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Chronic Back Pain

My Healthy Journey: Chronic Back Pain

The Opioid Epidemic and Chronic Back Pain

Over the last year, the leading news story in health care has been the opioid epidemic. And chronic pain, particularly chronic back pain, has been at the top of the list of reasons why people use opioids long term. 

Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks, and for many, it’s pain that can last the rest of their lives. Chronic pain can happen because of a genetic problem or disorder or an injury or accident. Many people who survive serious car accidents or workplace accidents deal with chronic pain for the rest of their lives. 

And back injuries are a leading cause of chronic pain. Business Insider took a look at a study that dug into the relationship between chronic back pain and opioid use disorder:

Amino - Chronic Back Pain and Opioid Use Disorder

Having back surgery increases your chances of relying on opioids to manage pain by over 7 times! Other back problems raise your chances by over 2 times. 

Obviously, these are also people who are likely to get long-term opioid prescriptions from their doctors.

How Doctors Treat Chronic Pain

For decades, the standard for doctors has been to treat this kind of ongoing pain with opioids. Now, with opioid drug overdoses skyrocketing, doctors are making changes.

Early estimates show that opioids took 53,000 American lives in 2016, more than those killed in car accidents.

Opioids don’t just turn off your pain receptors. They also let your brain release more dopamine, which can help relieve stress and anxiety and make you happier.

But when you take an opioid permanently, you can build a tolerance to it, which means you need more and more to manage your pain and to feel good. Both the pain relief for chronic sufferers and the way it makes you feel can become addictive.

Not to mention, opioids can change how often certain neurons in your brain fire, which means that when you’re not on opioids, you actually get more anxious and unhappy until you take more, causing serious withdrawals. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised their guidelines to help doctors try other treatments first, and doctors are hard at work to find new ways to treat pain.

Waiting for Chronic Back Pain

So why is this part of my healthy journey? I have my own chronic back pain.

I’m lucky. I’ve never taken opioids for my back pain, so I’ve avoided those issues, but I do understand what it’s like to live with pain as a part of your daily life and why people would be willing to take opioids to stop it.

My father has had a slipped disc in his back my entire life. I’ve always known what back pain looks like. I also always thought it might happen to me. Not only can these issues be hereditary, but I also take after my father physically.

Combine that with the slouch of someone who hated always being the tallest in her class as a child and now sits in front of a computer all day, and I always suspected that back problems were coming for me.

My Chronic Back Pain

The pain started for me in college, when I was no longer playing sports or working out in P.E. every day. One year, I chose to live in the loop in Chicago instead of by my campus, so as part of my daily commute, I walked about an hour and a half. That was when I really started to throw out my back once in a while.

But it wasn’t until I worked at Starbucks after college that I really started to have serious problems regularly. Being on my feet all day and bending up and down with milk jugs all the time really started to take a toll on my back.

I’ll get building back pain on one side of my lower back. It can switch sides, and one side is usually worse than the other. And when it fully goes out, my knee on that side can sometimes buckle, which if I’m not ready for it, can actually knock me down. And sometimes it’s so bad that getting out of bed, getting up and down, or just falling asleep, is a challenge. 

Getting Help

I’ve always known this pain might hit me one day, and when it started, I talked to my dad a lot about what was going on. My symptoms match his exactly.

Since I knew what the issue was from my father’s medical history, I wasn’t really worried about getting an official diagnosis.

I also already knew that I didn’t want to take opioids or painkillers long term. I’m one of those people who rarely takes even Tylenol. And when I had serious opioids after I had my wisdom teeth removed, they made me feel disoriented and nauseous.

My older brother had a serious workplace injury when I was in high school. He broke his pelvis and some of his spine. He’d seen a chiropractor, among many other specialists, when he was recovering, and he still sees one sometimes to cope with his own chronic pain.

I decided to explore that as a treatment option instead. My new chiropractor ran some X-rays and told me that my pelvis is tilted, which lets my disc slip back and forth instead of holding it in place. 

Through a series of adjustments, he worked to bring my pelvis back in line, and brought me some real relief. 

