Ayurvedic Treatment for back pain – My Story
Back pain. Hip pain. Neck Pain. Surgery. Painkillers. Been there, done them all.
I was 14 years old when I had multiple back surgeries. That was 26 years ago and for all this time, I have spent my life learning how to overcome and manage back pain. If you are struggling with back pain or know someone who is, this article is for you. Read on.
Between the ages of 26 and 35, I regularly visited a chiropractor, massage therapist, rolfer, and acupuncturist to manage back and neck pain. I was told that I would need to see a chiropractor for the rest of my life because my back needed “continual maintenance”. And this was largely true because of the metal rod fixed to my spine.
But how I maintain my back, today, is totally different than the routine of weekly visits to the chiropractor or RMT. Four years ago, my quality of life was radically transformed, due to one pivotal experience: a “panchakarma” or detoxification program, based on a system of medicine born 5,000 years ago in India.
The Lifestyle of Pain Management
Once upon a time, I was your typical globetrotting, highly stressed executive, who traveled for work constantly. When I was not traveling, I was glued to a computer screen, sitting at a desk for at least eight hours a day, often more. This type of lifestyle is common to millions of executives and what we don’t realize is that the lifestyle itself, however enthralling or financially lucrative, is a significant contributor to back and neck pain.
Due to my lifestyle, I necessarily had a chiropractor in different cities – London, Vancouver, Dubai, Toronto, Los Angeles, and even Bangalore. It was hard to go more than two weeks without a chiropractic adjustment. My boss encouraged me to learn yoga, but I didn’t think it would help. So I ignored him, only delaying the inevitable.
Sometimes we get hooked on a particular method of therapy, self-healing, or even self-medicating. In my case, I was dogmatic about chiropractic and I actually loved all of my different alternative doctors and recommended patients to them.
As an advocate and devotee of various forms of alternative and complementary medicine (ACM), my diet was pretty disciplined. I ate and preached about gluten-free, organic food. I switched from white sugar to brown sugar to various sugar alternatives; from dairy milk to almond milk and then to rice milk; from tonic water to sparkling water to plain lemon water. I reduced my intake of meat and increased my intake of vegetarian food. I worked out at the gym at least 6 times a week, for 2 to 3 hours a day. Sound familiar?
My different ACM therapists were fantastic. The best. There was only one problem: pain relief was always temporary and I was not willing to try anything new or change my lifestyle. I continued to see the chiropractor week after week. I tried to direct my acupuncturist to stick the needle in different parts of my body.
In the process of all these ACM therapies, I spent a lot of money and was totally dependent on others to relieve my pain.
If the above lifestyle sounds familiar to you or if you simply want to optimize your health and improve your overall quality of life, consider Ayurveda: an effective, non-surgical solution for back pain, weight loss, rejuvenation and health transformation.
Before you read on, let’s be clear: Ayurveda is not a panacea for all health ailments, but 80% of people do see dramatic and often unintended health benefits as a result of Ayurvedic detoxification programs. Ayurvedic treatment for back pain can be highly beneficial.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a system of health care with origins in Ancient India. As a scientific practice, it works on the premise that the body is composed of three doshas, or energies, that need to be “balanced” for us to be healthy.
Perhaps what distinguishes Ayurveda from other medical disciplines is that it focuses on detoxifying and balancing the body and mind. Ayurveda is not about finding temporary relief of aches and pains, but rather searching for the underlying cause of pain and treating its roots. There can be emotional causes (e.g. stress) as well as physical causes (e.g. poor digestion), and usually both.
Physical ailments, according to Ayurveda, are often linked to lifestyle choices, poor nutrition, and poor digestion – all of which contribute to the accumulation of toxins in the body as well as energy imbalances. Toxins include undigested food deposited in our joints and open spaces throughout the body. It is this undigested matter, which is among the chief causes of pain wherever it is felt.
How does Ayurveda address back pain? Can you feel relieved from an Ayurvedic Treatment for back pain?
Most Ayurveda programs for treating spine and neck conditions involve treatments to detoxify the body. The presence of toxins, lodged in various difficult-to-reach places, is usually responsible for inflammation, stiffness, and weakness, which we experience as pain. So detoxification is a key aspect of any serious Ayurveda program whose goal is to eliminate back pain.
Now you may be thinking, “How can toxins cause back pain?” Or you might be thinking, “But my problem is different. I have scoliosis or a mechanical issue.” These are valid questions and doubts.
In my case, I had scoliosis too. But back surgery didn’t heal or prevent back pain. It only stopped my spine’s curvature from getting worse. And the chiropractor couldn’t heal my pain either because the underlying issue was toxicity, not just a subluxation or vertebral misalignment. Toxicity was causing inflammation, weakness, stiffness, and tenderness throughout my body – in the lower back, hip flexors, glutes, knees, and even my wrists.
