Healing Chronic Back Pain
May 21, 2019
Join Srinika at this special workshop, where she will be sharing recommendations for healing the inflammation that perpetuates chronic back pain. With special guest June Kamerling, owner of El Cerrito Fitness an Pilates Instructor. You will also gain practical knowledge on how specific movements and improving posture can alleviate back pain by strengthening the core muscles that your back needs for support.
June has been a Pilates instructor for 10 years and specializes in helping people get stronger without injury as well as recovering from injury through Pilates exercises.
Srinika Narayan: Hi, I’m Srinika Narayan. We’re here at my Albany office and we are going to be talking about chronic low back pain. I’m an acupuncturist and nutritional analyst, and I’ve been doing this work for 17 years. I’m joined by my colleague June Kamerling, who is a Pilates instructor and owner of El Cerrito Fitness, Pilates, and Personal Training.
Srinika Narayan: June, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?
June Kamerling: Sure, yeah. I started out doing massage about … A really long time ago, maybe 30 years ago. Eventually, long story short, I went into learning Pilates. That was about 12 year ago. I’ve been in my studio in El Cerrito now for ten years, and I’ve always been fascinated by how the body works, how we move, how we get injured and how we get uninjured.
June Kamerling: That’ kind of what I do, I work with people who want to be fit, and I work with people who are coming out of injury or trying to prevent injury.
Srinika Narayan: So, I chose the topic of chronic back pain because it’s so prevalent, and the modalities we hear about for treating it are usually chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy, surgery, pain killers. We don’t hear that much about Pilates or nutritional analysis, but these two methods, I have found, are actually the most effective for chronic back pain in my experience. So, I thought we’d shed some light on how these modalities can help with chronic back pain.
Srinika Narayan: June, I’d first like to start by asking you, many people have heard of Pilates, but don’t quite know what it is and how it works. How do you describe it to people?
June Kamerling: Yeah, so Pilates was developed in the early 20th Century by a man named Joseph Pilates. It was developed to strengthen the deep core muscles of the body. When people hear of core muscles, they think of the abdominal muscles, but it’s much more than that. It’s the shoulder girdle, the small muscles all along the spine, the pelvic floor, as well as the abdominal muscles.
June Kamerling: All of these muscles need to be strong, engaged, in order to protect the organs, the low back. Some of the benefits of Pilates are flexibility, stability, strength, centering, balancing. Pilates is very much a mind-body exercise. By doing Pilates properly, we learn proper posture, proper form, and much less risk of injury.
Srinika Narayan: Interesting. Why would someone come to Pilates for chronic back pain? I know from my experience, I went to Pilates just to check it out. I was curious, I’d heard so much about it. And then, what I found was the side benefit was that it got rid of my chronic back pain. I had some slight chronic back pain for many years, and Pilates took care of it, basically.
Srinika Narayan: So, how does that work? Why would someone come in for chronic back pain?
June Kamerling: Well, when our core muscles are not properly engaged, or when we’re in poor posture, then it puts stress on different parts of the body. In Pilates, we learn how to have proper posture, and by teaching someone how to strengthen their core muscles, as we teach in Pilates, we are protecting the low back, essentially.
June Kamerling: We address each individual’s personal needs. Everybody’s very different, so what works for you, for your low back pain, might not work for the next person for their low back pain. That’s why we come to Pilates.
Srinika Narayan: Okay, great. Why would someone come to Pilates versus physical therapy, for instance?
June Kamerling: Often, people start with physical therapy because that’s what their doctor prescribes, because that’s what their insurance covers. The downside of that is that physical therapists have a very limited time to work with the patient, and they only are allowed a certain amount of sessions to work with the patient. Many physical therapists are very educated in Pilates, so sometimes they don’t need to go further than that.
June Kamerling: Very often, a physical therapist will refer their patient to us after Pilates, so it’s sort of a double-edged sword that sometimes physical therapy’s enough, and sometimes it’s just not enough, and so that’s why people would come to Pilates after physical therapy.
Srinika Narayan: So, how does Pilates compare to modalities such as chiropractic or acupuncture, when it comes to low back pain?
June Kamerling: All of those are really great modalities, they’re all really different, and they serve different purposes. If you, let’s say, have a movement pattern that you’ve been doing your whole life that has created your back pain, and you go to a chiropractor, the chiropractor may adjust you and realign you. But then, you get off the table and you go back to doing the same thing that you’ve been doing, the adjustment’s not going to hold.
