Get Your Back Up: Tips for Beating Back Pain

Your spine is a complex structure of vertebrae bones, muscles, ligaments and nerves that are all capable of producing neck and back pain, one of the leading causes of disability for those over 45, says Dr. Natalia Lishchyna, an Oakville chiropractor and vice-president of the Ontario Chiropractic Association (OCA).

“This group is prone to having pain from previous trauma, like an accident or fall, repetitive work tasks and osteoarthritis which worsens with immobility,” Lishchyna says.

Neck and back pain is often not a quick or easy fix. Treatment options range from non-invasive care, like lifestyle changes, medication and physical therapy, to invasive measures such as surgery. Prevention and proper treatment are important factors in controlling spine pain.


Maintain a Healthy Weight. Being overweight puts pressure on nerves, muscles and bone structures of the spine.

Be Active and Exercise.  “Exercise – be it a walk in the park or swimming – three times a week for 30 minutes is one of the best treatments for back and neck pain,” Lishchyna says. Take frequent breaks from the computer or desk, stretching, walking more (even when you don’t have to) and other activities.

Get Some Sleep. That’s when the body actually restores itself. “Sleeping on your side or back is considered better than sleeping on the stomach, which puts the wrong type of stress on your back and neck,” Lishchyna says. She advises you toss the big pillows for a smaller size that fits the width from your neck to ear.

• Choose a Healthy Diet. Get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet to prevent bone weakening osteoporosis.


• Autumn Leaf Clean-Up. Stand straight and walk to the leaves instead of bending at the waist to reach them. Rake straight back toward you. Pick up in smaller quantities, keep the load closer to body, bend at the knees to get down instead of bending your back. Don’t twist the body. When cutting branches, don’t lift – pull. Place the leaves and yard waste in small bags or a wheelbarrow to transport. Don’t overfill and don’t be a hero – get help from others when a load is too heavy.

• Snow-Shovelling Safety Tips. Use a lightweight pusher-type shovel. Always push the snow to the side rather than throw it. If you’re going to lift, bend at the knee, keep your load close to your body. Turn and walk with your load rather than twisting around and putting it down.


Visit Your Chiropractor. Chiropractors use a form of treatment called an adjustment to align the bones of the spine and relieve pain, Lishchyna explains. Some chiropractors prefer to use soft tissue techniques such as Myofascial Release Therapy (MRT) and Registered Massage Therapy instead of adjustments.

Chinese massotherapy, also known as Tuina, works by applying pressure with hands and fingers to acupoints, meridians and groups of muscles or nerves in order to treat lower back pain, with a documented 89 per cent reduction in pain compared with physical therapy treatments (i.e., icing, ultrasound, heat therapy, exercise, deep tissue massage) according to a 2006 article published in the British Medical Journal.

“Tuina is effective because it works with the body’s energy circulation and blood flow circulation,” says Craig Cormack, a Montreal-based registered Chinese massotherapist ( and consultant at the McGill University Sports Medicine Clinic. He uses Tuina to clear out toxins, reduce blockages and regulate the flow of energy along the meridians to relieve back pain.

• Surgery. “These days, surgeries and equipment used are much more advanced and people recuperate much faster,” Lishchyna states. “Disc herniation surgeries [repairing discs that have shifted, protrude and bulge] are less invasive [now considered a day surgery procedure], and post-surgery rehabilitation starts much sooner since prolonged bed rest can be detrimental,” she adds.

Dr. W. Mark Erwin, assistant professor, orthopedic surgery, University of Toronto, elaborates: “For patients suffering from arm or leg pain due to a piece of the disc that has herniated, only the herniated piece is removed, and there is no replacement. In the case of an extensive degenerative disc disease in the neck, as opposed to a herniated disc, it is common to remove the entire disc and replace it with bone [a spinal fusion] or, in some cases, an artificial disc.” —Charmaine Gooden


Experiencing neck and shoulder pain or chronic headaches and can’t find the root cause? It may be time to ditch the doctor’s office and call your dentist instead.

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD) is a blanket term that covers any inflammation of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) – the point of connection between the mandible and skull. One indicator is if your bite is not aligned; if not treated with braces or oral surgery, the condition will get progressively worse with age.

TMJD most commonly results in jaw and face pain or trouble biting, chewing and opening and closing your mouth, but it’s important to keep in mind the tendency of pain to spread throughout the body. The TMJ is a complex joint, and problems within it can also involve any of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and tissues associated with it.

TMJD is commonly caused by bruxism – unconsciously grinding your teeth, usually while sleeping – or the loss of teeth, which both result in a lack of support in the jaw that puts pressure on the cartilage of the joint.

Systemic issues, like osteoarthritis, can also cause pain and inflammation.

A good way to find out if TMJD may be the source of pain elsewhere in the body is to do some gentle investigation: delicately press the joint with your fingers looking for tender spots. If the joint is sore to the touch, go see your dentist. Bruxism and missing teeth are issues that can often be addressed quickly and non-invasively, so don’t grin and bear it.  —Evan Rosser