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Low Back Pain: A Naturopathic Approach

by Wendy Gist(more info)

listed in back pain, originally published in issue 138 - August 2007

Getting Back to Nature   

Hippocrates, the Father of medicine, understood Nature’s potential to heal when he wrote, “Nature cures – not the Physician.” Naturopathy, an alternative medicine practice, often used as a complementary approach to managing back pain, is growing in popularity worldwide. In fact, a survey published in 2000 found one of every five people in the UK had used complementary medicine in the past year.[1] Naturopathy, a Latin-Greek hybrid meaning ‘being close to or benefiting from nature,’ is a philosophy or system based on promoting, restoring and maintaining health through preventive measures. Naturopaths are not all created equal, so know the difference.

Back Care

Faced with different standards of regulation in different areas of the world, the practice of Naturopathy, in some countries, is unregulated and the term may not be clarified. This causes much confusion about whether a practitioner has completed extensive training. When in doubt, inquire about education. Some Naturopaths are therapists, and do not have prescribing rights, and others are primary health care providers and do have prescribing rights. Both may be beneficial in the healing process.

Naturopaths practise many therapies, including acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, Clinical Nutrition, Hydrotherapy, Homeopathy, Physical Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the United Kingdom, Naturopathy is sometimes associated with Osteopathy (which concentrates on the musculoskeletal system in health and disease). A medical doctor, Osteopath, Chiropractor or Nurse who has finished a two year post-graduate Naturopathic diploma is considered an ND. The purpose of the Naturopathic practitioner is to treat the whole person without doing harm.

In North America, modern Naturopathic practitioners (NMD/ ND) incorporate the same therapies as the UK. They are primary health care providers trained to treat patients for general health care and can use a wide range of Naturopathic practices in combination with conventional medicine. NDs undergo extensive education and training from an accredited school and are board-licensed.

Overall, all Naturopaths should have completed training that includes thorough study in the biological sciences, as well as the natural therapeutics (they rarely study drug pharmacology), should have completed hundreds of hours of clinical practice under supervision, and should belong to a recognized Naturopathic association in the country where they practise.

Dr George J Georgiou PhD ND DSc (AM), in Larnaca, Cyprus, who specializes in various aspects of Integrated Medicine, including Naturopathy, says “Ideally, a Naturopath has an all-round education that enables them to see the patient holistically on all levels, such as emotional, psychological, somatic, interactions with environment and even spiritually”.[2] From a Naturopathic point of view, any imbalance on any of these levels can cause disease or illness. Many aspects of Naturopathy may be highly effective when combined with conventional medical treatment.

The Principles

A Naturopath practitioner applies treatment modalities based on the principles of Naturopathic medicine, which emphasize some of the following beliefs:
•    The Healing Power of Nature Nature has healing powers, it is the nature of all things to return to balance; plants, animals and people heal. Naturopathic medicine refers to the inner wisdom that guides internal physical processes that lead to health or disease as ‘the healing power of nature,’ also called vis medicatrix naturae in Latin;
•    The Triad of Health – The interaction between the structural, biochemical and mental components of all living beings. The belief that dysfunction in one area leads to disruption elsewhere;
•    The Uniqueness of the Individual People are unique (genetically, biochemically, emotionally and structurally) in responding differently to various modalities of healing.
The above is taken from the British Naturopathic Association.[3]

Naturopaths believe in the following holistic principles:
1.    Nature heals;
2.    The physician is a teacher;
3.    Do no harm;
4.    Locate the underlying cause of the problem and determine what is out of balance in a person’s life;
5.    Our bodies have the inherent ability to maintain and restore health;
6.    Diagnosis is only one aspect of the process;
7.    Learning new lifestyle behaviours;
8.    Prevention is the best therapy;
9.    Establish health and wellness.[4]

“A good Naturopath is like a detective who should begin investigating the causative factor of any health problems,”[2] explains Dr Georgiou, Founder and Director of the DaVinci Natural Health Centre (www.naturaltherapycenter.com and/ www.detoxmetals.com), nestled on the beautiful island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean. His patients come from all over the world, combining vacation with a professional Naturopathic check-up. According to Dr Georgiou, “Usually the more chronic the disease, the more causative factors there will be. “In cancer patients it is common to find between 15-20 causative factors that are often overlooked by Allopaths,” he says, such as xenobiotic and heavy metal loads, chronic nutritional deficiencies accompanied by digestive problems, food allergies and intolerances, bacterial, viral and fungal loads, including systemic Candidiasis, parasites, tooth and scar foci, electromagnetic and geopathic stress, compromised immunity, lymphatic congestion and toxic gut, low grade infections and many more. Dr Georgiou’s IDEL Diagnostic Programme is designed to IDentify and ELiminate these causative factors before designing a bespoke treatment programme for the specific patient.[2]

Common Causes of Low Back Pain

Seventy percent to 85% of all people have back pain at some time in their life.[5] Low back pain can be caused by a variety of factors, including strained back muscles and ligaments due to lifting or twisting incorrectly, muscle tension or spasm, joint problems, obesity and injury. Most back pain is the result of muscle strain, poor posture, weakened bones or cartilage, a slipped disc, a pinched nerve, or stress and emotional upset.

