And my top drug-free strategies for effortless mobility, natural pain relief, and extended longevity
I cannot stress enough the importance of staying active as you age—it’s one of the simplest and most effective ways to turn back the clock and prevent chronic disease. But I’m also well aware that, for many, that’s much easier said than done.
“Aging” doesn’t have to be synonymous with “disability.” But after years of “wear and tear,” a little discomfort and loss of mobility is often par for the course once you get past a certain age. And while you probably don’t need a study to tell you this, research shows that these problems plague even the most athletic older adults.
In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society shows that back pain affects half of otherwise well-functioning and highly active older people.1 Ultimately, back pain can lead to difficulty walking.
Experiencing back pain is bad enough. But if you add in problems getting around, you can wind up in a devastating downward spiral that will rob you of your health and mobility in shockingly short order.
And the biggest tragedy is that all of this is entirely avoidable. I’ll tell you how in just a moment. But first, let’s take a closer look at what really sets off this devastating domino effect.
Inflammation, as always, is the root of all evil
Like any type of pain—from migraines to achy knees—back pain has roots in inflammation.
Inflammation, in itself, is a good thing. It’s how your body protects and heals itself. Without inflammation, wounds and infections would never heal.
Any time you injure yourself or you’re exposed to some sort of infection, your immune system responds by sending out substances called “inflammatory mediators.” Histamine, prostaglandins, and cytokines are probably the most well-known.
These inflammatory mediators increase blood flow. They also allow more white blood cells—the infantry of the immune system—to get through blood vessel walls to the site of the infection or injury.
All of this is necessary for healing. But in the process, it can also cause redness, fever, swelling, and—yes—pain.
This sort of inflammatory response is known as acute inflammation. And it generally goes away on its own within a few days. But when it doesn’t go away, it results in chronic inflammation. Which causes ongoing pain and other symptoms—and generally makes your life miserable.
Chronic inflammation is at the root of arthritis pain, fibromyalgia, and every other type of pain—including back pain. And as I’ve explained a thousand times before, if you don’t rein it in, it can lead to more serious conditions, like heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Needless to say, this is a problem you want to address sooner rather than later.
Recent research from scientists at the University of Florida shows that inflammation and pain are a vicious cycle: inflammation increases pain, which in turn increases inflammation, which causes even more pain…and on and on. This is particularly true in older people. Researchers say the sooner you treat lingering inflammation, the more likely you are to prevent acute pain from becoming chronic.2
I’ve gone over a wide range of strategies for inflammation control in recent months—including my A-List Diet and essential supplement recommendations. In fact, reducing inflammation is so crucial to your overall health, I’m not sure an issue of this newsletter goes by where inflammation doesn’t receive at least a passing mention. So instead of reviewing that with you again, I encourage you to visit my e-letter and newsletter archives on www.DrPescatore.com should you need a refresher.
Let’s focus today’s conversation on banishing back pain, in particular. Starting with what not to do…
Why pain drugs aren’t worth the price you pay
I’m always talking about the dangers of over-the-counter painkillers, like NSAIDs and acetaminophen. These medications, which millions of Americans pop like candy, aren’t nearly as safe as we’ve been led to believe. In fact, they increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and many other serious conditions. They can even be deadly.
But especially with chronic back pain in play, there’s an even bigger threat waiting in the wings. And it’s stealing the livelihood of more and more older people every day.
Prescription opioids—like OxyContin® or Vicodin®—may be common prescriptions for severe, chronic back pain. But that doesn’t make them safe. Not only do these drugs contribute to heart and breathing problems, they are seriously addictive. And now a recent study says they’re not even effective.
After looking at data from more than 2,000 people with low-back pain—nearly half of whom were taking opioids—researchers from Rush University in Chicago asked patients how successful the drugs were at relieving their pain.
The shocking answers? Only 13 percent—about 1 in 8—rated opioids as “very successful.” The most common answer? “Somewhat successful.” That’s how 44 percent of those interviewed rated the medication.
