How to Avoid a Back Attack
JC Smith, MA, DC
Back pain is bigger than you might think and an issue you had best learn to prevent before it strikes you, too. More than 37% of American adults, equivalent to 92 million people, will complain daily of low back pain. In a year’s time, 76% or 190 million will suffer with a back attack, and in a lifetime, over 85% will suffer. Approximately 20% of sufferers describe their pain as severe or disabling.
Clearly, back pain is a silent epidemic that also costs our society an estimated $267.2 billion annually. Considering there are now over 200 treatments for low back pain alone, it is also easy to get confused. 
Truthfully, the current medical treatments have not worked well. We all know people who have had failed back surgery, became addicted to opioid narcotics, or underwent expensive, dangerous, and ineffective epidural steroid shots.
In fact, one notable orthopedic surgeon, Gordon Waddell, MD, and author of The Back Pain Revolution, admits to the abject failure of medical spine care.
Low back pain has been a 20th century health care disaster. Medical care certainly has not solved the everyday symptom of low back pain and even may be reinforcing and exacerbating the problem…It [back surgery] has been accused of leaving more tragic human wreckage in its wake than any other operation in history.
Slipped Discs or Slipped Joints?
Let me give you advice from my 33 years of experience as a chiropractor to help you better understand the nature of a back attack and how best to treat it.
First of all, let’s clear up one huge misconception: forget about the “disc theory.” It was disproved in 1990 when researchers found disc abnormalities in people with no back pain; likewise, there are people with a lot of pain who have no disc problems at all.
Medical researchers now consider abnormal discs to be “trivial, harmless, and irrelevant,” to the point of mocking them as “incidentalomas” since MRI studies have shown many people without back pain have abnormal discs, too. This is the first fact you need to understand if you are to manage your back pain properly—discs don’t slip, but joints do.
In fact, research now shows there are 313 joints in and around the spinal column. When these spinal joints are compressed from prolong sitting or ripped apart by falls or accidents, your spine loses proper alignment and motion and this generates pain from many different sources.
A chiropractor may take x-rays primarily to analyze the structure of your spine. While other “incidentalomas” may be detected as well, the key is how the spine functions, not what the discs look like on an MRI.
In other words, spine treatment is not simply like pulling a thorn out of your paw. Instead, these are complex injuries that require different types of “hands-on” treatments. This explains why spinal manipulation, massage therapy, and spinal flexibility/strengthening exercises work so well.
So, forget about “slipped discs” for the moment. How well your spine functions and ultimately feels is an equation of the spinal alignment, joint flexibility, muscle strength, and ability to do normal daily activities such as sitting, lifting, bending, standing, and playing.
Actually, most spinal problems begin in youth when kids fall off bikes, roller skates, sports accidents like playing football, horseback falls, and even cheerleading. These often cause spinal misalignments that go unseen and uncorrected in their youth only to resurface years later when finally the “straw breaks the camel’s back.”
Principles of Spine Care
This paradigm shift in spine care is not a new revelation. As far back as 1994 the US Public Health Service did a two-year study on acute low back pain in adults and shocked the medical world when it gave three “preferred treatments”:
- Spinal manipulation
- Over-the-counter NSAIDs
- Ice or heat packs
So, let me explain why manipulation helps so well by teaching you the three principles of spinal care.
First of all, the alignment of the spine is paramount. Obviously the more misalignments you have, the worse your problem. Just as a bent knee would be bad to walk on and to bear weight, so are misalignments in your spine.
However, unlike your leg that has just 3 bones connected by one knee joint, your spine has 24 vertebrae and 313 joints when you count all the spine, ribs, and pelvic joints. When you have falls, sports injuries, or just sit too long, these spinal joints lose motion, become misaligned or compressed. So a chiropractic exam will look for spinal structural and joint motion problems more than incidentalomas.
The second principle is strength. It’s one thing for a chiropractor to adjust spinal joints, but if your muscles are weak or injured, like a weak knee, the adjustment will not hold in place for long. Spinal exercises are as important as brushing your teeth to prevent tooth decay.
The third principle of a healthy spine is flexibility. Obviously joints are designed to move. Even if you have a strong back, if your spinal joints are badly compressed, you will lose motion, develop stiffness, and as many Southerners say, “you’ll feel all stove up.”
For every patient, I always recommend preventative maintenance care that consists of periodic spinal adjustments along with daily spinal exercises. Just like you will always brush your teeth and periodically see a dentist, the same type of preventative care is important for your spine.
Let me be totally honest: there’s a good chance you, like me, will have a few areas of your spine that are permanently injured from previous accidents, many sustained in childhood or car accidents or sports injuries. The key to learn is how to properly treat these spinal weaknesses with periodic adjustments and daily spine exercises. Actually, I see my chiropractor weekly and I can honestly say I do my back exercises daily or else I can’t function or feel as good as I do.
JC Smith, MA, DC, is the author of a new book, The Medical War Against Chiropractors: the untold story from persecution to vindication.