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Home > Conditions > March 2003  < Patient's Conditions

How to Care for Your Back

By Dr. Maoshing Ni and Dr. Qineng Tan

Do you or someone you know suffer from back pain? By understanding the back's structure and function, you can apply tried-and-true preventive practices that will ensure that you don't suffer the same fate as billions of people-back pain. The human back consists of the spine, muscles and ligaments and nerves. Try visualizing a flexible stick made of blocks (spine) held together by wide rubber bands (muscles and ligaments) with wires (nerves) coming out in all directions from the blocks. For you to move, stand or sit, the rubber bands do most of the work by contracting and stretching, aided by the bending and rotation of the stick and the command of the wires. When all is in harmony, the back functions beautifully. Conversely, when any of the parts malfunction, the most common symptom is pain. Once the pain starts, you have to seek corrective measures.

Acupuncture and Tuina body work have been proven to be very effective in restoring the back's health. However, the best treatment is always prevention. What are some of the steps you can take towards keeping your back in good shape?

Posture

Would you consider yourself to have a good posture? Most people have poor posture. The way you hold yourself while standing, sitting, lifting, pushing or doing any other activities, determines your back's basic condition. A good way to ensure good posture is to learn Tai Chi.

While standing or sitting, pull your abdomen inward and rotate your hips back slightly so that your lower back is relaxed and your abdomen is not sticking out. Always bend your knees slightly.

Keep your chin tucked inward and shoulders backward to keep your neck straight.

Always bend your knees to lift or pick up something from the ground. Never bend from the waist when lifting.

Make sure you have sufficient arch support to properly align your hips and thus the back.

(See the book Mastering Chi and video tapes, "Tai Chi Chuan, Part One and Two" by Maoshing Ni.)

Exercise and Stretching

Start slow and build up the number of repetitions; never force your body beyond pain. Learn to trust your body's signals. Consistency yields the best results. Take up Dao-In or Yoga to strengthen and align your back.

Lying flat on your back, pull your knees to your chest, alternate each leg and then both legs at the same time. Raise your legs to about 45 degrees and hold for 5 counts then relax. Alternate each leg and then raise both legs at the same time.

Lying on your stomach, raise your legs to about 45 degrees and hold for 5 counts then relax. Alternate each leg and then raise both legs at the same time.

Find a corner wall, lean back with your elbows supporting your weight, and then push your body away from the corner of the wall. Ten repetitions per set.

Diet

Certain foods aggravate inflammation while others soothe it. Some foods irritate nerves while others calm and relax it. Eat a diet filled with generous amounts of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, beans and smaller quantities of fish and poultry.

Bad: deep fried, fatty and rich foods, red meat, coffee, sugar, overly spicy foods, alcohol, refined products, tomato, eggplant, peppers, potato

Good: calcium rich foods such as beans and legumes, leafy greens, seaweed, pineapple, grape and cherry.

Lifestyle

If you have a poor lifestyle and suffer from back pain, chances are you are doing it to yourself. By examining and changing how you live, you will certainly increase your chance of a healthy back for life!

Prolonged sitting, standing or lying down will all contribute to straining and weakening your back. Get up and stretch hourly from sitting. Sleep on your sides with a pillow between your knees. Watch your posture, don't slouch.

Balance activities with rest. After physical exertion, rest your body before attempting something else physical.

Know your limits. Many people stress their bodies to the extreme and expect perfect functioning from their body. Have a healthy, consistent schedule. Wake up and go to bed on time, eat regularly, exercise daily, and watch out when you have to perform beyond what you are normally accustomed to do.

Stress Management

When you are under pressure, your blood pressure goes up, immune system becomes depressed and the muscles of your back contracts, causing spasm which in turn can damage the muscles and the nerves. Effective stress management can prevent you from "internalizing" negative emotions, and free you from its damaging results.

Meditate daily for stress release. Simply set aside 15 minutes or more every day and sit quietly to clear your mind and feelings.

Keep written journals to record your negative emotions and thoughts so that you may release them from your whole being.

Engage in artistic expressions to channel your stress into creativity. Painting, music, poetry, gardening are some means of expression.

Massage

Massage is most likely the most ancient form of self-healing. By activating and touching a certain point or area of your body, you will be able to summon your body's own restorative mechanism.

Stroke with your palms directly on your mid-to-lower back in up and down and circular motions until your back feels warm.

Find and press the tender spots between the 2nd and 3rd fingers and between the 4th and 5th fingers on the back of your hands.

Lie on your back against two tennis balls, one on each side of your upper back between the shoulder blades.

In summary, with good preventive back care as described in this article and a dose of common sense, you can stay away from the troubles of back problems and enjoy a healthy and active life.

Sometimes even with the most careful preventive practices, you may still injure your back and suffer pain and disability. This is the time to seek corrective measures, ones that will help you facilitate your recovery naturally. Chinese Medicine is immensely effective for back problems by employing acupuncture, electrical stimulation, tuina body therapy, cupping, herbal medicine and topical treatments that are used according to each individual's needs. Acute conditions can often be treated within five treatments while chronic conditions may take 10 to 20 treatments.

Dr. Maoshing Ni, a Licensed Acupuncturist and a Diplomat of Chinese Herbology, is currently in general practice with specialties in immunology, pulmonology and gastroenterology.

This Month's Articles

March 2003
Volume 1, Number 3

ACAOM Request for Comments

Acupuncture for Dogs Gaining Acceptance

How to Care for Your Back

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