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Freedom from Back and Neck Pain

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For many people, a life free from back and neck pain is nothing but a dream. Sadly, in adults under 45, back and neck pain limits activity more than any other health complaint.

For many people, a life free from back and neck pain is nothing but a dream. Sadly, in adults under 45, back and neck pain limits activity more than any other health complaint. In adults between 45 and 65, it is second only to arthritis as the most limiting health factor.

Identified by Scientific American as "one of society's most significant non-lethal conditions," back and neck pain will affect at least 80 percent of Canadians at some point in their lives and suck billions of dollars from our health-care system. That's the bad news...The good news is that most back and neck pain is caused by soft tissue (muscle, ligament, tendon) strain or spasm, which is preventable and often much easier to treat than hard-tissue (cartilage, bone) damage or deterioration. The pain caused by strained or spasmodic back and/or neck muscles is telling you something. Whatever the cause of your discomfort, these four experts will share their secrets for prevention and treatment.

A Chiropractic Perspective

Catherine Owens, DC

Ask any chiropractor about the most fundamental cause of all complaints affecting the spine and you will probably hear one word: stress. The vast majority of spine-related problems result from cumulative repetitive physical, postural, chemical, environmental and emotional stresses on the nervous system. Stress triggers the nervous system to call in the body's emergency task force, adrenaline, which tightens muscles, redistributes blood flow, fires up hormones and prepares the body for battle and/or escape. We usually suppress these natural fight-or-flight reactions. The result is that our nervous systems become stuck in a state of high alert, which short circuits, or subluxates, the impulses in the nervous system even more, resulting in symptoms of spinal problems and a decreased level of health.

Prevention and treatment of back and neck problems must address the dysfunctional nervous system. Chiropractic treatments gently and safely manipulate the skeletal system, restoring the stressed nervous system to a less reactive, clearer and healthier level of functioning. A healthier nervous system sends healing messages to other organ systems, including aching muscles and joints. Most chiropractors support the recovery process further by providing advice on exercise, nutrition and stress management. Once restored, health can be maintained by regular chiropractic adjustments, as well as other proactive lifestyle habits.

Here's my prescription for spinal recovery and maintenance:

  • Drink lots of water
  • Exercise and stretch regularly
  • Visit a chiropractor regularly (kids too!)
  • Locate a punching bag, some decent boxing gloves, duct-tape a photo of the source of your stress to the bag, and pound the living daylights out of it!

The vast majority of spine-related problems result from cumulative repetitive physical, postural, chemical, environmental and emotional stresses on the nervous system. One solution: locate a punching bag, some decent boxing gloves, duct-tape a photo of the source of your stress to the bag, and pound the living daylights out of it!

Take hold of your right upper trapezius muscle with your left hand and hang on. At the same time, look down at the floor past your left hip. The muscle will try to slip away, but if you can hang on to it not too hard, though you should feel a good stretch. Hold it for five deep breaths and repeat on the other side.

Back and neck pain will affect at least 80 percent of Canadians at some point in their lives and suck billions of dollars from our health-care system.

Dr. Catherine Owens is passionate about chiropractic. She runs a paediatric and family wellness practice in Peterborough, Ont. Dr. Owens is also a busy mother to three girls who all have their spines checked regularly.

The Massage Approach

Louise Wood, RMT

Does your neck feel tired or achy? Try this: with your fingers and palm, grasp that chunk of muscle sloping from neck to shoulder called the upper trapezius. Does it mould into your hand, or does it just sit there like a cement implant? Does the pressure of your grip make you wince? Groan with pleasure? If you answered yes to the last two, your neck muscles are crying out for care.

Muscles are built to stretch and work up a sweat, and are happiest when they're moving through their full range. Sliding a mouse around and pushing a gas pedal do not count. When we sit for hours at our jobs, our muscles don't like it, and our necks, shoulders and backs start to complain by aching and getting stiff. If we ignore it long enough, we may wake up one day with such screaming pain that we can barely move.

The simplest way to prevent this dismal scenario is regular exercise. But for now, let's tend to that tired muscle you just woke up when you squeezed it. Don't do this if you have sharp pain in your neck.

Take hold of your left upper trapezius muscle with your right hand and hang on. At the same time, look down at the floor past your right hip. The muscle will try to slip away, but if you can hang on to it not too hard, though you should feel a good stretch. Hold it for five deep breaths and repeat on the other side. Feel good?

