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Antibiotics May Relieve Back Pain Symptoms


Story at-a-glance -

  • Taking antibiotics may relieve symptoms in up to 40 percent of people with low back pain, according to a new study that found a link between back pain and bacterial infection
  • With antibiotic-resistant diseases already on the rise, and serious side effects linked to unnecessary antibiotic use, using antibiotics for back pain could have serious repercussions
  • Poor posture and/or improper movement is to blame for most cases of back pain
  • One of the best steps you can take to prevent and manage back pain is to address improper posture and sitting, exercise regularly and keep your back and abdominal muscles strong

By Dr. Mercola

In a new study from Denmark, researchers found a link between back pain and bacterial infection, which they say may be treated effectively with a 100-day course of antibiotics.1

It’s estimated that up to 85 percent of Americans experience back pain at some point in their lives, while more than 26 million suffer from back pain frequently.2

Back pain is actually the leading cause of disability in Americans under the age of 45,3 but while many seek treatment, spending at least $50 billion annually toward this end,4 relief is often only fleeting.

If you’re among those struggling with back pain, and are growing frustrated when common treatments don’t work, this connection with antibiotics may sound like a welcome new option, but it’s one that comes with a hefty downside.

Are Antibiotics a Good Choice for Back Pain Relief?

Previous research suggests that between 7 percent and 53 percent of patients with herniated discs have a type of bacteria that entered the disc when it was herniated. The Danish researchers similarly found bacteria in 46 percent of slipped discs among patients who’d received spinal surgery for back pain.

The researchers then gave a 100-day course of antibiotics to half of a group of patients struggling with low back pain from a slipped disc. One year later, those who’d taken antibiotics reported less low back pain, leg pain and physical disability than the placebo group.

They were also less likely to have missed days of work due to back pain. Researchers estimated that antibiotics could potentially relieve the symptoms of up to 40 percent of people suffering from chronic low back pain.

The results sound promising, particularly for those who feel they’ve tried everything and still have gotten no pain relief. But the use of antibiotics, especially long-term for three-plus months at a time, should not be taken lightly…

WARNING: Antibiotics May Promote Fungal Growth, Weight Gain and Chronic Disease

Conventional antibiotics can save your life if they're necessary, such as if you develop a serious bacterial infection, but it's important to understand that they come with serious risks. These antibiotics, by design, disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, often killing off both beneficial and harmful microorganisms without distinction.

We now know, however, that your health is intricately tied to, and in many ways dependent upon, a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut.

When this balance is disrupted, it paves the way for a number of chronic diseases. According to data analyzed by journalist Maryn McKenna for Wired,5 the US states with the highest levels of antibiotic overuse are one in the same as those that have the worst health status, including the highest rates of obesity, asthma, heart disease, heart attack, diabetes and stroke.

As Doug Kaufmann wrote in his book The Fungus Link, Volume 2:

“ … every time you swallow antibiotics, you kill the beneficial bacteria within your intestines. When you do so, you upset the delicate balance of your intestinal terrain. Yeasts grow unchecked into large colonies and take over, in a condition called dysbiosis.

Yeasts are opportunistic organisms. This means that, as the intestinal bacteria die, yeasts thrive, especially when their dietary needs are met. They can use their tendrils, or hyphae, to literally poke holes through the lining of your intestinal wall. This results in a syndrome called leaky gut.

… In addition to possibly causing leaky gut syndrome, I believe that parasitic yeasts can also cause you to change what you eat in that they encourage you to binge on carbohydrates including pasta, bread, sugar, potatoes, etc. So, it should come as no surprise that weight gain counts as one of the telltale signs of antibiotic damage and subsequent yeast overgrowth.

By altering the normal terrain of the intestines, antibiotics can also make food allergies more likely. An array of intestinal disorders can ensue, as well. Sadly, most doctors claim ignorance concerning their patients’ intestinal disorders rather than admit that the drugs they themselves prescribed actually caused the disorders to begin with.”

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Antibiotic-Resistant Disease Is Already a Major Public Health Threat

Antibiotic overuse has already spurred a vicious cycle. Whenever you use an antibiotic, you're increasing your susceptibility to developing infections with bacteria that are now not only resistant to that antibiotic, but much harder to treat because of it -- and as a result, you can become a carrier of this resistant bug, and can spread it to others.

