As the Unites States struggles with an epidemic of opioid addiction that can often start with a prescription for back pain, the treatment of it is being reconsidered by doctors. Turns out that only 5% of people with back conditions actually need surgery; however, M.R.I.’s are routinely performed and frequently yield misleading results.
Dr. Vijay Vad, a sports medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery and professor at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, has developed what he calls a “home system” for back care that focuses on being active, happy and mindful. Author of Back Rx and Arthritis Rx, he started a foundation dedicated to two causes: supporting medical research on back pain and arthritis, and funding education for disadvantaged girls worldwide. Kathleen Kraft sat down with him recently to learn about more about how we can heal our backs.
Kathleen Kraft: What types of surgeries do you want people to avoid having and why?
Vijay Vad: Surgery for back pain alone without any leg pain is a dicey proposition. The
success rates are low. We have the largest number of failed back syndromes in the world, in other words: chronic, lifelong, severe pain despite spinal fusion. The same is true of those with back pain who have an underlying depression; if their depression is not recognized, the success rate is low.
KK: What role does yoga specifically play in healing?
VV: Yoga is a mind-body therapy for a mind- body issue like back pain. Back pain and depression frequently present simultaneously, and yoga has positive impact on both. It also conditions your core to reduce recurrence of back symptoms. Yoga, with its specific focus on body movement and breath, treats mind and body. The key is to ease into it and progress very gradually. The controlled breath is a big component for pain relief.
KK: What role can diet play?
VV: Joints become arthritic and eventually inflamed as result of loss of disc hydration. Jelly from the disc can also cause nerve inflammation. Thus an anti-inflammatory diet is recommended for pain: berries, olive oil, and fish. Minimize processed sugar and fatty meats that can increase inflammation. Similarly the turmeric extract called Curcumin and Vitamin D3 also have an anti-inflammatory, positive impact on back pain.
KK: How much is 'mind over matter' in terms of one's approach to healing and recovery?
VV: A positive attitude has been correlated with better outcomes as has lowering stress levels. Laughter is after all the best medicine. Unleashing power of the mind is very important in treating back pain, whether that is via psychotherapy or simply surrounding yourself with positive optimistic people. What we have seen from the Back RX app clinical trial, working with a coach has played a big role in increasing compliance, motivation and better outcomes. A supportive coach can bring out the positive power of the mind.
KK: What is your advice to people with limited health care options who suffer from chronic back pain?
VV: Providing self-empowering options; and our understanding of them is improving every day. There is a lot of data on daily exercise and back pain. If you can’t walk then use stationary bike. Swimming is amazing for back pain. Walking thirty minutes a day keeps the doctor away. There is also good data on wearing core support garments for reducing back pain. There is also good data on eight-hour heat patches and icing 15 minutes at night. As mentioned earlier, Curcumin 1500 mg daily and Vitamin D3 - 1000 to 2000 units daily. Ergonomics are very important, meaning good chairs and beds. Minimizing excessive sitting is the key. Get up every hour for 30 seconds to a minute—something that simple has big positive impact.