Back Problems

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Finding a good herbalist

The general recommendations in this article are entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Case Histories

Used wisely, a holistic approach that includes herbal medicines can be exceptionally helpful for back pain. Herbs have been humankind's only medicine for virtually our entire evolution so of course we found allies in the natural world to help us with back-pain; also something that has been with us since we stood upright and our collective journey began.

I'm over 30 years in practice at the time of editing this page. and, like everywhere in the world, there are many people with chronic back problems in Christchurch, New Zealand, the city I have worked all this time. Whilst each case is different, there is also much common ground between people and there are some general suggestions given here that may benefit anyone.

Firstly however, from the clinic files, the following case histories are shown to illustrate some individual approaches to this common and most troubling condition.



I first met Vivian when she was 44 years old. She sat down and began to tell me her story and then, after just a few minutes, stood up with an apology saying said she just couldn't sit for any length of time without her back starting to go into spasm.

When I think about which case histories to share in these articles, my mind usually goes to people who've had particularly bad conditions. Vivian was in a truly terrible place with her back when we first met.

Whilst she'd had some moderate back troubles in her earlier life, i.e. whilst pregnant with each of her two children and if she overdid things, her catastrophic event, had occurred almost 3 years previously when she was on holiday and going on a 4-wheel drive tourist excursion into some rough country with her family.

She recounted how the jeep was an old one with terrible suspension and how the ride was horribly rough. She was repeatedly jolted up and down and it was giving her serious pains in her lumbar spine, but she felt trapped in the situation and felt unable to ask the driver to slow down or go more gently.

Things became very bad the evening of that day and she started to become very worried, but she hoped that it would pass with plenty of Panadol and a good night's sleep, but this is when her nightmare began. Her back pain became progressively worse until she was unable to move without excruciating pain. She remained awake the whole night and, far from home, eventually went into what she described as 'a full-blown panic'.

A doctor was called to their hotel, he examined her and administered an injection of something, but she said all it did was make her feel spaced out and she still couldn't move without agonising pain. Eventually she was taken by ambulance and admitted to the local hospital where an MRI scan showed that she had ruptured her L5-S1 disk and, as they had medical insurance, she was flown home early dosed to the eyeballs with drugs.

The following few years had been hell on earth for Vivian and if you who are reading this have experienced chronic back pain at a severe level then you will know very well what a true torture it can be.

Many people opt for surgery in Vivian's situation and the costs of this would have been covered by her travel insurance, or if not them, then the ACC system here in New Zealand, but it so happened that some time ago a close friend of Vivian's had surgery for a herniated disk in her own lumbar spine and had been considerably worse ever since, including now getting burning sciatica.

Vivian was terrified of the surgery making her worse too. Her Doctor and family had been pressuring her for years to get the surgery, but I could not add my voice to theirs because I have heard many such stories of adverse reactions to back surgery and do not feel that its risks are accurately reflected by the statistics.

Vivian had given up on ever getting fully better, she said she was reconciled to living with pain and not being able to do any of the physical activities she used to love but that her main reason for coming was that she was fed up with being addicted to drugs and wanted to know if I had anything she could take instead!

The strongest pain-killers in the world come from the Opium poppy, and it was derivatives of this that she was using. I think we would have had a very poor result if we had tried to find some kind of substitute for the drugs she was taking. We had to look deeper and, if she was to get any benefit from working with me, we would have to be able to do something about why her body was not healing its damaged tissues after all this time.

I said that I would only want her to be thinking about stopping her drugs when she was 100% sure she was doing much better with whatever we were doing, not before. I also said that I would do anything I could to help so long as she was ready to do whatever it took to try to get better.

In such cases, where people are in such a bad way, getting the first step right is vitally important. Vivian was in despair, but It was frankly impractical that we would be able to achieve better pain relief with a substitute to opioid drugs so, whatever we did do, she would need to feel some tangible benefits from it to keep going on the long journey of healing that would be ahead of her.

The Prescription

Cramp Bark 110mls
Ginger 60mls
Lobelia 40mls

We make our own tinctures from organic dried herbs, so it might be important that you understand that the strength of the herbs, and therefore the optimal dose range, will vary with different preparations made by different companies or practitioners,

The above liquid extracts were combined into a formula to make 210mls, which will easily fit in to a 200ml amber-pharm bottle. The matter of dosage is frequently a critical, make-or-break aspect of herbal medicine and in this case Vivian was given detailed instructions on how to find the optimal amount that her body could work with.