Unfortunately, I’ve done some state-hopping since then, and while I’m still in better shape than I used to be, I haven’t had time to find a new chiropractor yet. 

Starting to Deal with Your Pain

So what can you do to tackle your chronic pain? 

  1. First and foremost, go see your doctor, especially if you’ve been injured or don’t have a family history of back issues. You might need surgery or other serious help.

  2. Consider your treatment options. Surgery can be an option for many chronic back problems, but it has costs. It’s expensive and can cause its own set of pain problems. Opioids are highly addictive. Talk to your doctor about other options, like chiropractic treatment or acupuncture.

  3. Talk to your insurance company. Insurance companies want to stop the opioid epidemic too, and more plans are covering alternative therapies like chiropractic visits than ever before.

  4. Talk to your employer. If you have insurance through your employer, talk to them about making sure other therapies are covered on your group plan.

  5. Work with your care team on a treatment plan to cope with and manage your pain.

Learning to Manage Pain

So how do I manage my chronic back pain without drugs?

  • Set expectations. Knowing I would probably grow up to develop chronic back pain means I’ve always been ready for it. Accepting that pain will be a part of my life helps me feel in control.

  • Find a treatment that helps. For me, this has been regular chiropractic adjustments that help relieve tension and keep my disc in place. 

  • Get massages. I get the occasional massage to help relieve tension in the muscles in my back too. Many people with back pain get regular massages and swear by them.

  • Exercise and eat right. Even just a few extra pounds can put enormous stress on your spine if you already have back problems. And exercise can strengthen the muscles in your back. Focus on low-impact activities and strengthen your core if you’re already in pain.

    And choose your cardio wisely. Running outdoors or on inclines can be really hard on your back and pelvis. Try running on a treadmill, walking, or biking instead.

  • Try yoga, pilates, or tai chi. Yes, these are technically forms of exercise, but they’re more than that too. A new study found that yoga can actually help relieve back pain itself, but recommends gentle poses. And the routine they used is free online. I find it highly relaxing and a nice way to stretch and wind down, and you can do it as often as you want.

  • Get plenty of sleep. You’d be surprised how sleep affects other parts of your life. When I’m sleep deprived, my back is much more likely to go out. And since I struggle to sleep once my back’s out, it makes for a long sleepless week in that situation.

  • Try little treatments and tricks. I ice my back and use heating pads. I also take over-the-counter pain meds before bed if my back feels like it will go out during the night. If my back’s already out, lying on the floor (if I have someone handy to help me get up later) can help. Putting a pillow between my knees can also help while I’m trying to fall asleep.

  • Meditate. Meditation can help you clear your mind and refocus, and mindfulness can be surprisingly helpful in overcoming pain. There are easy apps you can try to get started too.

  • Talk to someone or journal. Chronic pain can be emotional. You hurt. You can’t escape it, and it can feel hopeless. Talk to a close loved one, journal about what’s happening, or visit a therapist. It can help you blow off steam, lighten your mental load, feel heard, and document your pain’s progression.

  • Practice self-care. Stress and tension can tighten up everything in your back. Find ways to reduce and fight stress in your life. And find little pleasures that you can focus on each day, like your favorite coffee, trading back rubs with your significant other, or cuddling your pet.

Most importantly, get help when you need it. Never let your pain push you so far that you can’t handle it or you fall into depression. Talk to your doctor to keep your mind and body healthy, even in the face of chronic pain.

Treating Diabetes with Glucose Checks

Treating Diabetes

There isn’t a cure for diabetes, but it is very treatable. Treating diabetes depends on which type of diabetes you have.

Type 1 Diabetes

Because those with type 1 diabetes can’t produce enough of their own insulin, they must treat their diabetes with insulin injections.

Type 2 Diabetes

For many, treatment for type 2 diabetes focuses on diet and exercise. If blood sugar levels stay high, oral medications can help your body better produce insulin.

In some cases, insulin injections are used.