June Kamerling: I think the same may be true, I don’t know enough about Chinese medicine, but I think the same may be true. You go for an acupuncture treatment, but the problem is not just eliminating the pain, the problem is that you’re not moving correctly. Again, in that case, you need to do more. You need to do some kind of exercise in order to, essentially, cure and correct and solve the problem.
Srinika Narayan: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. How do you sustain that level of healing? Does one have to keep coming to Pilates, and how often do you suggest people come to Pilates?
June Kamerling: Bottom line is we have to move our body somehow, whatever that mode of exercise would be. Yes, I do recommend Pilates as a continued way of exercise. In my studio, sometimes people do private sessions and then they go to classes because it’s more economical for them, and then we give homework. We give people exercises to do at home. Some people will do homework, some people won’t do homework, but there are some very basic exercises that you can do to continue your healing, and to stay strong and continue in the right form.
Srinika Narayan: Okay. Wow, great.
June Kamerling: So, how about you, Srinika? People don’t usually consider nutritional analysis or any kind of nutritional anything when they have what they think is a musculoskeletal issue?
Srinika Narayan: Right, that makes sense, but when people have gone, let’s say, time and time again for a chiropractic adjustment, or for acupuncture, and they’re not getting better, then we have to suspect something a little bit deeper, which is a systemic inflammation or a chronic inflammation in the body.
Srinika Narayan: Nutritional imbalances can definitely play a big part in that. First of all, food sensitivities. People do have food sensitivities, and some of this could be caused by too much wheat creating inflammation, or too much sugar, that always creates too much inflammation. For some people, it’s coffee or chocolate.
Srinika Narayan: So, what I do is kind of take a look and use muscle testing to find out are there any food sensitivities that are creating inflammation that’s then creating the back pain?
Srinika Narayan: Second thing is toxicities. We are exposed to all kinds of things, and those things can get in our bodies and lodge in different organs, and then what we find is, again, inflammation. Those organs or the spinal cord is inflamed from a toxicity that’s gotten stuck there.
June Kamerling: What do you find as the common culprits for low back pain?
Srinika Narayan: It could be a wide variety of things that I just mentioned, food sensitivities, but other ones are artificial sweeteners and flavor enhancers. Those are everywhere, so those could be Splenda or aspartame that’s in your gum, or mints, or a beverage. They could also be hidden things like MSG, which goes by many different names, as well as natural flavors, which are in many different processed foods.
Srinika Narayan: Too many of these foods will create problems, basically. Artificial sweeteners and flavor enhancers are neurotoxins, they love to lodge in the spinal cord and create problems.
Srinika Narayan: Second thing is mercury. This is something people don’t think of at all, but basically too much fish can bring in mercury, leaky dental amalgams can bring in mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin as well, it can go and [inaudible 00:08:47] the spinal cord and create problems.
Srinika Narayan: Electromagnetic frequencies, that’s a biggie. So, EMF fields that are coming from a router, a cell phone. People keep cell phones in their back pocket or in their front pockets, very close to the spinal cord. That radiation can bother the spine and then create back pain.
Srinika Narayan: But then there’s a whole host of other things. GMOs, genetically modified toxicities. Pesticides, other heavy metals like lead or cadmium, those can do the same thing, lodge in some of the nearby organs, like the kidneys or adrenals, and create problems.
June Kamerling: That’s fascinating. But, specifically, how would something like an artificial sweetener affect back pain, or cause back pain?
Srinika Narayan: Yeah, sure. Sure. I mean, we ingest it and then they are designed to get our nervous system riled up. That’s actually what their designed for, to make us like something more. MSG, artificial sweetener, it gets us kind of happy. It goes to our nervous system. By going to our nervous system, that means it’s going to that nervous system tissue, it’s going to the spinal cord, it’s going to the nerves, and it can lodge there. Too much of that can start creating localized pain, or sciatica, which is where you have a nerve running from your back down your leg that’s inflamed.
Srinika Narayan: I have many cases where people come in with back pain and when I test them, it’s artificial sweetener, and I ask them okay, have you been changing your beverages lately? Some people say oh, yeah, I’ve stopped smoking and started chewing gum. And oh, voila, they started chewing gum every day, and now that artificial sweetener’s getting in their system and creating problems. So, yeah, that’s basically how that can happen.
Srinika Narayan: But, you know, even getting rid of the inflammatory factors, I still refer to manual therapy such as Pilates, because basically there’s still an imbalance in the body that’s created once a back pain has been around for a while. Yes, I get the inflammatory things out, that sets the body in good motion, but then we have to kind of correct the alignment and the imbalance that’s gone on. So, that’s where I refer to people like you, June.