Cramp bark, and particularly Lobelia, are two of the most potent relaxing herbs in nature, however it is not a case of the more the better. Too much Lobelia will create a most unpleasant sense of nausea, too much Cramp bark sees a diminishing effect from it, paradoxically enough! The Ginger would make the mixture very spicy at any level and was there for its own considerable benefits, including in helping mitigate inflammation, but also because it is the best herb to counterbalance the potential for a high dose of Lobelia to cause nausea. In other words, having plenty of Ginger in the mixture would enable Vivian to take a lot more of the Lobelia than she might otherwise, and so get a stronger relaxing effect from it.

She was told to start with 2 mls (40 drops) , to go down to 1ml (20 drops) or 1 1/2mls (30 drops) if this felt too strong, alternately to go up by 10 drops each time she took a dose until she reached a maximum of 8mls (160 drops) or felt either nausea, or the medicine working less well than it did at a lower amount.

I realise this probably sounds complicated, but people always get it with careful instruction and a little practice, and it makes such a difference to the success of the treatment that any amount of initial uncertainty about what will be the optimal amount is more than worth it.

Vivian found that between 3 and 4 mls worked best for her. 5 or 6 mls seemed to have less of an effect and 7 or 8 mls made her feel positively nauseous. In the early weeks of treatment, she would take a 3 or 4 ml dose up to 5 or 6 times a day and, here it is very important to note, she would then allow its deep relaxing influence to settle into her body.

Trauma Salve

The only other 'medicine' we used in the beginning was a product called Trauma salve. This is made by infusing Arnica, Calendula and St John's wort flowers in olive oil (made warm in cool Christchurch by the glass jar being put on a bed of rice in a slow-cooker set to its lowest heat) stirred a few times a week, strained after about 3 weeks then just enough beeswax melted and added to the oil to make a 'salve' that can then be rubbed into the affected area - recipe here

Vivian had instructions to get her husband to massage this salve into her low back every single day until she was much better and then a minimum of 3 times a week until she was 'cured'

The secret to truly great massage between people who are doing it for love is feedback. It was explained that it was essential that she had to give him very clear feedback about exactly how deep or lightly to work in the salve and how to best do the massage.

She had to direct his movements "up, down, right, left, pointier, more spread out, more weight, less weight etc", until he was doing it in exactly the best way possible.

Turmeric & Willow Capsules

We started on a high dose of these after the 2nd appointment, as discussed below.

The Work

The first step in healing is the one in which Nature can help us back to health. Herbal medicines are our ancient allies, they support and help us to get well and the first step for Vivian was simply to let Nature in.

She had to bring the potent relaxing action of the herbs inside her as freely and frequently as she needed them. plus get her back treated with healing herbs plus the inestimable x-factor of love from the person closest to her.

The next step is what I call the 'work'. It is what the patient does to help themselves. Underlying all the old ways of healing is an understanding that all living organisms have the innate ability to self-regulate and self-repair. The 'work' is usually about doing something that helps to remove the obstacles that are getting in the way of that natural, healing intelligence.

Vivian had become so tense that her brain and nervous system were now extremely sensitive to every bad feeling emanating from her back and body. The more she thought about and focused on her condition, the worse it felt and the harder it was for her body to get the relaxation that it desperately needed to heal itself.

Her prescription for 'the work' was to take time out every day and as often as she could every day where she would not think about herself, or her troubles, or her pain, for as long as possible.

This is a lot easier said than done, but where there is a will there is a way. Vivian had to be able, at least for a little time, to sufficiently occupy her thinking with something that would be engaging enough to take her mind away from her back.

Vivian was a 'Bear' constitution (more about that later) this and some questions about her past life suggested that the best option here would be literature. She used to be an avid reader in an earlier life but had practically stopped completely after becoming a mother.

Someone else might have found enough of a distraction in good tv or movies, someone else in some kind of craft or hobby, the best escape for Vivian was going to be in books that had gripping enough plots, engaging enough characters, that she could forget about herself for a time, and do this regularly enough that those times would get longer and easier to absorb herself into.

