By Marie Y. Lemelle
The American Chiropractic Association cited a survey identifying back pain as the single most disabling condition worldwide. The numbers are increasing since more people are working from home due to COVID-19, resulting in individuals sitting in a stationary position for many hours, which can wreak havoc on anyone’s back.
Americans spend $50 billion each year on back pain. From chiropractic and acupuncture services to surgery and medication, treating back pain is complex.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, anyone can have back pain, including school-age children. Several factors can increase low back pain risk including age, which typically is more common with maturity and decrease of muscle elasticity; fitness inactivity resulting in loss of muscle tone and weight gain causing stress on the back; a genetic condition such as ankylosing spondylitis; and jobs that require heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling that can lead to injury and back pain.
One half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms amounting to more than 264 million workdays lost annually. Anxiety and depression, especially due to COVID-19, can influence how individuals focus on their pain as well as their perception of its severity. Pain that becomes chronic also can contribute to the development of psychological factors.
Stress can affect the body in numerous ways, including causing muscle tension. Smoking can restrict blood flow and oxygen to the spinal discs, causing them to degenerate faster.
Student backpacks overloaded with schoolbooks and supplies can strain the back and cause muscle fatigue; and it has been documented that COVID-19 sufferers experience back pain even after they have recovered from the virus.
For chronic back sufferers like Vietnam-era disabled veteran and inventor Glenn Gordon, medical professionals often would prescribe drugs containing opioids, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that prescription opioid misuse in the United States costs $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.
“The VA hospital treated me with pain medication and uncomfortable back support devices that left me feeling as if I was wearing a straitjacket,” Gordon said.
He adds that he grew tired of being told to take painkillers and just deal with it.
Dr. LaRhonda Farmer, a licensed chiropractor, specializes in the treatment of car accident and sports injuries including whiplash, sciatica and joint pain. Farmer is also a certified medical examiner and offers physical exams for commercial drivers. She talks about back conditions and treatments that are drug-free and a solution invented by a patient proven to help alleviate some pain conditions.
ML: What is the data of people with back problems and the common cause?
LF: The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the American Chiropractic Association have both stated that 80% of the population will experience lower back pain. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 20% of people affected by acute low back pain develop chronic low back pain with persistent symptoms at one year.
There are several potential reasons for back pain, but research indicates that most cases are either mechanical or non-organic. It was recently reported by medical professionals and patients, COVID-19 symptoms include back pain along with other body aches and pains.
ML: What are the common back complaints due to lack of fitness activity during the COVID-19 stay-at-home mandate?
LF: The most common complaints are muscle stiffness and/or tension. As more people are working from home, there has been an increase in the prolonged amount of time spent sitting at a computer taking virtual meetings or classes and talking to friends and family.
Additionally, many individuals did not have the time or take into consideration to create an ergonomic setup for their home office. Without the knowledge of what is and isn’t ergonomically healthy, individuals are sitting at a desk with slumped posture or on a sofa or in bed with a laptop.
ML: What are some of the treatments for back pain?
LF: With the influx of COVID-19 cases and for safety reasons, more people are using telemedicine as an alternative to going into a physical location to be seen by a doctor. While medication is one way to relieve back pain and/or inflammation, I provide several drug-free treatments that are necessary for patients to come into the office.
Some of those treatments include electrical stimulation applied to muscles to decrease inflammation, spasms and pain; moist heat to relieve stiffness and improve circulation; therapeutic ultrasound to increase blood flow in the treated area and decrease in pain from the reduction of swelling and edema; massage of muscle tendons and/or ligaments in the treated area; and intersegmental traction to induce passive motion into the spine for the purpose of stretching spinal joints and increasing mobility.
I also recommend various types of exercises that are appropriate to the patient and injury, as well as wearing a back brace for acute and chronic back pain conditions. A back brace, when used properly, can provide core support and help ease some of the stress on the spine. Recently, I came across and recommend a compression back brace that provides both heat and cold therapy options.
ML: How has the specialty compression back brace helped your patients?
LF: Over the years, I have seen and recommended many back braces. My patient and military veteran Glenn Gordon invented We Gotcha Back, an FDA-approved back brace that includes a reusable and removable heating/cooling gel pack. The gel pack is inserted in the built-in pocket that prevents it from sliding out of place. In my years of experience, it is a major game changer in the field of lumbar support especially for those who do not want or cannot take prescription drugs to alleviate pain and discomfort.
While the We Gotcha Back belt does not replace the need to be examined and treated by a medical professional, it has helped many of my patients and is a valued addition to the treatment they receive in my office. It can be used on children and various body types.
While it is often advised to abstain from certain employment and physical activities during treatment and recovery, not everyone can afford the time off. Many of my patients have been able return to work sooner because the specialty back brace provides the added lumbar support necessary for them to make it through the day.
Marie Y. Lemelle, is the founder of www.platinumstarpr.com and a film producer. She can be reached at MarieLemelle@platinumstarpr.com. Follow her on Instagram @platinumstarpr.