral discs. It also washes out uric acid and calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate crystals which are found in degenerated discs. Intravenous colchicine gives major relief of symptoms in 91% of patients with slipped disc syndrome, far better than the 50% offered by surgery and without the possibility of surgical or anaesthetic damage. No one should have disc surgery without first having a trial of colchicine.
Lesson 18: Be patient, and never give up.
I believe you can have confidence in the accuracy of the information I have given you. This information is derived from my own personal experience, and backed up with scientific studies. We live in a time when people want a quick-fix, an instant cure. While this is occasionally available, there may be no quick-fix, miracle cure to your back problem.
As for myself, I had to use every element in the above discussion for over one year before I could honestly pronounce myself completely recovered. My wife is now married to a man who not only does not need his shoes tied for him but who also can carry his bride from one room to the next with ease, and without any pain.
So, never give up, and do not expect an instant cure. The process which got your back in trouble spanned years, and the recovery may not come instantly. Be that person who insists on a complete restoration and does not settle for half-way measures which leave the problem persisting. You deserve a normally functioning back!