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?
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 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.