Say No to the Knife

Natural remedies and simple lifestyle changes can help you overcome back pain without surgery.

Say No to the Knife
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TRY NATURAL REMEDIES Erickson recommends the following:
Bromelain An enzyme that reduces inflammation. (Check with your doctor first; it can increase bleeding.) Take 250 milligrams twice daily. Try: Thorne Research M.F. Bromelain ($28 for 60 capsules;
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) standardized extract An herbal anti-inflammatory. (Check with your doctor first; it can also increase bleeding.) Take 300 milligrams three times daily. Try: Gaia Herbs Turmeric Supreme ($20 for 60 capsules;
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) Also an antiinflammatory. Take 1,000 milligrams daily. Try: New Chapter Organics Daily Ginger ($14 for 90 capsules;
Traumeel The brand name of a topical cream with several natural ingredients, including Arnica montana, a homeopathic remedy. Try: Traumeel ointment ($17 for 1.76 ounces;

Keep moving “The best way [to keep back pain from recurring] is exercise,” says Deyo. “There doesn’t seem to be one best type—aerobics, stretching and strengthening are all good.”
Drop some weight The North American Spine Society recommends staying within 10 pounds of your ideal weight to keep your back healthy.
Kick the nicotine A 2010 study published in The American Journal of Medicine found that current and former smokers are more likely to suffer from low-back pain.
Get ergonomic Postural improvements can be crucial. “Sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees or on your back with a pillow under your knees,” Erickson says. At work, center your computer screen at eye level, keep your shoulders down and use a keyboard tray so that your elbows are at your sides and bent 90 degrees, wrists straight. Make sure your low back has enough support and that your feet rest comfortably on the floor. “This is important at all times, including when you’re in the car or watching TV,” Erickson says. Finally, when you lift a heavy object, instead of leaning over, squat down, pick it straight up and push yourself up using your leg muscles.
Change your mind Sometimes a shift in perspective can minimize the experience of pain, even if nothing physical has changed. “Pain is subjective,” Cherkin explains. “A number of people can have the same kind of pain and respond differently.” Talk therapy, aka cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches you to “reframe” negative thoughts and emotions, can help, as can meditation and progressive relaxation exercises.

Why so sore? The most common causes are: strained muscles and ligaments from an accident or injury, improper or heavy lifting, or after a sudden movement; structural problems such as a bulging or ruptured disk (sciatica is caused by pressure of such a disk on the large nerve that runs down each buttock and leg); arthritis; osteoporosis; or a pinched nerve. Many of these are a result of agerelated changes. These factors also increase your propensity to suffer from back pain:
Being middle-aged or older
Physically strenuous, stressful or sedentary work
Anxiety or depression

Red flags that should prompt you to seek further medical attention include:
Pain that isn’t getting better after six weeks
Pain that travels down your leg
Difficulty controlling your bladder
A history of cancer
Being 55 years or older with a new onset of back pain