Did you know about 80% of the American population will experience back pain? Did you know getting a diagnosis to cause is a frustrating stress-filled experience? Have you noticed that the majority of health professionals prefer to treat symptoms rather than investigate? According to 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine, more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain at a cost of around $600 billion a year in medical treatments and lost productivity. Ouch. As a student at the University of Hawai’i I had a side job doing book work for the landscaping department. Several of our employees were on long-term disability due to back injuries, at tremendous cost. Not just budget but morale was seriously strained. My professional career in commercial insurance confirmed: work comp back claims are arduously hard to close.
A back injury is ridiculously easy to fake. What are the symptoms? Self-reported pain (!) and loss of range of motion. One blends into the other if a person stays in bed. Lack of movement can cause compressed nerves, weak muscles and voila’ a bona fide back problem. Let’s not blame the victims. The labyrinth of useful treatment is scary, shifting and inconsistent. The go to answer is simple Vicodin. In my lifetime America has become a nation of painkiller addicts. Bourbon drinking is less socially acceptable than driving under the influence of prescription pain meds. Don’t give yer friends pass for driving under the influence of dangerous narcotics. Step back; pause and review the terrain. I’m in pain, searching for “an” answer. The problem might be what I not-so-jokingly call “fast food and diet soda.” Two (or more) causes combining to create one result: chronic back pain.
Fast food is a problem, no doubt – just as trauma is the origin of my back pain. But wait a minute, diet soda is no health drink. Just as poor posture, back habits, stress, emotions, and obesity are contributing factors to my persistent pain. Seek to get rid of both fast food and diet soda, and as many other factors as I can find that are effecting my damaged body. Any of the factors I can attack on my own I might as well explore without waiting for a prescription from the AMA. Doctors aren’t trained to view issues holistically, that’s why we call ’em specialists. A new bed to the tune of $2,000 may equal the cost of my deductible for back surgery. I ask you, “Which one is less invasive?” You be the judge. Yes, have a judgement puhleez!
In this holiday season it’s impossible to ignore the twin culprits obesity and dehydration. Yup, they both cause back pain. Seventy-five percent of Americans are mildly under-watered. An alarming spike of emergency room cases are dehydrated “elderly” (over 50.) If I drink soda, especially caffeinated soda, diet or not – I’m dehydrating myself. Why do we drink so much soda? Perhaps because soda pairs well with the uber-salty flavor of processed and fast food. Humans are not designed to take in so much salt. Why do food giants put so much in their food? Because we’re hard-wired for the taste. (Their aim ? get us addicted.) In nature salt is rare. Tasting faint traces is biomechanically speaking, an evolutionary advantage. We zero in on salty foods quite reflexively. Unfortunately anything, everything from granola bars to canned soup is a potential culprit. We’re over stimulated before we know it. Dousing our thirst with soda is like putting out fire with gasoline.
The mildly dehydrated may not end up in the emergency room. The effects are varied, subtle and easily dismissed. Stuff like headaches, wrinkles, stiffness, stuff we routinely chalk up to old age may be the result. Left untreated for years mild dehydration causes fatigue, joint pain, weight gain, ulcers, high blood pressure and kidney disease. Oh my. A two-fold attack on fast food and diet soda will have plenty of long-term consequences. Water is to humans what oil is to machines, our lubrication. Skin is more elastic, fascia more flexible, brains and guts function better on unprocessed food and clean water. Feed yourself low on the process chain. A potato is better than a french fry is better than a potato chip in nutritional value.
Fast food corporations (and their stockholders) fight for our dollars. They fight dirty. In lieu of creating higher value, better product, or wonderful customer service they substitute life-style branding, addiction and wage slaves. Life-style? We’re lured into accepting the minimum standards obligated by chains and franchises rather than supporting small businesses, single location restaurants, mom and pop’s. We head to the store whose jingle rings in our heads. Greeted there by low fiber, low nutrition, fatty salty fare we eat and eat, never feeling full. Drawn back for the flavor stimulation, regular food is by comparison tasteless. We become mired, supporting a system where workers do not ever graduate to management. People are treated as dispensable. It’s not a proud moment for free-market economy.
Even some of the nicer looking restaurants are guilty of using pre-prepped food with sky-high sodium for the purpose of creating Addiction. Addiction as real as addiction to cigarettes or booze. Low fiber, high salt, fatty food is mos def addictive. Low fiber leaves my body hungry, even after a full five thousand calories. A depressing hunger. What overweight person wants to face feeling hungry after a full meal? We blame ourselves I tell ya, but that ain’t right. Depression is an uroboric serpent. The head tells us we’re a sorry sack o’shit for being so overweight, but the belly says “I’m hungry.” We eat again, for the brief wonderful feeling, savoring yummy only to pile guilt and shame atop discontent.
Depression is alienating. (Who wants to be around Debbie Downer?) Yet having friends, family, connection and a sense of belonging and acceptance is a sure-fire cure to depression. Depression creates lethargy. My therapist may advise “Honor yourself, honor your feelings.” If I feel like staying in bed, 24/7, covers pulled over my head – my serotonin dips. Even dark, drab colors can heighten depression as in SAD (seasonal affective disorder.) Yet many sad people are drawn to wear goth black. Without a doubt depression affects judgement. This is why yoga (including meditation), when it works, works well. Yoga is an inexpensive mechanism for self-reflection. Doing the poses slowly may counteract muscle spasm. Doing the poses mindfully may isolate the origin of chronic pain.
In sum, what might be causing yer chronic back ache? Anything from stress, depression (emotional issues), pinched nerve, herniated disc (mechanical issues), alignment, posture, obesity or dehydration (physical issues), most likely a complex combination. Awesome. And what is the common cure? Pain killers with increasing dosage until surgery is recommended. Hey, I swear I don’t make this shit up. I merely make dispassionate observations on the human condition. You’re not an idiot. Seriously. You may be frustrated by persistent pain, but you are not to blame. This stuff is tricky. Not even the AMA is of one mind.
Get opinions from doctors, chiropractors, osteopaths, acupuncturists, nutritionists, therapists and from your self. Don’t forget your badass self, your own opinion. Weigh ’em on your bullshit scale. Weigh ’em on your effectiveness scale. If yoga makes you feel better – by all means do it! If eating better and losing weight helps – adjust yer long-term diet accordingly. Don’t spot diet! Hydrate, meditate, and educate your self. If you’ve been feeling depressed due to chronic pain, cut yer self some slack. Be gentle with yourself. Back pain is your condition, it isn’t you.
Now y’all play nice!