2 Simple Things You Can Do Today To Help Your Back, Neck and Joint Pain
1. Maintain a Healthy Weight…
Dr. Gerdes: Overweight individuals are at a greater risk for back pain, joint pain, and muscle strain than those who are not obese or overweight. According to the American Obesity Association, episodes of musculoskeletal pain, and specifically back pain, are prevalent among nearly one third of Americans who are classified as obese. It’s more wear and tear on your back joints—on all of your joints, for that matter. Your hip, knees, spinal joints, and discs wear on each other with more pressure on a daily basis, and this leads to the joints wearing down faster.
I often explain to my patients, “Picture a hummer running around on a compact Kia car’s tires. The tires representing your joints, like your vertebrae, knees, and hips. Those tires with all the extra weight of a big hummer are going to wear down at a faster rate and with more wear and tear than they would on the smaller Kia that they were intended to support. Obese or overweight patients may experience lower back and sciatica from a herniated disc. This occurs when discs and other spinal structures are damaged from having to compensate from the pressure of extra weight on the back. Disc-related pain is the number one cause of lower back pain in all adults.
The discs in your spine are designed to absorb the weight of the entire body. It’s quite simple. If you are carrying around extra weight, these discs will likely wear out and suffer injuries at a higher rate than if you were not overweight. People are often at a much greater risk of developing osteoarthritis in the spine when they are overweight. Considering all of the other health benefits associated with weight loss, if you are overweight and have lower back pain, strongly consider a weight-loss program. I tell all my patients to avoid diets. Diets do not work, in my opinion. Make a lifestyle change.
Susan: This is probably a big one, isn’t it?
Dr. Gerdes: Yes, it’s huge.
Susan: I imagine that some of the other things mentioned may seem a little less obvious, meaning you could be taking the fish oil pills and not know exactly how it’s affecting you, but this has a direct correlation. You can feel it.
Dr. Gerdes: Yes. Not only if you’re having back pain, but just for all the other health-related conditions that come around when you carry extra weight, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, increased rate of heart attack. Losing weight is kind of a no-brainer. If you’re having lower back pain, it could be a good first step.
Susan: What’s the fifth thing they can do to help heal their back pain from home?
2. Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Low in Omega-6 Fatty Acids…
Dr. Gerdes: We spoke earlier about eating fish or consuming the fish oil supplements, which are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are the good fatty acids. The Omega-6s, also known as linoleic acid, are the bad fatty acids, the pro-inflammatory fatty acids that when consumed in the body drive inflammation, pain, and disease. Once consumed, they convert in the body to a chemical called arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid drives inflammation in the body and leads to disease expression and chemicals that cause the body to experience pain. Most of us are getting high levels of Omega fatty acids in the unhealthy oils and processed foods we are consuming.
The key, in my opinion, is to avoid vegetable oils, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, and soybean oil, which are all loaded with the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids that drive disease, inflammation, and pain in the body. Avoid most fried foods, as they contain these oils, as well as salad dressings made with soybean oil, and processed foods. What are the good oils? Organic, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, and olive oil are all relatively low in omega-6 fatty acids. These oils are superfoods, and when consumed are highly anti-inflammatory in the body, which can lead to decreased risks of developing disease and chronic pain. I recommend the Paleo Diet to my patients. It is the hunter-gatherer diet, and in my opinion, the healthiest way one can eat.
Susan: Are there things they should do prior to starting these recommendations?
Dr. Gerdes: Check with your doctor before starting any of these recommendations, before starting an exercise program, and before taking any supplements. That would be my best advice.
Susan: How does someone know whether the pain that they’re experiencing can be treated at home versus one they need to go in and make an appointment? Is there any kind of rule of thumb?
Dr. Gerdes: A lot of serious conditions can express themselves as neck or back pain, like a stroke or a heart attack, so see your doctor first. If it’s determined that this is a musculoskeletal condition, or you’re exhausting treatment options and not getting relief, then consider incorporating at-home treatments, as well.
Susan: I think a lot of these are good things to do even if you are seeing a doctor.
Dr. Gerdes: Absolutely!