The rise of antibiotic-resistant disease is actually one of the world's most pressing public health threats. There are already numerous bacteria resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics, and this is a direct result of the vast overuse of antibiotics in both the medical system and conventional livestock farming. If increasing numbers of people begin taking even more antibiotics, now to treat back pain, the problem could get even worse.

One of the most beneficial steps you can take to combat infection is to maintain a healthy intestinal system by eating a diet rich in natural probiotics, especially naturally fermented foods, such as those described in Dr. Campbell-McBride’s GAPS Nutritional Program. If bacteria are in fact involved in your back pain, this may be a good place to start, which will help to heal your gut rather than further harm it.

The other benefit of using fermented vegetables and increasing the volume of beneficial bacteria is that it will help your body produce secretory IgA, which is a powerful stimulus for your immune response. So rather than taking antibiotics, which can disrupt your beneficial flora, optimizing your gut flora will help your own body fight the infection that might be contributing to back pain and also help you avoid the antibiotic side effects.

Drug Companies Are Salivating at the Thought of Coming Up With the Next Back Pain Treatment

When drug companies see a condition that impacts many people and has only limited (or ineffective) treatment options available, they see dollar signs. Not surprisingly, back pain has become a major target for Big Pharma disease mongering.6 The latest example of this is the emergence of ads for ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic inflammatory disease of the axial skeleton, which includes the spine.

“Do you have back pain? Are you dismissing it as resulting from 'lifting too much' at the gym or 'bad posture'?” one radio ad asks. “You might have ankylosing spondylitis.”

The drug advertised is Humira, which has a price tag of about $20,000 a year. It is reprehensible for drug companies to promote this expensive and dangerous drug for an exceedingly rare cause of low back pain, which likely is responsible for less than a tenth of a tenth of 1 percent of low back pain. In the case of antibiotics for treating a herniated disc, drug companies will undoubtedly be thrilled at the prospect. But considering the fact that most cases of low back pain are probably not caused by infection, or certainly not a lack of any drug, you probably do not need drugs to treat it.

Relearning Your 'Primal Posture' Relieves Back Pain for Many

Poor posture and/or improper movement is to blame for most cases of back pain, including herniated discs, which means one of the best steps you can take to prevent and manage back pain is to exercise regularly and keep your back and abdominal muscles strong. Many are also finding success using the posture-improvement methods taught by Esther Gokhale, the so-called “posture guru” of Silicon Valley. The NY Times reports:7

“She believes that people suffer from pain and dysfunction because they have forgotten how to use their bodies. It’s not the act of sitting for long periods that causes us pain, she says, it’s the way we position ourselves.

Ms. Gokhale … is not helping aching office workers with high-tech gadgets and medical therapies. Rather, she says she is reintroducing her clients to what she calls ‘primal posture’ — a way of holding themselves that is shared by older babies and toddlers, and that she says was common among our ancestors before slouching became a way of life. It is also a posture that Ms. Gokhale observed during research she conducted in a dozen other countries, as well as in India, where she was raised.

For a method based not on technology but primarily on observations of people, it has been embraced by an unlikely crowd: executives, board members and staff members at some of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies, including Google and Oracle …”

Gokhale’s approach to treating back pain is in line with others that seek to treat the foundational, mechanical body issues that often lead to pain. Most back, neck, and other muscle pains are related to imbalanced absorption of force throughout your body, created by working and sitting in unnatural positions for extended periods. When you teach your body to establish and repeat correct positioning, the pain often goes away.

Foundation Training Was Developed Specifically to Relieve Its Founder’s Low Back Pain

Foundation Training—an innovative method developed by Dr. Eric Goodman to treat his own chronic low back pain—is an excellent alternative to the Band Aid solutions so many are given. Foundation Training exercises work to gradually pull your body out of the movement patterns that are hurting you. The focus is on strengthening your complete core, which includes anything that directly connects to your pelvis, whether above or below it. Foundation Training teaches all those muscles to work together through integrated chains of movement, which is how your body is structurally designed to move.

