It has been a while since I did a post on Back Pain. Honestly, I thought I said everything I needed to say on the topic. For those new to the site, let me quickly recap my background with back pain. For many years I suffered with episodes of lower back pain. Then in 2009, I decided to make ending my back pain my number one health priority. Unlike prior attempts that all failed, I took the assumption that I knew nothing about back pain and did some serious research to discover the cause of my back pain.
My investigation took me to Dr. Sarno, whom I rediscovered over on Conditioning Research. Dr. Sarno believes the root cause of most back pain is psychological. This is a difficult concept to understand at first. The pain is real, but the root causes are based in stress. The back pain is a diversion tactic used by our brain to redirect our attention away from what it perceives as the greater psychological pain. For those interested in that topic, I did a more in detail post titled The Psychology of Back Pain.
With that long background out of the way, I want to bring up a topic I was unaware until a few weeks ago. There appears to be a link between excessive coffee drinking and lower back pain. At my local Farmers Market I was introduced to an acupuncturist. He was interested in my coffee detox experience. Then he volunteered that he tells all his patients with lower back pain to stop drinking coffee. I was puzzled. He explained that the adrenal glands are located in the lower back region. Stress the adrenals and you could trigger lower back pain. He had been an acupuncturist for many years and had a long track record of success with this advice. He himself only drinks a single coffee a day and believes tea is much easier on the adrenals and doesn’t trigger back pain.
When I got home I read Is Caffeine Causing Your Back Pain? on The Healthy Home Economist. From that post:
Here’s what happens as explained to me by a chiropractor friend. Stressing out the adrenals all the time with an unchecked caffeine habit weakens not only the adrenal glands but the entire area around them which includes the lower back. Weak adrenals also suck vital nutrients away from the ligaments and tendons as keeping an important organ like the adrenals happy is more important that strong connective tissue.
The body is very good at sending nutrients to the area that needs them most. Trouble is, the less vital areas that get shortchanged in favor of the adrenals – such as the ligaments and tendons – suffer and over time, the first ligaments to go are typically the ones that support the sacroiliac joint which supports the weight of the entire body.
Fascinating. I instantly thought back to the times in my life when I had the most back pain. Sure enough it was the periods I was drinking the most coffee. So does the caffeine theory invalidate the Sarno theory? I actually think they are complementary. Sarno explains that people with control issues have the most back pain. The need to feel in control is very common with back pain suffers. This morning the idea popped in my head that one of the reasons I drink coffee and tea all day is to control my mood. Being below baseline is an uncomfortable feeling, because it represents a loss of control. But one coffee later and I’m back in control. The problem is this goes on all day long without breaks for years or decades.
In my post Medicating Mood With Caffeine, I refer to my caffeine breaks as pockets of joy. There is no doubt that caffeine can elevate mood, but it comes at a cost. Not only are you potentially causing lower back pain, but you might be masking the fact you feel out of control without stimulants. At least that is the thought that came to me this morning.
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