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3 ways to help ease chronic lower back pain in Pittsburgh

3 ways to help ease chronic lower back pain in Pittsburgh

UPMC Health plans recently launched a new initiative that will affect all those considering back surgery in Pittsburgh.  I think it’s a good start:  Three months of conservative treatment must be tried before being approved for the surgery.  Conservative treatment, in UPMC’s view, includes physical therapy, chiropractic and/or medication.  I agree that the physical therapy and chiropractic can be immensely helpful and I applaud UPMC for taking this first step.  I recommend Dr. Mike DeMasi for chiropractic and Kristen Stevens for PT.   They are both excellent practitioners in Aspinwall.

There are ways to manage back pain, in addition to chiropractic and physical therapy, that are holistic, and that would make a much better conservative treatment option than medication.  As we all know, prescription pain pills will simply mask the symptoms, and the goal should be to increase health and vitality in all areas of life while simultaneously dealing with the pain.

Even if MRI’s show damage to the discs, it doesn’t mean that surgery is the only option. There isn’t always a direct correlation between pain and the actual state of the spine, as strange as that may sound.  Studies have shown that sometimes folks with multiple herniated discs are fine, while others with no visible spinal distress are in daily pain. It’s worth exploring other options.  Here are three more:

1. Diet.  I had a patient last year express shock that food could have an effect on his pain levels.  When he started avoiding fried foods and adding in lots of dark green, leafy vegetables to his diet, he noticed a huge improvement.  And by dark-green, leafy vegetables, I mean things like lightly steamed kale, collards, bok choy.  Cold, raw salads, despite their association as a health food, should only be eaten occasionally.  Try cutting out sugar, caffeine and processed foods as well.  This may be tough depending on your current food choices, but if you’re contemplating going under the knife or you live with constant, nagging pain, it’s totally worth it.  You’ll probably notice a lot of other things in your life improve as well.

2. Exercise.  Find the time to take a 30 minute walk every day with maybe 15 minutes or so of stretching in the morning.  Don’t put off doing something because you don’t think it’s enough.  Something simple that you do regularly is best anyway.  You may have to get past a certain pain threshold – that is, your back may hurt worse as you start to move your body again, but it’s so important to keep things limber.  You may want to look into a weekly gentle yoga class as well – Schoolhouse Yoga has lots of options and locations throughout Pittsburgh.

3. Acupuncture.  I’ve helped several patients with chronic lower back pain find lasting relief.    One of the greatest strengths of Chinese medicine is that the context in which the symptom is occurring is just as important as the symptom itself.  We look at the big picture.  Perhaps one patient with chronic low back pain feels worst in the morning, suffers from bloating and constipation and constant worry.  Another may have pain that feels worst in the afternoon, gets acid reflux and wakes frequently at 3am.  Yet another patient with low back pain also has asthma and low energy.  The back pain is just one symptom among many that is pointing to a particular pattern.  Sometimes it’s a pattern of deficiency – low back pain can be closely tied to a habit of pushing past the need to rest and using up reserves of energy in an unhealthy way.  It could also be connected to confusion about one’s sense of purpose in life.  Or the pain could be arising from stagnation that needs to moved.  A good acupuncturist will be able to relate all the seemingly disparate physical and emotional symptoms to create a unique treatment plan and offer specific food, exercise and lifestyle recommendations to support the healing process.  Most people find that in addition to finding relief from their back pain, they just feel better all around after a course of treatment.

 

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