Back pain is both commonplace and severe. About 80 percent of Americans will experience lower back pain that significantly interferes with their daily tasks. Furthermore, lower spine problems are the leading cause of disability. The debilitating nature of this discomfort usually continues almost uninterrupted for months or even longer, leaving many people almost desperate for pain relief.
In moderate or serious cases, such relief usually only comes from highly invasive back surgery or opioid pain pills. Given this choice, many people turn to pain pills as the lesser of two evils. However, there are some alternatives available. While they may not eliminate back pain altogether, they nearly always make the pain more manageable, reducing the dependence on pain pills and providing non-surgical hope.
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Natural morphine is almost as powerful as artificial morphine. Most back pain problems, such as bulging or herniated discs, are essentially highly irritated nerves, so it stands to reason that anything that blocks these pain signals would be quite effective. Endorphins fit the bill nicely because, in addition to blocking pain, they also give people an overall sense of well-being. That feeling often counteracts the depression and anxiety that make back pain feel even worse.
Exercise is the best way to release endorphins. Since the jarring motion may make some forms of back pain even worse, running may not be the best form of exercise. There are a number of other options, including:
- Yoga: Many yoga poses gently stretch the spine, relieving much of the pressure on the back. Yoga also has a very strong meditative element that redirects brain signals away from painful nerve endings.
- Tai Chi: In addition to the stretching and focus, tai chi adds movement, making it a little more of a workout than yoga. If releasing endorphins is a priority, the extra activity is probably a good idea.
- Swimming: The water pressure eliminates any stress on the back. This same pressure also forces muscles to work a little harder, thereby triggering an additional endorphin release.
- Walking: Forty minutes of walking three times a week is “as effective as treatment that could have been received in the clinic,” according to one researcher who examined fifty-two sedentary individuals with chronic back pain.
Massage therapy also raises endorphin levels, as does meditation.
Although it looks a little like shock therapy, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation actually works on basically the same principle as endorphin release. The tiny probes attach to the skin at key points along the spine. They release very mild electrical currents that disrupt the pain messages that the affected nerves send to the brain. When shopping for these devices for pain relief, try to find one that’s small, easy to use, has a long-lasting battery, and has a minimum number of electrodes and wires.
Pain and insomnia often drag people down in a vicious cycle. It’s hard to sleep with pain, daytime fatigue makes the pain worse, which means even less sleep at night, and so on. Instead of sleep aids or pills, try making a to-do list before bed. In one study, people who made such lists fell asleep nine minutes faster. That’s an improvement that even some sleep-aid chemicals cannot deliver.
These remedies will not transform near-bedridden individuals into skydivers or marathon runners. Then again, pain pills will probably not do that either. However, these remedies will help back pain victims assert more control over their everyday lives without artificial enhancers, and that may be the sweetest of victories.