Lower back pain is very common, especially as we age. According to Chinese Medicine, the Lower Back is the realm of the Kidneys, whose energy naturally declines as we age. "Old age" symptoms, like arthritis, loss of hearing, greying hair, wrinkled skin, osteoporosis are all conditions related to waning Kidney energy. Other symptoms could be urinary frequency or incontinence, hormonal imbalances (think Menopausal hot flashes/night sweats/insomnia, hypothyroidism, low libido), fatigue and lower back and knee pain. As Kidney energy weakens, the incidence of LBP goes up.
Possible causes of Kidney energy depletion aside from age could be longstanding fear (a battered wife, child of a violent/unpredictable alcoholic, war trauma); "burning the candle at both ends (high stress/too much work with not enough sleep or proper nutrition);" consuming too much caffeine and/or sugar; eating too many artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, or chemicals; or heredity (parents had weak Kidneys when you were conceived).
Lower Back Pain can present in many ways:
- Stiff and achy in the morning that improves as you move through your day. Often better with stretching or exercise.
- Sharp, possibly shooting pain that is worse with movement and better with rest. Sometimes related to disc degeneration and sciatic pain. Possibly due to a physical trauma.
- Soreness that feels better with heat and rest.
- Tightness that feels better with pressure (like massage) and heat. Often better after stretching or yoga.
- Pain that is worse with cold, often worse in winter or on cold days.
- Deep bone pain that tells you rain is coming.
- Pain left over from a physical trauma (car accident, skiing accident, sports injury, etc) that is more nagging and annoying, but that you are always aware of nonetheless.
You might say, "but my back pain is from a car accident (or some other trauma), it didn't come on gradually, I know exactly when it started." Even if pain is due to a trauma, you have to ask yourself, why is your pain in your lower back as opposed to some other part of your body? Three people can have the same car accident and walk away with 3 different sets of injuries. The impact is felt in the "weakest" part of the body, so the location of the pain is based on imbalances that existed before the accident. If your lower back pain is due to some type of impact, chances are your Kidneys were weak before the accident.
The first thing you should do when looking to overcome your back pain is notice your Attitude toward your pain. When you have a "bad back," you are attaching a negative association to your back. Having a bad back makes the pain more permanent (in your mind), and therefore adds a level of stress to the equation, as well as making it a condition that can't change. What if instead of being "bad" (after all, it probably hasn't robbed a bank or kicked its sister), your back just needed extra attention, some mindfulness or extra love before you engage in certain activities? What if it needed some extra care and nurturing? Your back might feel a few degrees better just by shifting your relationship to the pain.
Once you are being kinder to yourself (which is sometimes a challenge, but gets easier with practice), strengthening your core (abdominals and lower back muscles) is important. When your abdominal muscles are weak, your body moves from your back; if it is not strong enough to take up the slack from your abs, it will start to hurt. I'm not saying do a million crunches, crunches are typically a waste of time, unless done slowly with precision. Exercise styles like Pilates, yoga, or even simple pelvic tilts using your abdominal muscles can be useful to strengthen and support your lower back. Also, unless your doctor or physical therapist has told you otherwise, it is also important to strengthen the muscles in your lower back to support the spine. Talk to a physical therapist, personal trainer, yoga or Pilates instructor before starting any core strength training routine to ensure that you are actually targeting your core muscles and not just compensating with other stronger muscles. Form matters.
If your pain is worse with cold or rainy weather, eating more warming foods can help. Sometimes just avoiding cold or iced foods and beverages can be enough to make a difference; sometimes you need the addition of warm foods and spices, like ginger, cinnamon, rosemary, basil, clove, black pepper, quinoa, oatmeal, sweet potato, lentils, walnuts, mussels, eel, shrimp and lobster to name a few. In Winter months, avoiding all cold foods and beverages is a must in this situation.
Acupuncture, Moxibustion, Cupping, Gua Sha and Chinese herbal medicine are all very effective treatment options for most types of lower back pain. By differentiating the type of pain, treatments can be much more effective. Plus any exacerbating factors, like emotional stress, can be addressed as well.