More than 4 million Australians struggle with back pain on a daily basis, majority of whom report that the pain interferes with their basic activities of daily living (AIHW 2020). When pain lingers, it can significantly compromise our quality of life by causing us physiological pain and disability as well as psychological distress.
With an estimation that 70–90% of Australians will suffer from lower back pain in some form at some point in their lives, (AIHW 2020) optimisation of the treatment and management of this pain is critical.
The Biopsychosocial Model of Health implies that pain cannot simply be seen as a physical experience, but as a social and psychological experience also (Discover the Power of Drug Free Pain Relief 2018). Therefore, in conjunction with treating pain with medications, pain treatment should also focus on treatments that effect the holistic and interrelated experience of pain physically, psychologically and socially.
In our three part series on the subject of drug free pain relief for back pain, we have previously discussed Physical Movement Therapies including staying active, Pilates, Yoga and Thai Chi through focusing on core strength, posture and flexibility, as well as Spinal Decompression Therapy as a treatment of slipped discs, pinched nerves, bulging or herniated discs and worn discs. We then discussed the role of Dietary Medicine and Medicinal Cannabis in relieving back pain.
Among 100 life-changing drug-free pain relief developments as detailed in Discover the Power of Drug Free Pain Relief 2019 (2018), are also Mind-Body Treatments and Electrical Therapies.
- Strength and Aerobic Exercise
While many people may discount the idea of beginning an exercise program if they are suffering from chronic back pain, tense, weak muscles can amplify the experience of pain (Discover the Power of Drug Free Pain Relief 2018).
In consultation with a health care professional as well as a personal trainer in order to develop a personalised program to suit your individual needs, regular weight training can help to build strength in areas where it has been lost and may be contributing to the experience of pain (Discover the Power of Drug Free Pain Relief 2018). Importantly, strength training also plays a crucial role in maintaining bone density which is said to deplete from the age of 30.
Aside from strength training, aerobic exercise promotes the release of endorphins which are the body’s natural pain killers (Discover the Power of Drug Free Pain Relief 2018).
- Weight Loss
Some studies have identified that on average, 7 out of 10 people with chronic pain are overweight. Research has also identified that because excess weight results in chronic mild inflammation in the body, excess fatty tissue may produce chemical that elevate sensitivity to pain (Discover the Power of Drug Free Pain Relief 2018).
While being heavier can place excess strain on joints and make it harder to exercise, exercise itself is important in the management of chronic pain (Discover the Power of Drug Free Pain Relief 2018). Therefore participating in non-weight bearing exercise like swimming may be beneficial as a starting point, however discussing any proposed exercise plan with a doctor is also important in order to discuss safety implications before commencing.
The use of heat or thermotherapy is suitable for soothing aching muscles, stress and chronic pain by helping to ease muscle spasms and sore spots. Heat can calm the nerves and settle the mind, however heat should not be applied to inflammation, so it’s a bad choice for fresh injuries (Discover the Power of Drug Free Pain Relief 2018).
It is theorised that because pain, heat and cold each have their own sensory mechanisms, the application of hot or cold stimuli may distract from sensing painful stimuli, reducing pain (Discover the Power of Drug Free Pain Relief 2018).
Pain relief is one of the many reasons why people meditate. Studies have suggested that meditation impacts different areas of the brain involved in the processing of pain messages, with pain reduction of up to 40% noted in some instances amongst subjects who meditated (Discover the Power of Drug Free Pain Relief 2018).
The nervous system is affected by stress, resulting in physiological effects such as heightened blood pressure, pulse rate and increased metabolism which can make pain feel more severe. When stress is minimised, it is thought that there is a corresponding reduction in pain (Discover the Power of Drug Free Pain Relief 2018).
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
Electricity has been used for pain relief for several thousand years. TENS units consist of a battery powered controller and electrodes that are placed on the body at the site of the pain which deliver an adjustable electrical current directly into the skin.
The electrical pulses are thought to scramble pain signals in the body by stimulating the nerves. The treatment is also believed to enhance the flow of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers (Discover the Power of Drug Free Pain Relief 2018). TENS units are widely utilised by physiotherapists and in hospitals, indicating the accepted validity of the therapy.
To read more from our series on drug free relief of pain with a focus on low back pain, please see our articles – Challenging Traditional Views of Health & Treatments of PAIN and Pain Pain Go Away, DON’T Come Back Another Day.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare – Back Problems 2019 – https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-musculoskeletal-conditions/back-problems/contents/what-are-back-problems
E-Book – Discover the Power of Drug Free Pain Relief 2019: 100 of the latest life changing Developments in 2019