But more factors, Dr Georgiou stresses, may play a role. “Arthritis and osteoporosis can predispose a person to chronic back pain and sometimes congested kidneys from toxic metals or other xenobiotics can cause low back pain.”[2]

He points out that posture is the one culprit that is often not recognized by Naturopaths. Many pains in the muscles, back and legs are caused by bad posture, which is controlled by proprioreceptors [receptors] in the feet that essentially inform the brain which position the body is in at any moment in time. “If your foot functions incorrectly or abnormally pronates (twists every time you walk),” says Dr Georgiou, “then your brain will receive a distorted message regarding the position of your body. This distorted information, results in the brain making a faulty adjustment in your posture. Poor posture misaligns all the joints in the body. The joints wear unevenly and the muscles function improperly. Over time, this results in chronic pain.”[2]

Management Guide

Dr Georgiou shares a range of professional Naturopathic treatments and preventive measures for maximum low back pain protection:

Posture

Special proprioceptive insoles. Dr Rothbart, a podiatrist, surgeon and Fellow of the American Academy of Pain Management, invented special proprioceptive insoles that fit in the shoe and stimulate the parts of the foot that may not be getting the proper stimulation because of the abnormal pronation or twisting. The insoles help send a correct message to the cerebellum which then adjusts the posture and removes the pressure from the joints; the pain literally disappears.

Dietary Guidelines

Detox. “I strongly encourage my patients to undergo a detoxification diet with fruits and vegetables for 15 days,” says Dr Georgiou. “This helps to bring the body back to its normal alkaline state because an acidic body is one with far more inflammation!”;[2]
Eliminate refined foods. No sugar, white flour, white rice, sweets, chocolate, and limit coffee consumption;
Eliminate saturated and trans fats. These can trigger inflammatory chemicals in the body – no fried foods or hydrogenated margarines.

Supplements

Vitamins and minerals. Try bone and cartilage strengthening vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, vitamins C and D, and manganese;
Bromelain. The enzyme found in pineapple helps reduce inflammation and pain from surgery, trauma, sports injuries, and arthritis;
Glucosamine. Helps build cartilage and the tissue supporting the spinal discs;
Flax seed oil. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed oil may hold healing analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Note: The above supplements, explains Dr Georgiou, may reduce the need for conventional pain relievers and can be taken along with them. For dosage, consult your health-care provider.

For Arthritic Back Pain:

S-adenosylmethionine SAM. A form of the muscle-strengthening, collagen-building amino acid methionine;
Niacinamide. A form of niacin that may be effective against arthritic back pain.

Natural Herbs

Most herbs should not be taken in conjunction with conventional medication. Some herbs are cumulative and must be taken consistently for a certain period of time recommended by a health-care provider.
White willow bark. Boasts pain-relieving characteristics similar to aspirin, but with fewer side-effects. The bark of this plant contains salicin, a natural anti-inflammatory;
Boswellia. An herbal remedy from India with anti-inflammatory properties. A 2006 study published in Planta Medica reveals that “Clinical studies, with pilot character, suggest efficacy in some autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis […]. Side-effects are not severe when compared to modern drugs used for the treatment of these diseases;”[6]
Devil’s claw. May be particularly useful for inflammatory pain from arthritis or degenerative spine disease (spondylosis). A 2001 study published in the Phytotherapy Research Journal evaluating the clinical effectiveness of the Devil’s Claw extract LI 174 in patients suffering from chronic […] back pain for over a period of at least six months, revealed “A significant improvement of pain symptoms and mobility of the affected sections of the patient’s spine in the course of treatment. No serious side effects were observed;”[7]
Curcuma longa (Turmeric). An Indian spice from the roots of Curcuma longa, which contains diferuloyl methane (curcumin), demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin – all of which are known as curcuminoids. Curcumin (the lipid-soluble component in turmeric) has been shown to exert an anti-inflammatory activity in several clinical studies, due in part to the inhibition of COX-2 enzyme and iNOS.

Hands-On Therapy

Su Jok Acupuncture. Dr Georgiou’s favourite therapy for pain reduction is Su Jok acupuncture, which, he says, is one of the most powerful therapies for alleviating pain anywhere in the body. The Korean form of acupuncture uses the hands and the feet. In Korean Su equals hand and Jok equals feet. The hands and feet have their own correspondence system that you can find in every part of the body. If the painful correspondence point is stimulated with micro-needles, a special probe, magnets or seeds, it usually results in complete eradication of pain in minutes. The more chronic the problem, the more treatments are required, but usually about six treatments are needed to completely eradicate even the most chronic of pains.

These are several methods a Naturopath may recommend for back pain. Although treatment may differ depending on the casual factors, lifestyle modification, emotional issues and many other factors that vary from person to person.

The Benefits

A promising study funded by the Canada Post and the 55,000-member Canadian Union of Postal Workers entitled, A Randomized Controlled Parallel Group Study to Determine the Impact of Naturopathic Treatment on Canadian Postal Workers with Low Back Pain, was conducted in an effort to establish whether Naturopathic medical treatment might be beneficial to postal workers who are at higher risk for back pain. The outcome revealed that, “Postal workers who underwent Naturopathic treatment for lower back pain reported improvement in their physical and emotional health and their overall quality of life.”[8] Those in the control group indicated they did not have positive outcomes during the test period.[8] The treatment for the Naturopathic group incorporated acupuncture once per week, relaxation exercises to relax the muscles twice per day, lifestyle counselling and diet advice, including high vegetable consumption and decreasing sugar and caffeine consumption.[8] The control group received basic exercise and lifestyle counselling, including general information about low back pain. Visits were made every two weeks to offer additional lifestyle advice, counselling, and to answer questions.[8]

Unique Approach to Low Back Pain

Each person prone to back pain would need a full assessment to address all underlying factors in order to implement a successful treatment plan. There are many other systems a Naturopath can offer, such as hyperthermia and laser therapy. These are powerful anti-inflammatory treatments.

“A combination of detoxification, optimum diet, neutraceuticals, Su Jok Acupuncture, using proprioceptive insoles to correct abnormal pronation, hyperthermia, soft laser and relaxation using Bach remedies, usually have most patients completely pain-free in a short period of time,” concludes Dr Georgiou.2

Celebrate Individuality

The splendour of the Naturopathic approach is that each individual is treated as unique. In other words, the therapy that works for you may not work for your relative. People are biochemically inimitable, so they may respond in a different way to a range of therapies. Even identical twins maintain their distinctiveness because psychological reactions to life experiences condition who they are. Consider honouring the fact that there has never been another person like you in the history of the world. When it comes to caring for back pain, wouldn’t you like your healing process to be as special as your place in the universe?

References

1.    Ernst E and White AR. The BBC survey of complementary medicine use in the UK. Complementary Ther Med. 8: 2-6. 2000.
2.    Georgiou G Dr. Interview. March 31, 2007.
3.    British Naturopathic Association. About Naturopathy. [cited March 15, 2007]. Available at http://www.naturopaths.org.uk/aboutnat.asp.
4.    Murray M and Pizzorno J. Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine. Revised. 2nd Edition. Prima Publishing. 1. 1998.
5.    UK Health Care. UK University of Kentucky. Feb 7, 2007. [cited Mar 2, 2007]. Available at http://ukhealthcare.uky.edu/content/content.asp?pageid=P00046.
6.    Ammon HP. ‘Boswellic Acids in Chronic Inflammatory Diseases.’ Planta Medica. 72: 1100-16. 2006.
7.    Laudahn D and Walper A. ‘Efficacy and Tolerance of Harpagophytum Extract LI 174 in Patients with Chronic Non-radicular Back Pain.’ Phytotherapy Research.15: 621-4. 2001.
8.    Medical News Today. Naturopathic Care and Low Back Pain. Aug 21, 2006. [cited March 26, 2007]. Available at http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=50085.
9.    Wong C. About: Alternative Medicine.15 Back Pain Remedies. [cited April 1, 2007]. Available at http://altmedicine.about.com/od/chronicpain/a/back_pain_3.htm.

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About Wendy Gist

Wendy Gist MS is Clayton College of Natural Health Honors graduate with a MS in Natural Health. She is a freelance writer; her work appears in Alternative Medicine, Better Nutrition, and other leading international publications. She may be contacted via gist@cybermesa.com www.gist-ink.com

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