Not only that, but 75 percent of the patients said they experienced side effects from opioids, including constipation, sleepiness, cognitive issues, and dependence.3
Prescription opioids could make your pain worse
Along with lack of efficacy and crushing side effects, there are many other downsides from using opioids to treat pain. Consider these sobering research findings…
When it comes to treating sprains, strains, and fractures, a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates there’s no difference in pain relief for opioids vs. non-opioids.4
In fact, using opioids may even make the pain worse, say researchers from Harvard Medical School. In a new study, they found that patients who used opioids to manage their knee pain before their total knee replacement had less pain relief after the operation than patients who didn’t use opioids.5
People with chronic pain are among the biggest users of opioids. And they’re also the most at risk from the worst “side effect” of opioids: overdose. Over 60 percent of individuals who die from an overdose have been diagnosed with a chronic pain condition, according to a new study from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center.6
Yet in spite of the risk of overdose, more and more people are taking opioids long-term. In 2000, less than half the patients taking prescription opioids were taking them for 90 days or more. By 2014, more than 70 percent of those taking the drugs were taking them on a long-term basis, report researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.7
And let’s be perfectly clear about why this overuse of opioids for chronic pain is happening: Big Pharma. As an exposé in the publication MedPage Today put it: “A network of pain organizations, doctors, and researchers pushed for expanded use of opioids—while taking in millions of dollars from the very drug companies that made them.”
The bottom line? Pharmaceuticals for pain relief—including deadly opioids—simply aren’t worth the risk.
Five drug-free ways to banish back pain for good
When you ask a conventional doctor for drug-free help with back pain, you can be sure he or she will recommend physical therapy (PT). And that can be effective. But it’s far from the only choice…
There are several other drug-free remedies that can help you get the relief you need. Let’s look at them one by one…
Yoga: According to a new study, chronic lower back pain sufferers find just as much relief from yoga as they do from PT. Other studies have shown yoga helps pain and improves function while also reducing reliance on pain medication.
Yoga’s effectiveness is good news on several levels. First, it’s generally less expensive and more accessible than physical therapy. Secondly, yoga has additional benefits for people who practice it long-term, including helping to retain gray matter in the brain, which typically deteriorates with age. More gray matter means better brain function and a higher pain tolerance.
Massage: Another favorite for back pain sufferers, with the science to back it up. A new study examined the results of 10 massage sessions on people with back pain. Twelve weeks after the massages, 75 percent of people in the study had meaningful improvement in pain and disability.
Even more telling: At 24 weeks, those results persisted in half the patients. And the results were even better for people over age 49 than for younger participants.
Walking: No matter how much you want to just lie in bed and do nothing when you have back pain, it’s essential to keep moving. Even light to moderate walking can help. According to a new study, walking training strengthened muscles and improved functioning in people with chronic lower back pain.
Acupuncture: Acupuncture has a centuries-old history of helping with a wide variety of ailments. A recent study highlighted its pain-relief benefits. After just eight weekly acupuncture sessions, back pain sufferers saw significant improvements in pain severity. Plus, they said pain no longer interfered with their lives as much. And they saw improvements in depression, too—which is a common companion to chronic pain.
Chiropractic adjustment: Mainstream docs often sneer at chiropractic treatments. But even they’ll have to pay attention to this recent study proving its merits.
A systematic review published in JAMA concluded that the majority of studies on chiropractic adjustment found significant improvements in pain and function. Of the 26 random clinical trials in the study, 15 reported significant improvements in pain and 12 reported significant improvements in function. No groups reported serious adverse events.
Most insurance plans cover these types of treatment methods. Be sure to check with your insurance provider to determine the best option for you.
But whatever option you choose remember this: You don’t have to rely on harmful medications to treat back pain. Natural remedies are every bit as effective—and far safer.
- Simonsick EM, et al. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2018 Apr;66(4):714-720.
- Cruz-Almeida Y, et al. Exp Gerontol. 2015 Dec;72:150-6.
- American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA). “Many back pain patients get limited relief from opioids and worry about taking them, survey shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 October 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161023154844.htm>.
- Chang AK, et al. JAMA. 2017 Nov 7;318(17):1661-1667.
- Smith SR, et al. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2017 May 17;99(10):803-808.
- Olfson M, et al. Am J Psychiatry. 2017 Nov 28:appiajp201717070808.
- Mojtabai R. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2017 Sep 6.
- Ray WA, et al. JAMA. 2016 Jun 14;315(22):2415-23.