In Ayurveda, detoxification is achieved through a combination of internal and external treatments. Internal treatments involve consuming certain herbal medicines and enemas, based on ancient formulations and remedies. External treatments involve special massages, baths, scrubs, ointments, and other physical treatments.
Equally important, no back treatment program or panchakarma is complete or even sustainable without a commitment to yoga. Yoga is a necessary part of Ayurveda. It accelerates the process of detoxification and calms the mind. It improves posture, mobility, flexibility and blood circulation. It helps to strengthen the body, particularly the lower back. It also activates various energy centers in the body, known as the chakras, which facilitate healing and vitality.
Shortly after quitting my job in 2014 and taking up Ayurveda and yoga, I discovered that my ex-boss was absolutely right – yoga can heal back pain. Particularly if used in conjunction with Ayurveda.
How long does the treatment program take? | Ayurvedic Treatment for back pain
The shortest program for back pain relief is typically around 10 days. However, some people have seen dramatic results in as little as six days. But honestly speaking, it is rare and unusual to see significant results in less than a week.
If you are someone who has had back pain for more than 10 years, then it is strongly recommended that you undergo a proper panchakarma (detoxification) that requires around 3-4 weeks. Admittedly, this is difficult for most people, due to work and other commitments.
In my case, my first experience with Ayurveda lasted for 12 days, in March 2014, in India. When I went back to Canada, I witnessed such dramatic changes in my body that I came back to India one month later and did another week of treatment in late April 2014. Then I came back for another week of treatment in September 2014. Over this timeframe, I lost about 20 pounds and outgrew my addiction to chiropractic.
Yoga became my new addiction and, as a result of what I had learned in India, I could practice yoga anywhere and at anytime, simply by putting a towel down on the ground or floor to perform my yoga practice.
Whether you’re in perfect health or not, don’t wait to start Ayurveda and yoga. In fact, Ayurveda recommends detoxifying your body at least once a year, if not once a season. And if you’re already a yogi or yogini, but have not undergone panchakarma, you’re missing a core enabler of the yogic mind and lifestyle.
Are the results from an Ayurvedic treatment for back pain long lasting?
I have seen people who were scheduled for back surgery experience such a dramatic turnaround through Ayurveda that they no longer required surgery, even years after taking Ayurvedic treatment. However, everyone responds differently to Ayurveda.
Whether the results of Ayurveda are achieved and sustained really depends on you and your commitment to the process and journey. Ayurveda is not a one-time activity but rather a way of life. The term “Ayurveda” is translated as “The Science of Life”. It goes beyond a mere two or three weeks of treatment. It is a comprehensive lifestyle.
In general, the likelihood or probability of success with Ayurveda can be dramatically increased if you are willing to:
- Travel to India for your first Ayurveda program,
- Undergo “pancharkarma” for at least 2 to 3 weeks,
- Attend yoga sessions every day during Ayurvedic treatment,
- Drink medicated ghee during the course of an Ayurveda program,
- Make incremental improvements to your diet and lifestyle,
- Forgo smoking, alcohol and non-vegetarian food during panchakarma treatment,
- Avoid caffeinated hot and cold drinks during Ayurvedic treatment,
- Follow your Ayurvedic doctor’s advice rigorously,
- Detoxify your body at home, at least once every 3-4 months,
- Practice yoga in your home country, ideally on a daily basis.
The above is indeed a tall order for most people. But ask yourself: “What I am willing to do to be free of back pain?” And, “What is the potential consequence and cost of surgery and weekly visits to the chiropractor, acupuncturist and massage therapist?”
If you are honest in answering the above questions, you may come to the conclusion that Ayurveda is certainly worth a shot. And the above list of key success factors is actually not as onerous as it appears. Each of the key success factors becomes a habit. In totality, it forms a lifestyle. The Ayurveda lifestyle.
Do I really have to drink ghee during an Ayurvedic treatment for back pain?
According to Ayurveda, medicated ghee or clarified butter is one of the most effective ways to detoxify the entire body. No other substance can clean a body as deeply or as thoroughly as ghee, according to most Ayurvedic doctors that I have met.
Medicated ghee is typically administered in small doses of 10 to 15 mL, on a daily basis during an Ayurveda program. Alternatively, and only if your health so allows, it can be administered in large, gradually increasing doses of 30 mL, 60 mL, 90 mL, and so forth, over a period of 3 to 7 days. This procedure is known as snehapana or the ghee-drinking process.
