Sufferers dish up a ton of money a year ($50 billion) trying to relieve back pain and fix the creaks, cracks, and cramps. In fact, more dollars are spent treating neck and back pain than almost any other medical condition, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. That’s because people aren’t making back care part of their everyday wellness routine, says Goodrich.
“To only focus on your back health when [you] are in pain is like only exercising when you gain 10 pounds or only eating healthy when your cholesterol is high, and then going back to your old habits shortly thereafter,” Goodrich says.
Chiropractors, though, take a long-term approach to relieving back pain—and it’s one that works. So we reached out to the pros to find out how they keep their own back pain from being such a, well, pain.
Follow their lead to relieve back pain for good:
Some inflammation is natural, but because we eat such a pro-inflammatory diet most people are, well, too inflamed, explain Elizabeth and Erin Anderson, D.C., of Twin Life Chiropractic. Excess inflammation, among other things, can cause excess pressure and pain in the joints of the back. That’s why these two chiros eat an anti-inflammatory diet full of turmeric, ginger, and boswellia, and encourage their patients to drink turmeric ginger tea. Meanwhile, Karen Erickson, D.C., of Erickson Healing Arts, focuses on a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats to keep inflammation in check. She also keeps meat intake to a minimum, and opts for grass-fed beef whenever possible.
While there is not a single “anti-inflammatory diet,” trans fats, processed foods, and sugar have all been linked to excess inflammation. “Our dietary choices can lead us into inflammatory cycle, so cutting out inflammatory foods can help reduce inflammation all over,” Erin Anderson says.
And it looks like about half of us need to heed that warning, big time: A study published in British Medical Journal found that over 50 percent of Americans subsist on a diet of ultra-processed foods. Yikes. Interested in giving an anti-inflammatory diet a whirl, but don’t don’t where to start? Try incorporating these anti-infammatory foods into your daily eats.
Kicking the habit is freaking hard, but here’s another reason to ditch the drug: People who smoke are three times more likely to develop chronic back pain than those who wave goodbye to the nic sticks. One study published by Human Brain Mapping found that smoking interferes with a the brain pathways that are associated with pain, and that smokers are more prone to chronic back pain than non-smokers are. That’s why Sarah Cohen, D.C., stays away far from cigarettes, including second-hand smoke. Fortunately, in the study, when people quit smoking, the immediately felt back relief. It’s never too late to quit.
Many back and neck pain problems stem from living a sedentary life, says chiropractor Ciara Cappo, D.C., of Cappo Chiropractic & Sports Therapy. We do not move nearly as much as we should, and therefore make ourselves more susceptible to mechanical and postural injuries in the neck and back, she says. That’s why Cappo exercises and practices functional movement and stabilization every day.
“I use and recommend exercise for long-term back and neck pain relief,” Cappo says. Exercising can help to activate the muscles around the neck and back and help encourage healthy movement patterns of the joints, she explains.
“Any type of exercise that uses multiple joints like the squat, deadlifts, planks, or burpees, are a great way to strengthen our core, which in turn will help with posture and prevent posture-related back and neck pains,” adds Jeffrey McNally, D.C., of Brain Spine & Sport.
To strengthen their core and promote better alignment, McNally, Goodrich, and Cohen all perform regular yoga. “Even just 10 minutes a day of yoga can make a difference,” explains Cohen. (Torch fat, get fit, and look and feel great with Women’s Health’s All in 18 DVD!)
Stress can do a number on your back, leading to misalignments and nerve irritation, explains Goodrich. But meditating a few minutes a day is an effective way to relieve stress, according to a review published by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. That’s why Goodrich meditates every morning.
“I believe that a meditation practice, coupled with good nutrition and a healthy exercise routine, gives you virtually foolproof system to staying back-healthy and aging gracefully,” she says.
Whether you hit up a posh meditation studio or download a meditation app to your phone, finding your calm is getting easier and easier. Just find a mediation technique you like and do it for at least 15 minutes per day, ideally in the morning, says Erickson, who also uses meditation to keep her own neck and back pain at bay.
This one is obvious, right? After all, they are chiropractors! Adjustments can can clear things that exercise, rest, and a hot shower alone cannot, says Erickson. Moreover, getting adjusted helps relieve pain because you are opening up the communication pathways from the brain to the spine and from the spine to the rest of the body, the Anderson twins explain. “If either one of us is experiencing back or neck pain our go-to is to get adjusted right away,” they share.
Christopher Anselmi, D.C., of the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Integrative Care Center also uses chiropractic adjustments as his go-to tool to relieve back pain. “I go right for an adjustment because it offers the body an opportunity to realign, which frees up strains and pains in the soft tissues of the muscle, while giving your nervous system the ability to function free of impingement,” he says. The key, however, is that after alignment when you are no longer in pain, you should find a regimen that helps prevent future flare-ups, he says, which may include regular visits to the chiropractor.
While, as chiropractors, they may be a bit biased, a review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine pointed to chiropractic care as one of the major non-pharmacologic therapies considered effective for acute and chronic back pain.