Q: What could be causing my back pain?
A: I have been an osteopathic doctor in pain management for more than 20 years and I am still asked this question every day. The answer is really simple. It comes down to two things: poor nutrition and lack of exercise.
Modernized society has evolved in such a way that the typical habits of homeostatic maintenance – how our bodies work – are mismatched. This allows an uninhibited inflammatory response to slowly and gradually break down the body tissue to the point where there is no turning back when we are injured.
The first reason the body cannot heal after an injury is poor nutrition resulting from improper eating habits. There are too many foods and / or ingredients to name that, when consumed, have a negative impact on the body, causing inflammation and reducing the auto-regulation of the immune system.
The inflammatory system is an incredibly valuable friend to us. It is our guardian during an infection and also acts as a repair team when we have a tissue injury. However, if the inflammatory system does not receive the shutdown signal at the correct point in the rescue cycle, it will destroy the same tissue that it began to repair. The joint ligaments, cartilage, nerve tissue, bones, even the heart and lungs are negatively affected by the unrestricted inflammatory activity. The foods we eat are largely responsible for this problem. It is important that we return to a more natural diet with less refined foods, and it is important to eat foods that are high in antioxidants.
The second main cause of low back pain is a lack of physical fitness and the resilience of the musculoskeletal system. Again, the modern evolution of society has not provided us with the best environment to build strong, healthy and resilient bodies. Some patients might tell me that they “have a physical job”. They think that because of the physical demands of such jobs that tend to destroy the body, they don’t need exercise. It’s not quite the same.
Here’s why: Many have physically demanding industrial jobs, but those jobs don’t require the same muscles that physical labor did many years ago. For example, heavy machine operators travel in large trucks and bulldozers; The vertical impact on the spine is not natural.
We also have jobs in factories and even grocery stores where employees spend eight hours a day in the same position on concrete or repeating the same movement thousands of times a day. The same goes for retail and office work that requires constant moving and standing with little routine muscle exertion. These modern physical activities don’t require the same patterns of muscle use and stabilization – that were required thousands of years ago.
In order to protect our back, we have to concentrate on our “core strength”, flexibility and coordination of our spinal joints. In our current lifestyle, we have to find the balance between physical demands and activities that make our anatomy more resilient. Yoga, tai chi, stretching, and multi-muscle group coordination are more appropriate today.
So bottom line: Eat healthier and exercise more regularly.
Maurice R. Bernaiche, DO, is a physician at the Center for Spine & Pain Medicine and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.
Contributed photo / Dr. Maurie Bernaiche