I give the prescription of reading good books quite often, and especially to Bears and I always tell them that they must listen to the 'barometer of their heart' when they are checking in on whether they are reading the right book.

What this means is that, when they think about reading their book later that day, their heart must lift, they must feel a sense of having something good to look forwards to. If so, then they are reading the right book but, if they don't have that heart-lifting feeling when they think about it, whatever it is, it's the wrong one, close it and start again with something else.

Vivian did everything and took everything exactly as directed, in other words she went 'all in' which, of course, is usually the way with the ones who get the best results. We met again two weeks after the first appointment, she was able to sit the entire time and was clearly feeling a great renewal of hope in her ability to get well. I added Turmeric and Willow capsules at the maximum dose possible (4, twice a day) and we continued on with all the other steps.

By the 3rd visit, a month later, she was in the process of a major transformation. Without any direction from me to do so, she had taken herself off all painkillers, everything. not just the morphine-based ones, but all the anti-inflammatories and nerve blocking agents as well. If you who are reading this have been down the conventional routes with chronic back pain, then you know the kinds of drugs she was taking.

I realise that it goes against the mainstream advice to just stop drugs like this but, even though I hadn't suggested to Vivian that she could do this, she did do exactly what I recommend to people which is, 'only when you are ready, just stop', there's more about this later on as well.

A lot of what happened with Vivian, and why she improved so quickly, was that she was sleeping herself back to wellness. The combination of using plenty of relaxing herbs, plus getting plenty of healing touch from her husband, plus reading books and taking her mind off her stress, was putting her into a state where she began to have some sleeps during the day and then to again sleep much longer and deeper at night.

Her body always had the ability to heal the terrible damage to its spine, but it couldn't do it whilst she was so tense. When she relaxed and let go, the pain reduced to a fraction of what it was and this gave her the confidence to stop using drugs to block the pain.

Not having drugs in her system meant that she could feel what was going on in her body a great deal more, and this served to reinforce to her the great need to lie still, to get rest, to let her body heal.

Crucially, once she gave herself permission to rest, she could manage the pain and her body could heal itself much faster because it was able to use its inflammation in a positive manner. Inflammation is not the enemy it is made out to be, in fact it is essential to the process of breaking down damaged tissue so that new tissue can form in its place...

I saw Vivian two more times after this, both visits spaced two months apart. The notes also show that she came and got several more prescriptions of herbs and trauma salve over the following year.

As soon as I can, I put my patients 'in charge' of their treatments when we are both sure they are doing well and that they are going to be ok. So, they only have to come back to see me if things get bad again and they choose when they reduce or stop their treatment program.

The last time I saw her was about 6 months after we first met. I vividly recall her flashing smile and laughter as she talked about how she had been dancing the previous weekend and how she had felt just so good during and after it. I am so glad that she didn't give in to despair. People can heal from just about anything if they let Nature in and give everything the time and space it needs to get better.



The second case I want to share was also a situation of severe back pain, chosen because it demonstrates some other core approaches that have been found to be help others too.

Brent was in his mid-30s when we met. He had developed severe neck and upper back pain with periodic episodes where he would go into 'spasm', be unable to move his head or right arm, and need to ice his back and swallow copious amounts of anti-inflammatories to get moving again.

He'd been diagnosed with 'thoracic outlet syndrome' and had been seeing a chiropractor twice a week for several months, which he felt was helping, and he was much worse if he didn't go, but he wasn't really getting better either.

Brent was an EB constitution; cooler and dryer, again more on this later. We had a discussion around his general health, which included a number of signs of poor digestive health further back in his history. His diet clearly had too much processed food, and a close analysis of his pulse and tongue suggested his system was strongly in need of some internal cleansing. We started with the following

The Prescription

Cleansing & Muscle-Relaxing Formula

Dandelion root 80mls
Burdock root 80mls
Cramp bark 80mls
Wild Yam 60mls
Chamomile 60mls
Celandine 60mls
Juniper 60mls
Licorice root 60mls

The above liquid extracts were combined into a formula to make 540mls. This will just fit in to a 500ml amber pharm round bottle and is enough to last 4 weeks if taken at the maximum safe and effective dose of 10mls twice a day, which is what we used.