Every muscle that directly connects to your pelvis should be considered a piece of your core and this includes your glutes, adductors (inner thigh muscles), deep lower back muscles, hip flexors, hamstrings and all of your abdominal muscles.

Having strong, balanced core muscles is like having a built-in corset that not only holds your gut in, but also stabilizes your spine, vertebrae, discs, and most importantly your pelvis. The program is inexpensive and can be surprisingly helpful, as these exercises are designed to help you strengthen your entire core and move the way nature intended.

In the video below you can see a demonstration of one of the key exercises, called “The Founder,” which helps reinforce proper movement while strengthening the entire back of your body. The Founder is an excellent exercise that can help reverse the effects of frequent and prolonged sitting (i.e. back pain).

Two More Non-Drug Options for Relieving Back Pain

Addressing your posture (or other factors that may be contributing to the strain, such as sleeping in an awkward position) and treating the condition with exercises and movement changes as described above are often effective at relieving the pain and addressing the underlying cause. Two other natural, non-drug options that provide relief to many include:

  1. Osteopathic manipulation: This may involve moving joints back into place, massaging soft tissue and helping relax stressed muscles. In one study, 63 percent of those who'd had osteopathic manipulation reported a moderate improvement in their pain while half said they had a substantial improvement.8
  2. Chiropractic care: Seeing a qualified chiropractor is certainly a wise consideration if you suffer from back pain. I am an avid believer in the chiropractic philosophy, which places a strong emphasis on your body's innate healing ability and far less reliance on drugs and surgery. One study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine even revealed that chiropractic care is often better than medication for treating musculoskeletal pain.9

12 Tips Virtually Everyone With Back Pain Should Know

Back pain is often unique in how it is caused and experienced by each individual, which is why the best treatment for you will likely be unique too. It may take some trial and error and experimentation with different methods before you find what works best, but keep trying before you resort to drugs or other invasive methods like surgery; there are many natural options available, including these tips below.

  1. Exercise and physical activity will help strengthen the muscles of your spine. Make your exercise time count by including high-intensity sessions. You probably only need this once or twice a week at the most. You'll also want to include exercises that promote muscle strength, balance and flexibility. Remember to build up your entire core to avoid back pain. Always make sure you focus on strong, balanced posture.
  2. Optimize your production of vitamin D and K2, which will work through a variety of different mechanisms to reduce your pain, as well as prevent the softening of the bones that can often lead to lower back pain.
  3. If you spend many hours every day in a chair like I do, pay careful attention to consciously sucking in your belly and rotating your pelvis slightly up. At the same time make sure your head is back with your ears over your shoulders and your shoulder blades pinched. This will help keep your spine in proper alignment. You can hold these muscles tight for several minutes and do this every hour you are sitting.
  4. Address psychological factors, which often play a role in back pain. Underlying emotional issues and unresolved trauma can have a massive influence on your health, particularly as it relates to physical pain. Dr. John Sarno,10 for example, used mind-body techniques to treat patients with severe low back pain and has authored a number of books on this topic. His specialty was those who have already had surgery for low back pain and did not get any relief. This is one tough group of patients, yet he had a greater than 80 percent success rate using techniques like the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) (he has now retired from practice).
  5. Get regular massage therapy. Massage releases endorphins, which help induce relaxation and relieve pain.
  6. Keep your weight spread evenly on your feet when standing. Don’t slouch when standing or sitting to avoid putting stress on your back muscles.
  7. Always support your back, and avoid bending over awkwardly. Protect your back while lifting – this activity, along with carrying, puts the most stress on your back.
  8. Sleep in a firm bed. Sleeping on your side to reduce curving of your spine and stretching before getting out of bed is also helpful.
  9. Use chairs or car seats that offer good lumbar support. Switch positions often while sitting, walk around a bit and do some light stretching to relieve tension.
  10. Wear comfortable shoes. For ladies, minimize the time you spend in high-heel shoes, particularly those with higher heights.
  11. Drink plenty of water to enhance the height of your intervertebral disks. And because your body is composed mostly of water, keeping yourself hydrated will keep you fluid and reduce stiffness.
  12. Quit smoking as it reduces blood flow to your lower spine and causes your spinal disks to degenerate.