A massage therapist will not only work on tight muscles to stretch, relax and stimulate circulation, but will also assess the range of movement in the joints that affect those muscles. If your neck is tight, for example, a massage therapist will assess how your neck actually moves, and how lack of movement might be causing muscles on one side to overwork. This guides the therapist to the best treatment for you.

Louise Wood is a registered massage therapist currently practising in Victoria. In 16 years, she has worked on countless people with neck, back and shoulder problems.

Lying prone (facedown), lift alternate arm and leg off the floor, hold for three seconds, release and then do other side.

Homeopathy for Pains and Strains

Bryce Wylde, BSc, RNC, DHMHS, HD

Homeopathy is a natural and very effective solution for the treatment of neck and back pain caused by soft-tissue strains and spasms. Classical homeopathy is a system in which medicines are based on the ancient principle of "like cures like." Homeopathy is different from any other form of natural or conventional medicine by virtue of its pharmaceutical preparation. However, many homeopathic doctors will also incorporate other natural medicines such as vitamins, minerals and herbs when treating back pain. In the end, the treatment will always depend on the underlying cause!

Homeopathy should always be considered for pain caused by strained or spasmodic back and neck muscles! Here's why. Homeopathics are non-toxic and do not have dangerous side-effects. They do not interact with drugs, are non addictive, are safe in pregnancy and, as a bonus, will never affect drug tests that some athletes are required to perform.

With homeopathy, healing time from stress, sprain or strain of a muscle can easily be reduced by up to 85 per cent. Try Rhus toxicodendron if you have symptoms of pain and stiffness, that feel worse from being still, much worse from first movement (but better after movement) and aggravated by cold weather. Try Bryonia alba, on the other hand, if you experience pain at the least motion, are very irritable, feel worse with heat and the pain gets much worse toward the evening. For severe pain, take as high as 30C potency three to four times per day. You can expect to see excellent results within the first few hours for most soft-tissue strains, sprains or spasms. The cure is deep and long lasting!

Bryce Wylde is a graduate of the Ontario College of Homeopathic Medicine and a professional member and director of the Ontario Homeopathic Association. Having graduated from York University with a science degree, he set out to pursue the art and science of homeopathic medicine. See his many media appearances online at homeopathicdoctor.ca.

Abdominal crunches: lie on the floor, knees up, feet on floor, hands supporting head and neck. Slowly lift shoulders off floor and then lower down.

Push-ups: Try five to 10 to start and gradually increase to 20 as tolerated.

"Core" Fitness Connection for a Strong Back

Sherry Torkos, BSc Pharm

One of the most important steps one can take to prevent back and neck pain is to develop and maintain strong "core" muscles. Your core muscles are the muscles of your torso—the back, abdominals and hips. These muscles stabilize the spine, allowing you to move with ease and lift heavy objects without harming yourself.

Here are some exercises to consider for strengthening your core:

  • Abdominal crunches: lie on the floor, knees up, feet on floor, hands supporting head and neck. Slowly lift shoulders off floor and then lower down. Do 15 to 30 repetitions.
  • Lying prone (facedown), lift alternate arm and leg off the floor, hold for three seconds, release and then do other side. Repeat this 10 to 15 times on each side. This move strengthens spinal muscles.
  • Push-ups: Try five to 10 to start and gradually increase to 20 as tolerated. Push-ups strengthen the back, chest and arms.

Stress can also contribute to muscle tension and back and neck pain. Finding ways to reduce your response to stressful events is critical. Exercises such as t'ai chi and yoga, breathing techniques and stretching can be very helpful in reducing stress and muscle tension.

For treatment of acute back and neck pain, I recommend intermittent, 10-minute applications of ice and heat. MSM (1,000 mg twice daily) can help reduce pain and improve tissue healing. Pancreatic enzymes (bromelain, trypsin, chymotrypsin) and essential fatty acids (flax seed oil), the dosages of which are individualized, can help reduce inflammation. Depending on the severity of your injury, exercise can actually help by improving blood flow and by releasing naturally occurring painkillers (endorphins and enkephalins).

Sherry Torkos is a pharmacist, author and fitness instructor who lives in the Niagara area. She is frequently featured on TV and radio shows throughout North America and is coauthor of Breaking the Age Barrier (Viking Canada, 2003). Visit sherrytorkos.com.

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