Srinika Narayan: Tell me, June, what are some general exercises that you would recommend for people with back pain?
June Kamerling: There’s a very basic exercise that we teach everybody, new people who come in, and this exercise is also great for new moms. This exercise is fantastic for everybody.
June Kamerling: We sit up straight in our chairs, and feel your sits bones under your bottom. Imagine the pelvis is a bowl, and you want the bowl to be upright. So, you don’t want the bowl tilted forward, you don’t want the bowl tilted back.
June Kamerling: By sitting this way, you’re going to create a little space in your low back, and that’s our natural low back curve, we call that neutral spine. From there, we take a breath in, and then on an exhale, we’re going to pull the belly button to the spine, and blow the air out like you’re blowing up a balloon. Just pull your belly in as hard as you can, keeping that neutral spine while you do that.
June Kamerling: I would do that maybe eight to ten times. You could do that several times a day, you could do this before you go to sleep, you could do this when you wake up, you can do this just to relax or when you’re stressed. It’s great exercise for strengthening and mind-body relaxation.
June Kamerling: You can also do this exercise on all fours, on your hands and knees. You want to be sure to keep your neutral spine as you’re doing that. Those are just two very basic exercises that anybody could do anywhere, you don’t have to know anything else about Pilates in order to do those exercises.
Srinika Narayan: Cool. Great. One thing about going to a Pilates class, I’ve been very impressed with the machines that are there at your study, and how Pilates movements can isolate muscles so specifically, and work muscles I didn’t even know I have.
June Kamerling: Yeah, we use the reformer, that’s that table that you often see. The original reformer was an Army cot with bedsprings, so they’ve come along way.
June Kamerling: It’s this movable carriage, and it has springs attached to it, it has ropes attached to it, and then different little gizmos that you can use while you’re doing the exercises. Yes, you can get very specific with certain muscles by using that, as well as some of the other Pilates apparatus.
Srinika Narayan: Yeah, that machine is fun to use, it’s very springy.
June Kamerling: What are some recommendations that you have for people with stubborn back pain?
Srinika Narayan: Number one, about electromagnetic frequencies, don’t keep a cell phone in your pocket. See what’s in your bedroom, don’t keep a cell phone on in your bedroom. Put it on airplane mode, make sure no laptops in your bedroom are on, definitely don’t keep a router in your bedroom. That’s kind of number one, actually.
Srinika Narayan: Number two, read labels. Really, most of your food shouldn’t be processed foods anyway that you have to read labels, but for those that are, read the labels and make sure there’s not a whole bunch of ingredients that you can’t pronounce, or that it contains aspartame or sucralose, or too much sugar, really. That, too, causes problems.
Srinika Narayan: Beware of too much sugar, beware of too much caffeine. That, a lot of times, creates low back problems. Coffee kind of aggravates the nervous system, so the spinal cord, and wears on the adrenals and kidneys, which are located in the back.
Srinika Narayan: And here’s a surprising one, beware of fish intake, especially tuna. I know you don’t hear many alternative health practitioners talk about this. In fact, they’re usually like “eat more fish, eat more fish,” but from what I have seen with nutritional analysis, fish brings in a lot of mercury, and the mercury does create problems, including back problems.
Srinika Narayan: Something to do on a regular basis, liver cleansing herbs are very helpful. This could be in supplement form, but it can also be just kind of a daily tea, a milk thistle tea, or a dandelion leaf tea. Cleaning out the liver tends to clean out the whole body, and get inflammation and some of these toxicities out, basically.
Srinika Narayan: And then, just anti-inflammatory foods in general. These are most vegetables. They clean out the liver, and reduce inflammation in the body. Those are my general suggestions.
June Kamerling: I remember when I came to you initially with my stubborn, chronic low back pain that Pilates was not helping. You suggested that I take certain foods out of my diet, and I did, and my back pain went away. It was amazing.
June Kamerling: I understand, from all this, how a nutritional analysis can definitely address chronic back pain and other issues that Pilates doesn’t always address. In my clientele, when something is not working, when somebody’s not progressing, you’re usually the next person that I think of, because I think that there must be something, some kind of inflammation, something beyond their movement patterns.
June Kamerling: I think our modalities work really well together.
Srinika Narayan: And, our modalities are important, not just for specific issues, but general well-being. Nutrition is really the cornerstone to health, and such a key element of self-care. With movement-
June Kamerling: Yeah, Pilates can set you up for proper movement, proper alignment for the rest of your life.
Srinika Narayan: Yeah, great. Thank you so much for being with us, June.
June Kamerling: Thank you for having me.