Back pain is one of the most common complaints among workers across all sectors. Regardless of how physically or mentally demanding the job is, back pain can strike you in numerous ways. But unlike work, you will be carrying that pain with you everywhere you go.
You should be able to do the job you love without having to sacrifice your health. And with TCM, you can! With its holistic approach and well-tested techniques, TCM offers a range of services like acupuncture, cupping, and tuina tailored to ease your back pain. Coupled with certain lifestyle changes, you can bid farewell to back discomfort. Read on to understand more of the TCM approach to treat and avoid back aches without affecting your job!
What causes lower back pain at work?
Lower back pain happens when any part of the lower back is not functioning optimally. This could be the spine, the muscles, the fascia, our organs, and more. Lower back pain occurs for a variety of reasons, but for many of us, back pain arises from long hours at work.
Excessive force such as lifting heavy objects or carrying a patient, especially with improper technique, can cause muscles and ligaments in the lower back to tear. This coupled with increased pressure on the spinal discs may cause them to become herniated, leading to pain and inflammation. Repetitive movements such as twisting your spine constantly can lead to chronic pain. Standing for long hours causes our back muscles to be overworked as well as places more pressure on the spinal discs, wearing them down.
On the other end, sitting down or being stationary for long hours causes muscles in the lower back to become tight and stiff. Additionally, sitting for prolonged puts extra pressure on the discs and joints of the lower back, leading to pain and discomfort. As a result, one may have a weak core or overweight issues that leaves the spine more vulnerable to injuries.
In TCM, lower back pain arises from a lack of Qi and blood flow due to Qi deficiency or stagnation. Weakened Qi can be from internal and external factors. External factors include exposure to the wind, cold, or dampness (humid or rainy weather), which is indicated by a pain that tends to flare up during colder weather. Meanwhile, internal factors include a generalized weak constitution from old age or illness, overwork, poor diet, and stress. This leads to Qi and Yin deficiency especially in the kidneys, which is significant given the critical essence of kidneys for overall health and development. Other than the dull and lingering ache in the lower back, kidney Qi deficiency can also lead to other health problems.
How to treat lower back pain?
TCM offers a range of holistic, natural, and effective recovery options:
Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment that involves inserting thin needles into specific points of the body to stimulate and rebalance the flow of Qi in the body. Tuina is a similar procedure but uses a combination of massage techniques to place pressure on the body and stimulate Qi flow.
Since lower back pain is caused by Qi deficiency and stagnation, acupuncture and tuina aims to resolve this by stimulating acupoints and reestablishing the normal flow of Qi and blood through the body’s meridian channels. It also triggers the release of endorphins, our body’s natural pain-relieving hormones. The physician will usually acquire your health condition through several questions. This is to narrow down the causes of your back pain and create a customised treatment plan for you.
For acupuncture, the physician will insert thin needles into these acupoints and leave them in place for several minutes, during which you may feel a slight tingling or numbing sensation. On the other hand, tuina would involve a combination of rolling, kneading, pressing among other techniques across the back, hips, and legs to release tight muscles and improve spinal alignment. The amount of pressure applied will depend on your condition and other considerations such as pregnancy or past medical procedures.
Aside from pain relief, you should also feel a sense of relaxation by the end of the session, which makes acupuncture/tuina a good therapy for both the mind and body.
Cupping is another TCM treatment that involves placing special glass cups onto specific points on the skin to create suction. It draws the skin into the cup, creating a space between the skin and the muscles which release tension in the muscles. Additionally, it promotes lymphatic circulation, which helps to relieve swelling and inflammation by removing toxins and bringing in immune cells to the affected area to accelerate the healing process. Additionally, cupping promotes the inflow of fresh blood and stimulates the natural healing process by restoring the flow of Qi for pain relief.
The placement of the cups depends on the specific causes of your condition. Usually, the cups can be placed anywhere from the lower ribs to the top of the pelvis, the base of the spine, and on the hip and glutes. Cupping is generally safe, with temporary redness on the skin that will last for a few days. However, if you have blood disorders, low blood pressure, or are pregnant, do seek your doctor’s opinion before trying cupping therapy.