For those who who are at risk of TOFI type 2 diabetes, it’s important to:

  • Exercise, which is the only way to shed fat on the abdominal organs.
  • Lower stress, which can temporarily raise your blood sugar.
  • Diet smart by avoiding “diet foods” that are actually loaded with sugar, like low-fat salad dressings and vitamin drinks.

Gestational Diabetes

Treatment for gestational diabetes needs to happen quickly to protect you and your baby.

Treatment tries to keep your blood sugar levels at the same levels as healthy pregnant women’s through a combination of these:

  • Specialized meal plans
  • Regular, scheduled physical activity
  • Daily blood sugar testing
  • Insulin injections

It’s important to work with your doctor to make a treatment plan in all cases, but especially with gestational diabetes where personal changes are important for protecting your baby.


The A1c test measures your average blood sugar level over 2-3 months. Your doctor will generally order it every 3-6 months depending on which type of diabetes you have to keep an eye on how your treatment is working.

For most adults, the American Diabetes Association’s suggests your A1c be under 7%, but your doctor will help you decide what’s best for you. Studies show that people with diabetes keep normal A1c levels live five years longer, on average.

Checking your blood sugar with your personal meter helps you manage your treatment on a day-to-day basis. It gives you info right away to help you make decisions about taking your insulin, when to exercise, and tell you if you’re on track.

Keeping normal blood sugar levels reduces the risk of high cholesterol, and controlling your cholesterol can lower heart complications by 50%.

These two tests work together to tell you how your diabetes management is going. This chart shows what an A1c level translates to in blood sugar levels:

A1c         Average Blood Sugar (mg/dl)

6%                             126

7%                             154

8%                             183

9%                             212

10%                           240

11%                           269

12%                           298

Insulin Injections

The biggest challenge to people who are treating diabetes with insulin injections is balancing exactly how much insulin you need to take, which can vary based on:

  • Food
  • Exercise
  • Stress
  • Current emotions
  • General health

Not balancing these factors and your insulin can result in hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia.

Hypoglycemia is when you eat too little food, take too much insulin or diabetes meds, or get extra exercise, which causes your blood sugar levels to be too low.

Hyperglycemia is when you eat too much food, don’t take enough insulin, or are stressed or sick, and then your blood sugar levels are too high.

The best way to know if your blood sugar is high or low is to test your levels. But it’s also good to know the warning signs:


  • Shaky
  • Dizzy
  • Nervous
  • Sweaty
  • Hungry
  • Clumsy
  • Confused
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Tingling mouth
  • Headache
  • Pale face
  • Seizure
  • Passing out


  • Going to the bathroom a lot
  • Thirsty
  • Tired
  • Weak
  • Blurry vision
  • Hungry, even when you’ve eaten.

When your blood sugar level is too low, you can:

  • Eat or drink something with 15 grams of carbs:
    • Try three glucose tablets, 4 ounces of apple or orange juice, 4 ounces regular soda, 1 tablespoon cake frosting or three Jolly Ranchers.
    • Wait 15 minutes, and then check your blood glucose level again.
    • If your blood glucose is still too low, eat another 15 grams of carbs. Wait another 15 minutes, and then check your blood glucose again. You may want to keep eating until you feel better, but it’s very important to wait the full 15 minutes.

If you or your care team feel your signs are serious, inject glucagon which is the opposite of insulin—it raises your blood glucose level.

If your blood sugar is high, it’s important to remember that one high blood sugar reading isn’t a big deal, it happens to everyone from time to time. But if you keep running high day after day, talk to your doctor.

No matter what, it’s important to talk to your doctor and care team about the best way to manage your diabetes and how to handle these situations.

Schedule Your Doctor's Appointment

Getting the Most Out of Your Doctor’s Appointment

Scheduling Your Doctor’s Appointment

Prevention is important to maintaining good health, so it is important to know what you need each year at your doctor’s appointment.

Blood Pressure

This should happen at every doctor’s appointment, even if you don’t currently have high blood pressure, to track your levels over time.

Flu Shot

This yearly shot protects you and those you care about from the flu.

