If you’ve been suffering with back pain for quite a while then you will know the frustration of not being able to do the things you want to do, the exhaustion as you try to battle through and the confusion about why you have pain and what you can do to avoid it or make it go. I know logically you want to ask – what is the best treatment out there for lower back pain?
Well, you probably already know from trying a bunch of things that there is no one single treatment that will spontaneously end back pain; no one treatment that is superior to others at relieving pain. I know, it’s disappointing, but stick with me. There is an answer. One factor that can provide great relief for back pain is knowledge. Really.
You know the expression ‘know thine enemy’? Having a better understanding of an adversary gives you greater control and power? Well, think of back pain a little bit like this. The more you know about it the better you can gain control and often overcome it. By this I don’t mean that you need an in-depth knowledge of your anatomy. I mean that it is helpful to know what pain is all about.
You see, pain is an alarm and 100% of the time it comes from your brain and central nervous system. Your brain is on the look out for danger at all times to keep you safe. When you feel pain, it is because the brain has interpreted something in your environment as dangerous and it wants to let you know about it. This may mean you have injured yourself – such as a muscle strain, bruise or cut. However - particularly in the case of more chronic lower back pain – there may not be an injury or the injury may have long since healed.
But why does it still hurt if there is no injury?
What can happen in the case of no injury (or injury that has healed) is that the brain can become a little hypersensitive. It starts to alert us to pain even when the cause of the pain has long since gone. This often happens if you have suffered pain in your back in the past. It’s common to feel that a certain part of your back is weak because it often ‘goes’ in the same place. In actual fact, once tissues have healed, your back is no weaker than anywhere else but the brain ‘remembers’ that past injury making its threshold for alert much reduced in the future. For example, if you fell off a horse when you were younger and injured the left side of your back this will heal. However, you may find that small things trigger pain in the same place in the future. This is the brain’s ‘early warning system’ telling you to be careful because of what happened here before. Its clever, but sometimes it can be a bit too cautious– like an over protective parent!
Think of it like the security alarm system of an office block. Imagine there was a particular section of the block that had suffered more break ins than other areas. It is much more likely that security would be ‘beefed up’ in this area because of its history e.g. more locks, more surveillance. It’s the same for the body. The brain is on higher alert in areas that have suffered injury in the past. It means you have greater sensitivity in your lower back but not increased weakness. A subtle but important difference.
What can I do to help my back pain?
So, here are 4 questions you can stop and ask yourself about your back pain. (Do always get checked out by a trained health professional first if you’re worried about any new pain – serious causes must always be ruled out first).
How did this episode of your back pain start? If it was a very minor event, such as just waking with the pain, or no physical trigger at all, then it is unlikely to be injury or structural damage. Backs are strong and generally can withstand many and varied demands.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your back pain? Evidence strongly shows that the more we fear back pain the worse it becomes. When you feel reassured that the pain is unlikely to signify serious damage, this should help to lessen your fear.
What else is going on in your life? If you have a number of stressful events happening at the same time then these may well be contributing to your back pain. Recognising that you are a bit overstretched or under pressure at the moment can really help.
How are you holding yourself physically? When we are fearful, the first thing we do is stiffen up and tense our muscles. We do this to protect ourselves but in time this causes more problems than the original pain! Can you gently persuade your muscles to ease off a bit and allow you to start moving around? Sit for a few moments and try to picture what that sore area looks like. Carry out a couple of rounds of focussed breathing to try to relax the muscles here. Simply inhale and exhale for a count of four. On the exhale release your muscles as much as you can. With practise you should find that pain starts to ease.
Putting these questions to yourself can give a helpful insight into the many and varied factors contributing to your pain. Consequently, there are multiple ways to tackle it that will vary from person to person of course.
Stay tuned to the blog for more on that!