Dr. Allan Horowitz, published newspaper article, The Toronto Star, Copyright May 26, 1988

Rest in bed or go for a walk? Apply ice or take a hot bath? You have low  back pain and everyone from your grandmother to your aerobics instructor has a sure-fire cure. To whom do you listen?

Surveys show that 80 percent of North Americans will suffer from at least one incident of disabling lower back pain in their lifetime. There are literally hundreds of self-help books on the market. Chiropractors, medical doctors, orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, rheumatologists, physiotherapists and drug companies are all well aware that the human spine was not made to withstand the stresses we place upon it, and of the general disregard we show for the only spine we will ever own.

While it is true that certain sitting, sleeping and standing positions are not healthy for the spine and its supporting muscles and ligaments, without an individual spinal examination it is impossible to know exactly which positions you should or shouldn’t assume. What if you think it is wrong but it really does feel good? Some people can only sleep on their stomachs, yet most know this is supposed to be bad for us.

Waterbed Solution

            Perhaps the most widely advocated exercise for those suffering from lower back pain is something called the pelvic tilt. During this exercise the person lies on his/her back with the knees flexed and tries to flatten the lower spine to the floor.

This exercise could be extremely beneficial if preformed correctly by a person whose spinal joints are being “jammed together” or whose discs are being “wedged”. However, if a person with a different condition decides to do this exercise to help this back pain, he could do himself harm and never realize that the very exercise he is doing to help his pain is actually contributing to it.

What about the person who goes out and buys a waterbed because his friend told him it would be good for his back pain? The heat feels good and the water is comfortable, but the back is stiff every morning. It is likely that the bed is not giving his back enough support, so his muscles are tired and stiff when he arises in the morning. Waterbeds are good for some types of back problems, but definitely not all of them.

Some of us remember our parents telling us to sit up straight in a hard backed chair. When I do this my back hurts and I feel uncomfortable. When I go to a movie I like slouching down in the seat, and when I can get away with it, putting my feet up on the chair in front.

Different conditions

            The point is that every spine is different and despite the similarities between your pain and your friend’s, chances are great that the two conditions are different and should be treated as such.

A thorough examination should be carried out on anyone who complains of back pain. The examination should be done by a qualified chiropractor or medical doctor who first takes a complete health history. If your “expert” doesn’t ask enough questions, and doesn’t ask you to bend and lift and push, and doesn’t give you an exact diagnosis and explanation of your problem, he has not done a complete job.

Do not be satisfied with such comments as “Learn to live with it,” “It’s a sign of your age,” “There is no cure for backaches such as yours,” or “Lose weight and your problems will be over.” Do not rely on medications. They will only mask the pain and will sometimes lead to more damage because the body’s own stop signal , pain, is absent.

The five rules for back pain sufferers are as follows:

  • Search out the proper specialist for your complaint who you can easily talk to and who you can call or see if needed in an emergency.
  • Listen carefully to what this person tells you. Make notes detailing their advice to you. Follow the advice exactly.
  • Document any changes you notice in your condition and report them to your specialist. Let him give further advice and again listen and follow exactly.
  • Do not try anything you read in a magazine, or see on television, or hear from your well-meaning friends, unless your expert approves it.
  • Always maintain a positive mental outlook, despite your chronic pain. Studies show that those whose outlook is optimistic are more likely to respond favorably to treatment than those who feel that they will never get better and are doomed to a life of pain.