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True Relief From Chronic Back Pain Can't Come From a Bottle

A recent study out of the U.S. found that muscle relaxants and opioid painkillers do little, if anything, to provide long-term relief from lower back pain.

Painkillers provide little long term relief

Trying to relieve pain in this way is a band-aid solution. It does nothing to address the underlying cause of the pain. So should we really be surprised to discover painkillers only provide temporary relief that doesn’t last?

In this study, doctors in New York followed 323 patients who had arrived at hospital emergency rooms complaining of acute low back pain. They were all prescribed some combination of muscle relaxants and the opioid oxycodone, or given a placebo.

The study found that neither the muscle relaxants nor the opioid had provided lasting pain relief or better function after one month.

What we, as Chiropractors, find interesting about this study is that the authors highlighted causes for lower back pain that all arise from soft tissue injuries – sprains from overstretching or tearing ligaments, strains and tears in tendons or muscles.

Structural issues with the spine can’t be ignored

But all these tissues in your back connect to your body’s supporting framework – your spine. The spine also happens to be the conduit for the major nerves running from your brain to the rest of your body.

Low back pain sends millions of people to North American emergency rooms each year. In fact, it’s considered the second leading cause of disability worldwide.

An article in the May 2015 issue of the European Journal of Radiology emphasized that the most frequent cause of low back pain is “discogenic pain” – damage or degeneration of those “cushions” between your vertebrae, the discs.

There are two primary causes – mechanical, which relates directly to what kind of shape your spine is in, and inflammatory, which can be aggravated by lifestyle choices like eating too much sugar and smoking.

Despite all the painkillers at hand, the authors emphasized that freedom from low back pain only occurs in, at best, five to 10 per cent of cases. In fact, its rate of recurrence after one year is 20 to 44 per cent. Over their lifetime, a sufferer has a 72 per cent chance of recurrence.

A ‘vicious circle of dysfunction and pain’

A spine that doesn’t have a healthy alignment can be putting pressure on the discs and other tissues, as well as creating tension in the nerves between your vertebrae. This can cause radiating pain as well as many other symptoms. A disc doesn’t have to be herniated to cause pain. The leading cause is internal injury or “disruption” to the disc.

We won’t bore you with the technical details, but the authors of this article go on to discuss the mechanics of where and how pain can originate from problems with the spine’s alignment, versus a simple muscle strain from trying to pick up something that’s too heavy.

To quote: “Damage to any spinal structures and receptors generate altered inputs for (the central nervous system) that promote an inappropriate muscle action and elicit an abnormal peripheral feedback response, creating a vicious circle of joint and muscle stress, chronic dysfunction and pain.”

Chronic pain points to a deeper problem

So next time your lower back acts up, consider where the true cause of the pain may lie. Maybe it is just a muscle strain from trying to lift too much, lifting the wrong way, or exercising without a proper warm up. But if that’s the case, the pain will be temporary with proper rest and a cold pack.

If the pain is persistent or recurring, it likely points to a deeper cause in your spine – there might be a misalignment that is affecting the discs and nerves.

Trying to address this with painkillers, even the more powerful ones that run the risk of addiction and other negative side effects, will not give you the long term relief you need. You can’t just mask the problem – you must address the root cause.

That means you need a medical professional who is expert at diagnosing and treating structural, and mechanical issues with the spine – your friendly, neighbourhood Kanata Chiropractor.

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