Turmeric & Willow Capsules

We import dried, concentrated extracts of Turmeric root and Willow bark and send them to a local company to be processed into capsules. These two herbs are some of the best medicines in all of Nature to help the body work through inflammation without interfering with the healing process. They are described further in the general recommendations.

Cayenne capsules

Cayenne is, of course, a very well-known spice in food, it is also a potent medicinal herb when used in the right way for the right person (who will most commonly be one of the 'cooler' constitutions). Also described further in general recommendations.

Cayenne Plaster

Brent was told to use a Cayenne plaster over his upper back twice a week and to keep it on for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours if he was ok with it.

In the same as it can help internally, Cayenne can be of much benefit to use as a plaster and these should be easily obtained online if they are not locally available.

The Work

I mentioned earlier about Brent having a history that showed he'd had digestive troubles and that he needed to improve his diet. The main reason I chose Brent's case to share is that, like many others who get chronic back pain, he had a pre-existing inflammation in his gut that was a large part of the cause of his troubles.

One of the great laws of medicine is that you must treat the cause for there to be true healing however, naturally enough, when a person has pain in their back, they seek a treatment or a remedy that will address the affected area. The problem is that if there is a deeper underlying issue in their gut that is largely contributing to the problem then no amount of back treatments or remedies will achieve a lasting cure.

You who are reading this may also have some indications that troubles in your own gut health might be involved in what's wrong. Perhaps because they pre-existed your back issue, or because you can see a pattern of improvement or worsening in your gut that that corresponds to an improvement or worsening in your back. If so, I urge you to give attention to your digestion for the health of your spine.

I touch on this subject in more depth in the 'diet matters' section on general recommendations further below. If you want to see what Brent's core 'work' was now, it was to follow a cleansing diet, as written up here

I only saw Brent a total of three times, but I see from his notes that he kept his herbal medicine going somewhat longer and also came and got two repeats of it a year later, presumably when he must have had a flare up of his symptoms. He was already making an excellent response by the 2nd visit, feeling much better in himself; less pain, more energy, better gut health.

On that 2nd visit we also had a good chat on mind-body matters because, as is so often the case, when a person has had chronic pain, they fall prey to negative thinking and anxiety.

No-one should judge a person for being affected in such ways until they have 'walked a mile in their shoes'. Chronic pain, from any source, can have a profound impact on a person's confidence, their well-being, their ability to simply be at ease in the world.

Brent and I talked about returning to the things that he used to do to relax and enjoy himself. When people get sick and stressed they stop doing those things that used to give their lives colour and joy, which of course can only make the problem worse in the long run.

When he came for his final visit he was, in his words, '90% better'. He was back doing exercise again but was being careful not to damage anything. He had made a point of catching up with the friends that he had been making excuses to avoid. Lastly, he used to love gaming on a play-station, this was a way for him to switch off and unwind without 'trying' to relax. So, like Vivian and her books, it was made part of his 'prescription' to go back to gaming. All that matters is that, whatever we do, it doesn't make things worse but that it actually works. So that was Brent.


Constitutions & the Healing Cycle


I mentioned above that Vivian was a Bear constitution and that Brent was an 'EB', an Elephant/Butterfly. This ancient way of understanding our differences, according to how we are naturally either hotter or cooler, and at the same time dryer or damper, underpins much of the understanding and approach of what kinds of foods, herbs etc, will best help a person.

Anyone can get back problems and each person needs an individualised approach. That said, it may be helpful to share some observable patterns.

For example, it is notable how some from the dryer constitutions are more prone to nerve-impingement and neurological symptoms, whereas some from the damper constitutions can be plagued by stuck 'damp heat' (an old way of describing inflammation).

Hotter constitutions get more acute flare ups of their back problems, but they may also resolve more quickly as well. Cooler constitutions are certainly more prone to getting chronic back issues and, as shown above, using warming herbs like Turmeric and Cayenne can be of much benefit.

In any case, this old way of understanding our differences is of great practical benefit in treating something that can be as challenging and complex as back pain. If you, or someone you care for, are having troubles in this area, you can learn more about the general subject of the constitutions by starting here, and then working out which constitution you or they are by going here

The Healing Cycle

After getting a sense of whether a person is naturally cooler or hotter, dryer or damper, the next level of knowledge to take the kind of personal approach that can be essential to a great result is to look into the healing cycle.

