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How can I overcome back pain?

Each month, leading integrative health expert, Dr Andrew Weil, gives his definitive answer to a medical question

by Psychologies

There are a number of things you can do to improve your situation – the first of which is to have a thorough medical evaluation. Chronic, diffuse musculoskeletal pain can signal the presence of an autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system mistakenly interprets the body’s own tissues as a threat and begins producing antibodies against them.

Good conventional care plays an important role in the management of autoimmunity.

Once underlying disease has been excluded, focus on healthy food choices and lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise habits that promote a healthy weight, because being overweight is associated with a significantly increased risk of musculoskeletal pain. Cook or supplement with anti-inflammatory herbs, such as turmeric and ginger.

Low vitamin D levels have been associated with body aches and pains, so be sure to take 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily.

Appropriate exercise, such as swimming, and an anti-inflammatory diet rich in antioxidants from vegetables and fruit, and omega-3 fatty acids, can reduce pain, lessen inflammation, and improve function. You may be spending long hours at your computer, which can cause aches and adversely affect posture. Be mindful of maintaining appropriate posture at your desk, and make sure your computer station is set up correctly in order to minimise strain on your back, neck and arms.

You may want to consider the Feldenkrais Method, named after Dr Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian-born physicist and judo expert. His technique is based on principles of physics, biomechanics and human physiology, as well as the mind-body connection, and is often effective for correcting poor posture and habits of movement that may be causing musculoskeletal pain.

I also recommend that anyone with back problems read Healing Back Pain (Little, Brown, £8.99) and Mind Over Back Pain (Berkley Publishing, £12.33) by Dr John Sarno, a physician and professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York University. He believes that most chronic back pain stems from a condition he calls ‘tension myositis syndrome’ (TMS), originating in the mind.

The treatment he recommends is aimed at changing patterns of thinking, feeling and handling stress, all of which may contribute to pain in the body. Practise a relaxation technique, such as breath work or meditation. Manual therapies, such as massage, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation, may be of benefit, too, as could acupuncture.

Read more from Dr Weil at drweil.com. You can also follow him on twitter: @drweil

Photograph: iStock