Yearly Blood Tests

You should get these blood tests at your yearly physical doctor’s appointment:


This yearly test can detect early signs of kidney damage.

Dental Exam

You should set up this kind of doctor’s appointment with your dentist every 6 months for a regular cleaning.

Dilated Eye Exam

This yearly doctor’s appointment is when your eye doctor puts eye drops into your pupil so they can get a better view of the back of your eye.

Pneumococcal Shot

This one-time shot prevents blood, brain, and lung infections, like pneumonia, caused by a certain bacteria.


Those with diabetes should have this test at doctor’s appointments 2 to 4 times a year to help track their blood sugar levels long-term.

Foot Exam

This should happen at every doctor’s appointment for those with diabetes.

At Your Doctor’s Appointment

Ask for help.

Never be afraid to ask your doctor for advice. They want to help you be your best!

  • Prepare – Organize your questions ahead of time, and feel free to write them down if you’re afraid of forgetting anything.
  • Be Specific – Detailed information can help your doctor make your treatment plan and make sure it is working for you.
  • Tell the Truth – Be honest and direct with your doctor. Sharing information about how you feel will help you stay healthy.

Ask questions.

Not sure what to ask at your doctor’s appointment? Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What’s my blood pressure, cholesterol, and health goals?
  • How frequently should I check my blood pressure?
  • What lifestyle changes can I make to lower my blood pressure and cholesterol? Should I start a healthy diet or exercise plan?
  • What are the common side effects of my meds? Will any of my other meds, supplements, or foods interact with any of my meds?

Stay calm.

Do you get nervous or anxious when you go to doctor’s appointments? You’re not alone, and it can actually cause your blood pressure to rise while you’re there. Research shows that about 20% of patients with mild cases of high blood pressure see their blood pressure rise at doctor’s appointments. This is sometimes called white-coat syndrome.

Track your blood pressure at home and compare readings with those taken in the office to see if this is happening to you. Take these readings with you to your next doctor’s appointment and talk to them about it to make sure they get an accurate account of your blood pressure.

And once they know, your doctor can also help calm your fears, like by explaining exactly what they’re doing as they go.

Hoarding Warning Signs

Warning Signs of Hoarding

What Is Hoarding?

Lately, it seems like almost every cable TV channel has a show about hoarding and people who live in less-than-great conditions because they can’t let go of anything, even trash.

While these people represent extreme cases, even mild hoarding can be a problem. As we get older, we tend to hang onto things. This often creates dangerous living areas, especially for seniors who have issues with balance and falling.

Clutter can also lead to other problems. It makes it harder to keep track of things you need like bills, meds, keys, and contact info for your friends and loved ones.

People with hoarding disorders usually save things because they believe these things will be needed in the future, they have emotional significance, and because having these things makes them feel safer and more secure. Because of this, it’s very different than collecting, when people careful find and display special items, like stamps or model cars.

Hoarding animals is one of the most dangerous forms of hoarding. Pets in these situations often aren’t cared for properly, which is dangerous for them and for you because of the unsanitary conditions this can lead to.

Signs of Hoarding

    • Cluttered living spaces, especially when it stops you from being able to use rooms for their intended purposes, like not being able to cook in the kitchen.
    • Extreme attachment to unimportant objects.
    • Letting trash build up to an unhealthy level.
    • Keeping stacks of newspapers and junk mail, or collecting lots of useless items.
    • Moving items from one pile to another without ever throwing anything away.
    • Trouble making decisions about and organizing your stuff.
    • Having a hard time letting others touch or borrow your things.
    • Embarrassment over your home.
    • Limited social interactions.

Getting Help

But hoarding is a treatable mental illness. Therapy where you talk with a doctor and certain drugs, usually ones used for depression, can help. Sticking to a treatment plan made with your doctor and support groups can also help you avoid hoarding.

You can also get help cleaning out your home with organizers, local assistance, or your friends and family. And you may find you have a lot of great things that you could donate to make someone else’s life better.

If hoarding affects you or someone you love, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. They can help you find a therapist who can work with you to make a treatment plan and recommend resources to help you clean up the clutter.