This is a fascinating subject in itself and understanding it can give great insight into what needs to be done to treat the cause and help healing happen naturally. There are four stages in the cycle; cleansing, activation, nourishment and rest.

Before I put the link for anyone who wants to learn more, I want to say that I fully recognise that many people are not ready to take the kinds of steps you see being talked about in the case histories above or in the general recommendations below.

They would rather use prescription drugs and get on with their lives with as little disturbance to their habits as possible. Yes, probably, if there are underlying issues that aren't being dealt with, there will be further trouble to come, but none of us are getting out of this alive no matter what we do and I deeply believe that people should choose their own paths as much as they possibly can.

So, these old ways are not for everyone but, that said, I can also say that, if a person is ready to let Nature in and work on the causes of what's stopping them get well, then it can be seen that they can get better from just about anything. To learn more about the cycle of healing read here

This chart can be seen in more detail in a PDF found here


General Recommendations

I trust that you will understand that the holistic treatment of chronic back problems requires an individualised approach that works alongside the person wherever they are at and, as mentioned at the beginning, if your condition is very bad or you know you need some guidance in person, then I hope you will be able to find a good herbalist who will get involved and guide you to getting and doing whatever you need to get well.

However, it also may be that the condition is not so severe, or even that it is but you just don't have the option of working with a holistic practitioner. In these instances, I want to share some general suggestions, starting with some reliably effective medicines from Nature, that are both safe and highly likely to help anyone that uses them patiently and correctly.


Turmeric & Willow

It seems that most people have now heard about Turmeric being good for inflammation. It has become very popular and there are many products available with concentrates of Turmeric, usually standardised to show they contain a certain amount of curcuminoids, the main ingredient believed to convey its therapeutic effects.

Many people report considerable benefit from taking Turmeric and, so long as it is used in substantial doses and for long enough, there is every reason to give it a proper go to see if it can help.

Perhaps somewhat paradoxically, as we usually see anti-inflammatories as being very cooling substances, Turmeric is actually rather warming, as its use in curries and other foods demonstrates.

You can feel this for yourself if you take a decent amount of it, there is a distinct warming effect that spreads outwards from the core. However, it is not unlikely that such a material would help a person with a stiff or sore back. In fact, the majority of people who are afflicted by chronic back pain come from one of the cooler constitutions, as described above, therefore part of Turmeric's benefit is in how it can help warm us up!

I trust it is already clear that we don't sell anything online, I mention this because I want to say something again about the product I described in the case histories above, whereby we get concentrates of Turmeric & Willow and combine them together.

These herbs are widely available and not expensive to obtain, so you should be able to get something similar. Willow bark has wonderful anti-inflammatory properties of its own, plus it is most certainly a cooling herb (think about the gentle weeping willow tree by the sides of a flowing river to get the sense of that) and it combines particularly well with the heating Turmeric to create a balanced duo.

Some people report rapid results from using these two herbs, but it often takes longer to see a deep, lasting benefit. My advice is to take them in generous amounts for at least a few weeks to give them a fair trial. I will use up to 4 capsules, twice a day, in severe cases, half that to maintain a benefit once the condition has shifted and they are much more comfortable and/or no longer needing drugs.

Curcuma longa (Turmeric root)



I am sure that both Turmeric and Willow are safe, appropriate, and worth trying for anyone who is being troubled by chronic back pain.

Cayenne is a third herb that may be generally recommended but is probably only likely to be of much benefit to someone from one of the cooler constitutions. That said, it is a powerful herb that has been seen to help some particularly difficult conditions.

The only way to know for sure in the case of Cayenne is to take a 'try and see' approach and, in the matter of giving it a 'trial', you must be crystal clear that you will need to find an optimal dose to truly know if it can help.

I cannot advise you on a product without seeing you in person, so what follows is merely by way of example whereby in our clinic we use capsules of pure Cayenne powder and start people on about 2 or 3 capsules a day and then advise them to see how their body feels at that level and to be prepared to add one capsule every couple of days to see if they get an improved effect or whether their body tells them it has had enough. The maximum dose we go to is 4 capsules twice a day.

