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March 9, 2010

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What to do about aching lower back

BACK pain is common with elderly people. Doctors recommend taking calcium and eating calcium rich foods and doing moderate exercise. Zhang Qian reports.

Back aches are common among elderly people and lower back pain may increase in cold, rainy weather. Age-related osteoporosis - weakened bones caused by calcium and mineral loss - is usually a factor.

Doctors recommend taking supplemental calcium, especially for post-menopausal women. They also recommend regular weight-bearing exercise that helps strengthen bones, making fractures less likely. Don't overdo the exercise, however.

Traditional Chinese medicine treatments such as tui na (TCM massage) and acupuncture can help relieve pain.

Lower back pain is very common among elderly Chinese people today, according to Dr Jiang Zaifeng, TCM doctor of the Acupuncture and TCM Massage Department of Liangchen Community Health Center. Many elderly residents go there for frequent treatment.

Most elderly patients have a bent or curved spinal column, and many people are hunched over. This puts pressure on the spinal cord and other nerves, which is painful and can cause numbness.

Bad posture among young people and sitting in the wrong position for long periods can contribute to curvature of the spine. But heavy physical labor over a long time is the main cause of back problems for elderly people today, says Dr Jiang.

As aging causes loss of calcium, osteoporosis makes the curvature and pain worse.

"Fragile bones are very loose. How can they help support the already-bending wall?" he asks.

Back straightening appliances used at an early age can help improve the situation, especially before people are 20 years old. But usually don't make much difference for elderly people.

"All we can do is to avoid aggravation and relieve pain," says the doctor.

Take supplemental calcium, get enough rest and lose weight (in cases of overweight people) are recommended.

Eating calcium-rich foods and taking calcium supplements are helpful.

Those with forward spinal curvature should spend less time sitting and more time lying down, especially when suffering lower back pain, says Dr Jiang. This reduces pressure on the spine and spinal cord.

Overweight people should shed some pounds, relieving the burden on the lower back and knees.

TCM suggests reinforcing the liver, which governs tendons, and the kidneys, which govern the bones. Recommended foods are beans, nuts, oysters and bone soups.

Pain can be relieved with treatments like tui na, acupuncture, fire cupping and physical therapy to soothe nerves. These treatments dispel pathogenic heat and amp, promoting healthy flow of energy and blood circulation.

In case of acute pain, patients should lie down as much as possible. When the pain is gone, light exercise is recommended; exercise time can be increased gradually.

Walking backward and swimming are both advised as exercise for elderly patients with back problems. Walking backward, as on exercise equipment, can strengthen back, gluteus and leg muscles, thus supporting the spinal column. Swimming does the same thing, with less stress on bones.

Dr Jiang says that elderly people should be accompanied when they walk backward and should swim in a warm swimming pool to avoid invasion of pathogenic cold.

Dried shrimps are rich in calcium for the bones and magnesium, which can help heart function and reduce cholesterol. The heart benefits include helping prevent high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries.

Eating a lot of shrimp can also help sooth the nerves.

Traditional Chinese medicine considers shrimp to be a mildly warm (yang energy) food that reinforces kidney function (reproductive and urinary tract systems), regulates energy and improves the appetite.

It is suitable for most people and especially recommended for pregnant women and elderly people, as well as those with cardiovascular problems and male infertility.

Many people with allergies and acute skin rases should avoid eating shrimp. Check with a doctor.

Towel gourd (sigua) and dried shrimp congee

Ingredients: towel gourd (150g), dried shrimp (30g), rice (100g)


1. Wash and chop towel gourd, wash and soak shrimp for 10 minutes.

2. Make congee with rice, ginger, green onion and salt.

3. Add gourd slices and shrimp when congee almost done.

4. Cook until ready, add salt and sesame oil to season.

Benefits: See above. Dispels pathogenic heat, acts as diuretic, reinforces kidney and yang energy.

Purple seaweed, egg and shrimp soup

Ingredients: dried purple seaweed (10g), dried shrimp (10g), and eggs (60g)


1. Wash and chop seaweed, break and stir eggs, wash shrimp and soak in yellow wine for 10 minutes.

2. Heat oil in pan, add soy sauce and bowl of water.

3. Add purple seaweed and shrimp, cook for 10 minutes.

4. Add egg and vinegar; stir gently.

5. Season with salt and sesame oil when egg is cooked.

Benefits: See above. In addition to calcium, it contains micro-elements like iodine and potassium. Recommended for pregnant women, provides nutrients for fetus. Helps strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis.

A new vision of laser surgery

If you are one of the many people who suffer from refractive errors with your vision, refractive surgery is worth investigating.

Refractive surgery encompasses a variety of technologies and procedures for correcting several common eye conditions such as myopia (nearsightedness) and hyperopia (farsightedness). Surgery changes the focusing characteristics of the eye to achieve a clearer image.

Most vision correction surgeries are done by LASIK surgery. However, in the beginning, most surgeries were performed with a method called PRK.

Today, a new procedure, SBK, has the best characteristics of both types of surgery. It causes fewer dry-eye conditions and does not cause complications occasionally associated with LASIK

SBK - an alternative

SBK is a quick and painless surgery that combines the safety of PRK with the quick recovery time of LASIK surgery. The secret to the success of SBK is that it removes an extremely thin layer of epithelium and Bowman's membrane, the smooth layer just below the epithelium whose strong collagen fibers help the eye maintain its shape. The procedure is done with a cool-beam laser, which allows the surgeon to maintain the corneal integrity, resulting in rapid visual recovery.


Fewer cases of dry eye.

Eyes do not become more sensitive to light.

A significantly lower chance of developing ectasia.

Other serious complications considerably diminished.

Faster recovery time - patients were able to drive after a day and the majority of SBK patients had restored vision a month after the surgery.

There was a higher rate of patient satisfaction with SBK as well.

In the future, SBK may be as popular as LASIK is now. It seems to offer all the benefits while having fewer drawbacks. SBK is emerging as the premier form of laser eye surgery.

Dangers and risks

Anyone considering refractive surgery should be well-informed about surgical alternatives. Serious complications are very rare when performed by skilled eye care specialists. Like any other surgery, however, refractive surgery also has potential risks.

It is very important that you understand and carefully consider these risks before consenting to surgery.

Highest quality

The New Vision Eye Clinic (NVEC) in Shanghai is a professional eye care facility that provides international-standard services by highly skilled eye care specialists.

If having laser surgery at NVEC, you can be assured of receiving the same quality of treatment and effectiveness of results as you would in the US or Europe, at a much lower price. Our surgeons have a success rate over 95 percent when performing refractive surgeries.

Dr Lian Jingcai is a chief of ophthalmology and is fluent in English. He has performed more than 20,000 refractive laser surgeries and more than 2,000 cataract laser surgeries. He graduated from Jiao Tong University Medical School and has worked at New Vision Eye Clinic since 1994.

For more, check C16 service listing.


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