The Lowdown on Lower Back Problems

Health - Saigon/HCMC: Oct. 31, 2016

Lower back pain is one of the leading causes of disability in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

In the U.S. for example, around 31 million people will experience lower back problems at any given time, says the American Chiropractic Association. These problems affect the spine's flexibility, stability and strength, causing pain, discomfort, and mobility issues.

And the problem is certainly not confined to America. In 2012, a research paper by Professor Stephen Bevan of Lancaster University in the UK covered 30 European countries, and found that a staggering €240 billion was lost to musculoskeletal conditions.

I sat down with Dr. Nicolas Dupaux, the man in charge of the Osteopathy department at Centre Medical International, and one of the leading back specialists in HCMC. We began the discussion with the difference between osteopathy and chiropractic practices.

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An osteopath differs from a chiropractor in quite a few ways. As someone who has suffered at the hands of a chiropractor in the past, I was interested to learn more about the subject of osteopathy.

The osteopath will look at the cause of the imbalance rather than just the symptoms. They will not just crack bones back but try and balance the whole body; they have a wider spectrum of techniques. It is really difficult to know if a patient, for example, has a problem with their veins. If they have a pathological problem and don’t inform the practitioner, they can do more harm than good. There are some techniques that are no longer considered safe to employ.

I asked Mr. Dupaux to answer some common questions about back problems.

What do you think about massage parlours in HCMC?

Anyone can get a licence to open a massage parlour here after taking just eight hours of theory. There is no real culture of massage in the country; there are no real schools and traditional massage houses. Ten years ago Thai girls were being paid by hotels to teach the techniques. But there was no homegrown skill, they imported it. The physiology is so different between East and West.

Even in my surgery I have to do different treatments for different nationalities. This is why Western people don’t find the massage to be as beneficial. Eastern people like to have very strong massages, and cracking of the bones. However, I treat, on average, two people per week who come in suffering from a blocked neck or severe back pain, caused by a massage.

What is your attitude to the use of painkillers with back pain?

Pills often have side effects. It is often necessary to take anti-inflammatory drugs and/or muscles relaxants but pain killers should be seen as a last resort.

Do you think that alternative treatments like acupuncture have a role to play in treating back problems?

Alternative treatments do have a place in the treatment of patients, but some, like hypnotherapy, are restricted to rich people and the elite. In my opinion there are both new and old technologies that are very good. Acupuncture, for example, is very good, for spinal problems. Serious scientific studies have shown that the acupuncture points are definitely different to other areas of the skin. It has been electromagnetically proven that acupuncture works.

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If the need arises for surgery, would you advise people to go abroad or have it done here?

Dr. Claudio Duek at Family Medical Practice is a very good surgeon working on hands, and Dr. Phatat at FV Hospital is a specialist in knees and legs. So for these problems it is good here. These guys are at the same level as European doctors. However for complicated surgeries you are better off going to Bangkok or Singapore.

Have you got any advice on how people should carry backpacks?

A correct backpack should cause no issues at all. Good quality packs are fine as long as the weight is spread. People who carry a pack every day get stronger. Use both shoulders and balance the weight.

Having some age related arthritic issues myself, I find the warm weather here hugely beneficial. Why is this?

The microclimate here is definitely good for joints. There is something going on here in the climate that is great for people with joint problems, asthma and other issues. The diet is also healthy. Pho uses herbs that have medical properties and of course, there is no gluten in pho.

The cure to lower back pain seems to be an illusive thing at times, but when you consider that, as one doctor told me years ago, the difference between being pain free and in agony is often less than half a millimetre, maybe it’s not surprising.

Header photo by www.thelifesquare.com