The gradual build-up of the dose is for two reasons. Firstly, to get the body used to it and to make sure that it is tolerating it well and secondly to try to get a sense of how much is needed to get a result.

If you are taking too much you then you may get excess feelings of 'heat' in your body. This may be a literal feeling of being too hot or it may feel like a kind of agitation, like you are being too stimulated. If this happens it does not necessarily mean it is the wrong herb for you, just that you are having a little too much of it. Go back to a smaller dose and continue to observe to see if it is actually helping the back pain overall, more about this process and about Cayenne in general here

Capsicum minimum (Cayenne)


Maybe the person with the back pain is a cool constitution but Cayenne just doesn't agree with them. Or maybe they are a hotter constitution and it wasn't a good fit to begin with. In either case, or even if it might be preferred for its own virtues, Ginger has a well-deserved reputation for helping with pain and inflammation,

There are many ways to get Ginger into the body, and most of them are rather pleasant! One example, and a way to get a high dose of it in a palatable and most economical way is to make a decoction as per the recipe below. Cinnamon is included here as it has its own warming therapeutic benefits, but it is no problem to leave the Cinnamon out if it is not a herb to your taste.

Ginger & Cinnamon Decoction

    Chopped Fresh Ginger root
1 large dsp
    Small piece of Cinnamon stick
(approx ¼ or less)
    Squeezed fresh lemon
1 tsp (or more to taste)
1 ½ cups


Add the chopped ginger with a slightly broken up piece of cinnamon stick to 1½ cups of water. Bring to the boil then gently simmer for about 5 minutes. Take off the heat, squeeze in ½ the lemon and then strain through a fine sieve into a cup. You should have reduced the water to a little less than a full cup. Add the honey and drink whilst still hot to warm the body and soften up a stiff back!

You can also read more about Ginger here


Diet matters

The quality of our food plays always plays a pivotal role in our health and, if a person has chronic back pain, at the very least it will be wise to carefully consider if diet may be part of the issue. If so, it will likely fit into one of three areas; summarised below.

Excess sugar

For some people, too much sugar in the diet (usually in the form of bread, pasta, rice, corn, potatoes etc.) can lead to a cluster of problems, which include elevated levels of inflammation, in something called the metabolic syndrome.

Having the metabolic syndrome is genetic, you're either born with it or you aren't, but it is possible to entirely cure it by having the same kinds of foods we ate during our long evolution as hunter-gatherers. It takes time, effort and motivation, but it the person does it right they can feel like they are eating like a King or Queen. This article on the metabolic syndrome is linked here


Like the metabolic syndrome, this certainly doesn't affect everyone however, anyone who has chronic back pain must be aware of the potential for an undiagnosed food allergy or intolerance to be driving an inflammatory process deeper into their spine.

Gluten containing grains, i.e. wheat, barley, rye and oats, are a common source of food intolerances, as are dairy products, eggs and tree-nuts. If a person has any childhood history of eczema or asthma, then some significant food intolerances must almost be assumed to be a part of the problem. If they get recurrent digestive disturbance and allergic 'shiners' (dark rings under the eyes) it needs to at least be considered.

Subjects including the 'elimination and challenge method' of removing foods and then re-introducing them, the difference between allergy and intolerance, accurate vs. bogus testing, and how food intolerance may be cured are all discussed in detail here



Lastly, as all the deep traditions of natural medicine attest, and I can personally recount from my own work with many, including the case of Brent described above, a successful treatment plan may need at least some emphasis on cleansing.

When tissues are breaking down faster than they can repair themselves, a considerable part of the problem tends to be the debris that accumulates in the affected area. As much as the blood can carry the debris away, the better the back feels and functions, the less debris it can carry away (e.g. from being too cold, or too inactive, or from their already being too many waste products for the system to process) the worse it feels and functions.

A clean, alkaline, easy to digest diet is central to effective cleansing, as are some key herbal medicines. You can see some of my own favourite cleansing herbs in the picture below. There are others that, no doubt, will be different favourites for different practitioners but all these are very well known, widely available, and well-tested by time.

