During the lockdown last year, 26-year-old Ritam Bhowmik started running on the open ground due to closed gyms. Unsupervised training and lifestyle issues led to him suffering from a cervical disc bulge along with severe cervical pain.
He isn't the only one. Multiple studies have indicated a positive correlation between covid-induced lockdown and lower back pain over the last two years. Clearly, lifestyle is a key factor here. With work from home becoming the norm and professionals setting up workstations at home, desk jobs are becoming even more sedentary. Many young millennials today suffer from various aches and pains, the most common being Lower Back Pain(LBP). LBP is a common musculoskeletal problem that affects people globally. More than 577 million suffer from LBP, i.e. more than 1 in every ten people.
Most people have resigned their fate to this usually recurring pain as OTC pain killers offer only a temporary fix, and there is a plethora of misinformation regarding pain management. Leading experts state otherwise. Pain doesn't have to become chronic, believes Kolkata-based sports injury rehabilitator Dr. Jaideep Das Choudhuri. "With supervision and expert guidance, probability of pain recurring reduces significantly," he says, pointing out that the leading cause of LBP or any sort of chronic pain is lack of movement and a sedentary lifestyle. Couple that with poor food habits and erratic sleep patterns, and it is a recipe for disaster. "Keep yourself moving. The more you sit, the more issues you will develop. If you get up from your desk every hour and walk for even five minutes, it will prevent these issues from cropping up", he says.
Another reason for pain is a poor diet. In general, foods today are over processed and stripped of their nutrients. As a result, micronutrients required in the body to function are often not available for the body, leading to various deficiencies that may affect the back. Take, for instance, vitamin D deficiency. A 2019 pan-India study found that 70-90 per cent of Indians are deficient in vitamin D, a condition that arises due to inadequate diets as well as reduced exposure to sunlight. The covid-induced lockdowns may have worsened things. Vitamin D is a crucial fat-soluble vitamin required for optimum growth and bone health which keeps aches and pains at bay. "We are getting less vitamin D and micronutrients than we should. It's important to manage vitamin D deficiency with vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish and eggs. Supplements can also be taken whenever needed under the supervision of a physician", says Kolkata based sports nutritionist Rudra Maitra.
Taking a holistic approach may be the only way to tackle back pain. "Medication and supplements are important up to a certain extent in the management of pain after which guided rehabilitation under a trained professional can help one recover well", according to Dr Choudhuri. In addition, he recommends mobility, strength training, and Pilates to manage chronic pain effectively. Businessman Adarsh Tulshan, 42, must agree. He recalls that the lack of movement during the first lockdown had him suffering from recurring back pain for over a year. Finally, he turned to a good diet and Pilates to manage it better. "Back pain is related to a dysfunctional core and not enough mobility in the spine. Pilates is a great way to rehabilitate post an injury as it is low in intensity. Pilates principles can prevent injury by not only increasing the strength of one's muscles but also by improving postural awareness, so the likelihood of injury is lessened", says Pilates instructor Ashima Rangi, who has her own studio in Kolkata.
Additionally, several alternative forms of treatment are also gaining traction, and people seem to be benefiting from it. Delhi-based journalist Sonia Sarkar went from one physiotherapist to another before finding something that worked for her-- manual intervention therapy, including cupping therapy and dry needling. "The right diagnosis is key in pain management," points out Sarkar. "Finding the reason behind your pain and getting the right treatment, including physiotherapy, is essential to living a pain-free life," she adds. Graphic designer Manoj Vijayan from Bangalore, on the other hand, feels that methods like Reiki, Jin Shin Jyutsu, acupressure, EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) can be extremely helpful, especially as an adjunct to conventional medical care. "I have had some success with energy medicine i.e. Reiki and Jin Shin Jyutsu to relieve pain", he says,
It is also important to look at the psychological aspect of pain. Vinit Matthew Baptist, founder of Zest Fitness Studio in Kolkata, agrees. "Chronic persistent pain may be experienced due to a combination of biological, psychological and social factors," he says, pointing out that pain is multifactorial, a combination of our past traumatic experiences, fear of movements, and life stressors, amongst others. According to him, the best way to deal with it is by using what he calls the biopsychosocial (BPS) model. "We need to start listening and validating the patients via pain education/counselling along with making them move. This builds self-efficacy and helps to manage pain over time," says Baptist, India's first functional range conditioning mobility specialist.
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Bhowmik has finally managed to figure out how best to manage his pain. Over six months, with the help of Pilates and strength training, he has made a full recovery. "With strength and conditioning, my improvement was exponential. I worked on my back and concentrated on strengthening my core. It is completely possible to heal from the pain though the process might be arduous," he says.
Aditi Sarawagi is an independent journalist and writes books for children.