Not everyone can drink ghee and not everyone is made to drink ghee. But those who are prescribed ghee and able to consume it according to the recommended dosages and along with the recommended diet are likely to experience significant relief from back pain as well as numerous other positive physical changes.
What sorts of physical treatments are conducted?
In Ayurveda, there is a wide range of body treatments for addressing back pain. Each type of treatment typically has innumerable variations because of the different oils and herbs that can be used to deliver a given treatment.
Pictured below are some examples of treatments commonly used in Ayurveda for back pain relief and spinal care.
Kizhi is a treatment that involves rubbing and/or gently pounding the body with one or more bundles or pouches filled with medicated herbs. The bundles are usually heated in a frying pan, with or without medicated oil. There are numerous variations of this treatment. Not all resorts or Ayurveda centers administer it properly and each has it owns variation of preparing and administering the Kizhi.
Kati Vasti involves the pooling of warm to hot oil around the lower back region. This helps to soothe and relax the muscles at the base of the spine. Depending on the quality of oil used, it can also penetrate through the skin and lubricate the vertebrae. At a deeper level, kati vasti unblocks the lower chakras, allowing prana or “life force” or energy to flow more freely through the spine and body.
Pizhichil involves the continual pouring of warm to hot medicated oil all over the body or a specific region of the body. It takes up to six therapists to administer this therapy properly, depending on where you go. It is not only deeply relaxing but also effective for relieving weak, stiff or damaged muscles. It is used to treat a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions, not just back pain.
The above is not an exhaustive list of treatments in Ayurveda. It is illustrative of some treatments that you may experience. In a three-week panchakarma, it is highly likely that you will encourage at least 10 different kinds of physical treatments, sometimes more and sometimes less. Ayurveda is not a cookie-cutter approach. No two people receive the same program, medicines or schedule of treatments.
What is included in a typical Ayurvedic treatment for Back pain?
Most Ayurveda centers and resorts offer all-inclusive, full board packages. In fact, you should avoid any Ayurveda resort or hospital that operates on a fee-for-service model. For example, many naturopathy-based centers operate on a fee-for-service model, where you are charged separately for accommodations and separately for each individual treatment. This model or fee structure is often problematic because the doctor may have a financial incentive to prescribe more treatments. It is in your interest to avoid such places.
A full board Ayurveda package typically includes the following:
- Detailed health consultation on arrival,
- All meals for the duration of stay,
- Ayurvedic treatment (at least 90 minutes daily),
- Yoga (at least 60 minutes daily),
- Daily health checkup.
The exact inclusions depend on the Ayurveda resort that you choose. Some resorts charge for airport pick-up and drop-off, while others include it in the pricing.
Some resorts charge for Ayurvedic medicines prescribed and consumed during the course of your stay, while most resorts tend to include the cost of medicines.
The landscape of Ayurveda resorts in India has great variation and, therefore, it is always a good idea to work with a professional who can help you find the right place at the right price, given your health needs, time availability, and budget.
How much does it cost for Ayurvedic treatment for back pain?
The price of an all-inclusive Ayurveda treatment program for back pain usually starts at around $100 USD per day. However, there are places as cheap as $45 per day.
There are several factors that influence the price of an Ayurveda program:
- Time of year,
- Duration of stay,
- Quality of accommodation,
- Quantity and duration of daily treatment,
- Quantity and duration of daily yoga,
- Proximity to a major airport,
- The number of occupants and beds in a given room.
The cost of an Ayurveda program is a complex interaction of the above factors. In general, the cheapest time of year to access Ayurveda in India is between May and September, coinciding with the low season and monsoon.
Budget-friendly Ayurveda resorts typically charge less than $125 per day.
Premium Ayurveda resorts typically charge between $125 and $400 per day.
Luxury Ayurveda resorts typically charge over $400 per day and up to $2,000 per day, not because of the quality of treatment but because of the quality of accommodations.
Higher pricing does not always mean higher quality treatment. It is possible to find high-quality Ayurvedic treatment within a low budget – if you are willing to settle for basic accommodations and simplistic meals.
What is the best resort for Ayurvedic Treatment for Back pain?
There are over 4,000 Ayurvedic resorts and hospitals in India. You can spend hours and days researching and looking for the “best resort” but the truth is this: there is no best resort. There is only what is best for you, given your unique body constitution, needs, time availability, mindset, and budget.
Finding the right resort is a complex interaction of several factors, which go beyond the scope of this particular article. The only thing that I would say for sure is that your first Ayurveda experience and panchakarma should be in India because of climatic factors, social factors, medicinal factors and a number of other factors.
Should you need assistance in finding the right Ayurvedic resort for you, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Namaste: the divine in me salutes the divine in you.