If this is an area that you need to explore further then, when you are ready, read the article called 'what is detoxification'. It talks about how you can know if you need to do internal cleansing, along with the kinds of foods and herbs that can reliably help, it's found here


Movement & exercise

Fact: Not moving a bad back makes it worse in the long run
Fact: Moving a bad back too much makes it worse in the long run

If you have a bad back, then you already know these facts to be true. You do have to move your back to get better, but how much?

Too much of anything can be harmful and is how many people got a bad back in the first place. You have to be open to trying things out to see if they help but, above all, you must listen to your body.

The way to not do harm when you exercise is:
1) Don't start with an expectation of what you 'should' do.
2) Keep your attention focused within and let your body be your guide.

If you practice this, you will find that your body reliably tells you when you are doing a movement wrong or when you are doing something that will bring you harm. This approach will likely mean you do less rather than more. Don't worry about that, you will get better much faster when you don't do harm but do keep moving.


Hands-on treatments

My eldest son, Ben Whelan, after completing an arduous but first-rate 5-year course in Chiropractic in Auckland, New Zealand, is currently practicing in the old University town of Heidelberg in Germany and has been getting excellent results with many people in his rapidly growing practice.

Such dedication, skill and a great intention to help from a good practitioner can make an enormous difference to a person suffering from a bad back. They will have an extensive tool-kit of methods and techniques to give hands-on help as well as the ability to help educate their patients to know how to prevent harm and take care of their needs for healing. If you have the wherewithal to find and work with a good hands-on practitioner, then by all means do so.


Drug therapies

At some point, nearly everyone with a bad back takes pain killers or anti-inflammatory drugs, many people end up taking a lot of them for a long time. Nobody wants to be stuck on drugs, but many people can feel that they simply don't have a choice; and that their pain levels would be too high without them.

Many people worry about toxicity from drugs, and may feel it in some way too. Anti-inflammatories and pain-killers are, of course, powerful chemicals with significant potential to cause toxicity and side effects but in some ways an even greater problem can happen when the drugs are tolerated well enough that the person can keep taking them day after day!

Not being able to feel the signals your body is telling you when you move, lift, stand or sit in certain ways means you can easily damage your back further. Our backs are capable of giving us so much grief because they carry the so much nerve tissue, including the spinal nerves -- which means we get to feel everything that is going on.

Intense nerve sensations from the back can be overwhelming when pain and spasm are happening, hence the universal recommendation to take drugs to reduce the feelings, but this feedback mechanism is also an essential guide for how to get better. You have to be able to feel what is going on to know when you need to move, and when you need to stop.

Many people who suffer from chronic back pain work have worked this out for themselves. Drugs may have been necessary at some point, but they can easily end up hampering rather than helping the healing process.

I never pressure my patients to stop taking drugs, not ever. What I share with them, which is usually when they are the ones to bring the subject up, is that the approach I find best is to start using herbs and do whatever else you can to treat the cause, because this approach almost always brings some significant improvements, whereupon the prospect of stopping or reducing drugs becomes much easier to contemplate.

It's definitely ok if people want to slowly withdraw from things and of course I realise that everyone in the mainstream system says that a slow withdrawal is the only way to do it, if you do it at all.

However, what I want to share from personal experience is that I have seen a lot of people, for one reason or another, just stop taking drugs, and that this approach usually serves them better than a slow withdrawal...


Body & mind

We are neither a body or a mind, we are both. It is just as wrong to say that something is purely physical as it is to say it is purely psychological. The truth is that it is always both, because everything we feel in our body we experience in our brain; at least at some level, and everything that happens to us mentally and emotionally we likewise experience in our body, at least in some way.

This is very important to grasp because, even in the most clearly physical back condition, you simply must be emotional involved with what's going on. If it hurts, then you are being affected emotionally, and being affected emotionally invariably makes the problem feel worse.

My recommendation to my own patients with chronic back problems is to not pick a side between the mind or body, but rather take care to nourish and heal both. This may mean that as well as things like movement, massage and herbs, that the person take steps to look after their mental health. Doing things that relax them and, as much as possible, avoiding things that increase stress or worry.

Some tools that may help from this site include an audio commentary called 'relaxation with pain' found near the top of the page here. There is also a detailed article on strategies that have been seen to most reliably help people in bad conditions of tension and tension found here

Further to those tools, for the person who wants to go deeper into the subject of emotional healing, there is a detailed chapter on this important subject that starts here

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd