Back and Neck Pain
Back, neck and shoulder pain are disorders which afflict most people at various different times and are also one of the most common reasons for consulting a physician.
The upper back and neck bears the weight of our head which weighs as much as a bowling ball and so muscular tension here is a common problem. Backache can be dull or sharp and may be accompanied by numbness, burning or tingling sensations.
In allopathic medical parlance the pain is classified as chronic if it has persisted for 12 or more weeks and can be classified by region (neck, upper back, lower back, tailbone) and by cause.
Backache is said to be secondary if it is caused by some serious recognised and diagnosable cause such as cancer, arthritis, whiplash or a herniated disc. However, for most their backache is regarded as being non-specific and the cause is never identified.
The allopathic medical approach is to treat the symptoms of back pain by prescribing analgesics like acetaminophen/paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and/or muscle relaxants like cyclobenzaprine. Epidural steroid injections may also be administered and surgery may be required in some cases.
In fibromyalgia, chronic back, neck and shoulder pain are one of the characteristic symptoms. There are many possible structural causes for this and these are examined extensively elsewhere and a skilled chiropractor or osteopath will be able to address these issues.
This article takes the approach of trying to identify the underlying cause rather than addressing the symptoms of back pain. An understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and particularly of the muscle associations identified by the late chiropractor, Dr George Goodheart that underscore kinesiology can greatly help in this process.
This article combines some of the more accepted causes of backache along with insights from TCM and kinesiology that will hopefully equip you to decipher at least some of the messages your body is sending.
Referred pain and backache
Many of the autonomic nerves that serve the organs of the abdomen and thorax are carried in the spinal nerves. This produces a system whereby sensory visceral nerves from the internal organs are routed into the central nervous system with nerves from skeletal muscles.
This means that the body is prone to interpret incoming impulses as being more likely to have originated from the skeletal muscles rather than being an alarm signal from a visceral nerve.
This misinterpreting of nervous input is the mechanism by which the pain of angina originating from the heart is felt in the left arm, neck or jaw. Another example is that pain from an inflamed gallbladder may be referred to the right shoulder and may be quite sharp. Uterine pain may also be referred to the coccyx or anus. Unless the cause in understood and adequately addressed, referred pain will become chronic or persistent.
Equally, trapping or pinching of these spinal nerves by the vertebrae will result in a number of seemingly unrelated symptoms as shown in the diagram below. In this instance, structural corrections will help to relieve the associated symptom.
The meridians and backache
There are three main meridians that run down the back as shown below.
The central meridian starts on the upper lip and passes straight over the top of the head down the spine to the anus. It is one of the two reservoir meridians and governs brain function.
The bladder meridians trace a path from the inside corners of the eyes straight over the top of the head and either side of the spine before arcing sideways around the buttocks. There they pass deep within the body to re-emerge on the shoulder and run down the middle of either side of the back and down the back of each leg before finishing on the little toe.
The small intestine meridians start on the little finger, run up the back of the arms to cross the shoulders, pass up the side of the neck and end on the face in front of the ears.
Pain in overactive meridians is typically very sharp, sporadic and felt in the locations and directions indicated. It may be occasional, but will tend to be recurring and may happen more often at particular times of the day.
Sometimes the meridian and its associated organ system are under stress because they are compensating for another system which is struggling. The central meridian is a reservoir meridian, but the small intestine meridians compensate for underactive heart meridians and the bladder meridians compensate for underactive kidney meridians.
The back muscles and their associations
The founder of kinesiology, the late Dr George Goodheart was a chiropractor who worked out the associations between muscles and the meridians and organ systems that were associated with them.
The body is striving at all times to keep all the essential body processes functioning. However, when one or more systems are put under strain the system - the body as a whole - compensates and this occurs in recognised ways.
This means that muscles are related to, and can effectively act as 'pressure valves' for the essential systems in the ways outlined below. So that if a muscle is persistently tense and painful it may be as a result of stress in the related organ system and meridian.
Equally, when an organ system is underfunctioning, the associated muscle may become weak and the ability to assess and interpret these meridian flows using muscle testing is the basis of kinesiology.
The spleen meridians are associated with the immune system and also govern blood sugar regulation and the governing meridian is a reservoir meridian.
In addition, the following muscles are not shown in the above diagram:
The subscapularis muscles which lie under the scapulae (shoulder blades) of the shoulders and relate to the heart meridians
The psoas muscles which run from the lumbar vertebrae (lower back) within the pelvis to the femur and relate to the kidney meridians
The iliacus muscles which run internally within the pelvis and are also associated with the kidney meridians and
The quadratus lumborum muscles which run between the lumbar vertebrae and the pelvis on either side and are related to the large intestine meridians.
Tension in these latter three muscles may account for the chronic pelvic pain many fibromyalgia sufferer's experience. All these muscles are bilateral (on both sides) and working out which muscle(s) are persistently tense may give you a clue as to the possible organ system(s) under strain and addressing the underlying problem may result in long-term relief of back pain.
For example, of the 18 tender points regarded as being diagnostic of fibromyalgia, one bilateral point is located on the trapezius muscle which relates to the spleen meridian which governs the immune system, the pancreas and blood sugar control. The other is bilaterally located in the body of the supraspinatus muscle and this relates to the central meridian and the brain.
We know that both these systems come under enormous stress from toxins in general and from mercury in particular which accumulates in the central nervous system and poisons both the immune system and pancreatic function and the regulation of blood sugar. In addition, both the kidneys and the heart are known to preferentially accumulate mercury and this may account respectively for the chronic pelvic and shoulder pain that many fatigue sufferers experience.
Effective detoxification of metals will gradually resolve the chronic compensatory muscle tension.
Tender points on the back and their associations
In addition to the associations shown above there are a number of points which can become very tender which are known as neurolymphatic points and where rubbing of the points provides relief of the stress in the related meridian and organ system.
The location of these points can also give a clue as to the underlying cause of back pain. Occasionally these points are not initially very tender but rapidly become so when rubbed.
The illustration below shows just some of the more easily located points, but is not an exhaustive representation of all the points identified.
Pressure from adjacent organs and backache
Sometimes, pressure from adjacent organs can cause the muscles of the back to go into spasm. Common examples include:
A congested bowel causing chronic lower back pain which can be resolved with a course of colonic hydrotherapy
Enlarged adrenal glands causing mid-back pain which require direct support (click for Supplement Suggestions for Endocrine Support in the UK or the US).
The emotional causes of backache
Chronic back pain may also be trying to communicate an underlying emotional issue and the back generally represents your feelings of support in life. Specifically:
A slipped disc represents feeling unsupported by life
A stiff neck represents rigidity, stubbornness, inflexibility and the inability to see another side of a question or a reluctance to examine the past
Shoulder pain represents a struggle to carry our burdens or the fact that we make life a burden by our attitude
Lower back pain is associated with a lack of financial support and money worries
Middle back pain is related to feelings of guilt, being stuck in some aspect of the past or wanting someone to "get off your back" and
Upper back pain is related to a lack of emotional support, feeling unloved or holding back love
Such backache will remain chronic in spite of treatment unless the underlying emotional cause(s) are addressed. Using an energy tapping technique such as the Emotional Freedom Technique and/or Bach flower remedies will help to resolve such emotional issues along with a willingness to both accept the message and look at the issue.
The chakras too govern the function of the related organs and the adjacent regions of the spine and have associated emotional issues. For more see the article Chakras.
Self-help for relief of back pain
Self-help, natural and herbal ways to manage back and neck pain include:
Posture is important so put in place all practical measures that will aid good posture such as orthopaedic chairs, making sure computer monitors and keyboards are at the right height, etc.
Make sure your mattress provides good medium firm support. Some find using a magnetic or Tempur mattress cover may also help to provide relief. Click for Tempur UK or Tempur US or for an article about Magnet Therapy.
Height of pillows is important too. Too little and the neck will not be supported and too much and the neck will be distorted. Tempur also manufacture moulded pillows specifically intended to support the neck.
Ensure you use correct posture when lifting with a straight back and using the legs to power the lift
Exercises involving stretching such as yoga and stretching the spine out over an exercise ball provide some mobility and relief of the constant pressures placed on the discs and vertebrae and also help to pump nutrients and fluids to the surrounding tissues
Building core muscle strength using exercises such as Pilates will also help to support the spine
Hot and cold compresses or alternating hot and cold showers can help to pump blood in and out of the affected region boosting the circulation
If you spend any serious time on the telephone, a speaker phone or head set is advisable
If overweight, losing weight will reduce excessive stress on the spine (and legs)
Take frequent breaks from work, and rotate your neck and shoulders regularly to keep them mobile
Massage using arnica oil, lavender or sandalwood essential oils or the Ayurvedic oil, nagachampa are all effective at relieving back and neck pain
Herbal supplements made from herbs like chamomile, willow bark extract, devil's claw and rosemary extracts may provide symptomatic relief when taken over a period of months.
Finally, as you detoxify on The Natural Recovery Plan you will find that the chronic back and pelvic pain familiar to most fatigue sufferers slowly melts away ...
Click for guides to Bach Flower Remedies in the UK or the US or to order go the Supplements page.