How to avoid lower back pain?
Of course, it would be best to avoid having back pain altogether. The key to injury prevention is to be aware of how your lifestyle is causing back ache and make adjustments accordingly. Some common and simple habits that you can adopt are:
Maintain good posture
To minimize the additional pressure on the lower back muscles. If you would like to sit or stand up straighter, place your fingers just above your head and have your head attempt to touch your fingers – this will straighten your posture. When sitting, avoid slouching and keep your feet planted to the ground or a soft surface. If you have to lift heavy objects for your work, remember to lift with your legs, tighten your core, and ensure that your back is straight at all times.
Get better fitting shoes
To avoid unnecessary pressure on your lower back, it would be ideal for your heel to be slightly elevated as it affects the way your legs and pelvis move when you walk or stand. If you have to walk around constantly for work, make sure you get a form-fitting, cushioned shoes that can absorb the shock when your feet hit the floor. For women, a lower heel height of around 1 to 2 inches would be best. Avoid flat shoes such as slippers as they could cause your heel to be lower than your toe, creating a negative heel that would send more impact to the back when you walk.
Aside from lowering the risk factors for back pain, strengthening the body is just as important to prevent injuries and improve your overall health:
Incorporate a healthy diet
To relieve pain in your lower back, incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables and fruits into your diet. Consuming a suitable level of calcium such as yogurt, milk, and cheese helps to strengthen the spinal vertebrates and prevent them from being sprained easily by repetitive movements e.g. twisting your back. Of course, avoid processed or oily foods, alcohol, and sugary drinks that could fuel inflammation and weaken or stagnate the Qi flow.
Herbs are natural ingredients to address health issues and restore balance and harmony in the body. Herbs can be combined based on the individual’s unique constitution to optimize the therapeutic effect and resolve the root causes of the health issue. Some herbs useful for lower back pain are:
Treat Liver and Kidney deficiency (which contributes to lower back pain) and strengthen the endocrine system. This is more suited for people who are older and involved in physically demanding work, or those who work under air-conditioning for long hours.
Aids in lower back pain by warming the kidney and nourishing the Qi. Get them in a bag or jar and munch on them as a snack! It has various other health benefits as well such as relieving constipation and lowering blood pressure.
This is particularly effective for people with weaker constitutions after having just recovered from an illness and is experiencing lower back pain.
To avoid injury in the future, strengthening your body’s constitution is just as important. Useful herbs are:
Black sesame (黑芝麻)
For people who may also have early signs of aging e.g. seeing grey hairs at a younger age than expected.
Good for those who do not get quality sleep as well, as rest is very important to seeing back pain recovery.
Avoid smoking as it slows down blood flow, which means that less nutrients and oxygen get directed to the back muscles.
Instead, stretch and move around daily to improve the local blood circulation and loosen the stiff muscles. Activities such as running, swimming, weights, yoga, and pilates all help in reducing the risk of lower back pain in different ways. Find something that you enjoy so that you can be consistent with it! At work, take regular breaks to stretch at your desk or walk to the washroom/around the office to avoid stiffness.
At the same time, you need good, quality rest so that your body recovers from any forms of strains that may have been caused by overexertion or poor posture. Spend 10 minutes before bed doing simple stretches like knee-to-chest, cat-cow, child’s pose, etc to relieve any tension and pain.
To find out the most suitable tips for you in alleviating your back pain at work, you may practice any of the tips above to know which is more effective for you. However, a quicker way for this would be through a consultation with a TCM as different tips may be suitable for different forms of back pain.
Get the Appropriate Paincare
At Singapore Paincare TCM Wellness, we integrate a unique east-west approach to maximise the effects of our treatments. Our physicians and therapists undergo multiple training at Singapore Paincare Academy (administered by Singapore Paincare Medical Group) to gain a better understanding of clinical conditions so that together with their TCM expertise, they can help patients recover.