The numbers don’t lie, so chances are you are one of or know one of the 60-80% of the adult U.S. population that suffers from lower back pain. Back pain does not only affect older adults – it is the leading cause of disability in Americans younger than 45 years old. 2.4 million Americans suffer from chronic back pain that is severe enough to classify them as chronically disabled. Another 2.4 million suffer from back pain that leaves them at least temporarily disabled. The annual cost of back pain has been estimated at up to $25 billion per year in the U.S. alone. Back pain causes discomfort, disability and it is expensive. Have you considered Tai Chi for lower back pain?
Conventional treatment for back pain usually involves medications such as painkillers, muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory drugs or physical therapy and even surgery in dire situations. Medications are not always a good choice for chronic back pain, especially when there is a risk of dependency with drugs that contain opiates and concerns about mixing medications for other conditions. This is even more important for older adults who are more likely to be taking medications for the myriad of conditions that are more prevalent as we get older. Surgery is the least attractive option, especially when the pain is not resolved by the procedure, or the the risks and recovery associated with surgery seem to much to bear. There may be another option. Studies have shown that Tai Chi may be an option to alleviate chronic back pain.
A 2011 randomized study of 160 adults with an average of 44 who participated in Tai Chi for 10 weeks showed such results. The “results showed that Tai Chi significantly improved bothersome back-pain symptoms…and the participants also said they experienced lower pain intensities, less pain-related disability, and felt their health-related quality of life had improved, and in general, felt better for having done Tai Chi.”
Tai Chi is a great exercise for your back because it is low impact. It does not involve fast, jerky or intense movements that may further injure your back or compress your spine. It focuses on postural alignment and control, which is important because poor posture is a very common cause of back pain. “From a Western medicine perspective, better posture and biomechanics reduce strain and wear and tear on joints and tissues.”Additionally, back pain is a common product of stress. The back houses powerful muscles that hold us up, which is very important, but when stress overcomes our bodies that same power that keeps us upright is harnessed by tension and converted into crushing contractions and spasms that cause unparalleled pain. Studies have shown that Tai Chi reduces stress and promotes relaxation and hence can attack an underlying cause of back pain.
If you are suffering from chronic lower back pain, and even other back pain, consider Tai Chi as an alternative. It may treat the underlying cause of your back pain (make sure to always consult with a doctor) or alleviate the symptoms of your back pain. Either way, it’s worth looking into, especially if conventional treatments have been unsuccessful.
Wayne, Peter, and Mark Fuerst. The Harvard medical school guide to tai chi: 12 weeks to a healthy body, strong heart, and sharp mind. Boston: Shambhala, 2013. Print.