Does your back ache constantly? OR maybe it’s only occasional but still enough to annoy you. Back pain can be a product of a few key variables. These variables are your:
- Body e.g. How you move, what areas of your body you have access too, your injury history
- Mind e.g. How you feel about past injuries and how they relate to the task you need to perform, your stress levels, your memories and readiness to change
- Social e.g., what you do for work, the type of friends you have and the connections you’ve created with your friends and family and work.
Each of these variables at times can hold greater value at various times for different people. Just because you have back pain and your friend has back pain does not mean they are from the same causes. None the less the pain remains.
So, what can we do?
To alter this, we must think on multiple fronts and make large whole-body changes.
Let’s use the example of someone who hurt their back by bending over. This is a very common occurrence, now that you have hurt your back you are going to be hesitant to bend over (mind) you will change the way you try to bend over (body) and you may avoid going to social events with your friends due to the fear of hurting your back more (social).
Let’s break this down how we can fix this for each specific area!
The way we move matters! Contrary to common thought, people with back pain don’t necessarily have a weak core.
In fact, those with back pain often have an overactive core! Go figure. This response is known as guarding, your body realises that you have had pain before due to bending over, the body tries to respond to this by engaging more muscles to increase the security or stability of that area.
The problem with this is, when muscles are contracted or active, we limit movement. Don’t believe me?
Bend your arm and squeeze your bicep as hard as you can. Now keep squeezing your bicep and try and straighten your arm. Goodluck…
If we are holding too much tension, we restrict movement, when we restrict movement, we alter our patterns that enable us to complete specific movements like walking, bending to touch our toes, climbing stairs. This leads to other muscles working in ways they are often not used to or often not need to be used in. Now we are using a lot of areas to complete what should be a relatively simple task.
- Pain that spreads to places other than the back
- Mood changes
- Nervous system changes
- Respiratory changes
The results affect the whole body!
The mind is a powerful tool that we can use to our advantage or that we can misuse to harm us.
Let’s use a positive example of the mind and apply it to a hard physical event.
In a positive way we may use the mind to elicit positive self-talk, to reflect, to utilise our past perceived experiences of us overcoming this hard physical event, we use these strategies to assist us completing the task.
So what happens when we don’t do this?
Well have you ever talked yourself out of something? Maybe you had beliefs that you weren’t good at a task, maybe you were worried about what people might say or think about you and this led to a decreased performance output or even not attempting the task at all!
In relation to back pain our mind can help or hinder us just as much!
To understand this let’s use the analogy of touching a stove top.
When we touch a stove top that is on and therefore hot, we will immediately pull away. It hurts!
Now if we were blind folded, and told the stove was on would you touch it? Maybe you do and you experience the same pain as you did before. Only we may experience this pain even when the stove isn’t turned on!
Our brain relies on past experience, it asks what happened last time we touched it? We had pain. So it sends off painful stimulus to the area that touches the stove. We become heightened and can create pain when pain or tissue damage may not even be occurring.
So how do these relate to the back?
Our mind can react the same way to everyday stimulus. If we get hurt by something such as picking up a heavy object with poor technique, our mind will interpret tissue damage as pain. Now if we try to pick up a box heavy or light one year later once our tissue has healed, we may again experience pain even if we don’t hurt our tissues.
We become more sensitive. We heighten our interpretation of the stimulus due to our previous history of hurting ourselves! In the short term this can be quite beneficial, it protects us and stops us from making the same mistake twice.
But this can also be harmful long term. By us avoiding certain movement patterns, such as bending over we will recruit additional or secondary muscles to complete the task. Over time these muscles need to work harder, at a job they weren’t meant for in the human anatomy and this can lead to overuse injuries, stiffness and pain.
We are inherently social creatures. By nature, we like to surround ourselves with groups, friends, family, even the most introverted of us will find comfort in other people even if it’s just one.
This is important, we gain lots of benefits out of connecting with those around us, feelings of connection and belonging can lead to a healthier and happier life.
Now enter back pain, this can be debilitating, it can make us with draw and avoid engaging in social behaviour due to the pain you are suffering. This is an important variable to consider with those of us suffering with back pain.
Ask yourself, are you avoiding events? Ducking friends, neglecting your social wellbeing?
We want to address this just as much as the other variables when it comes to back pain, we must show people that they still can engage with their friends in a range of activities, this is part of the healing process, the language we use around what people can and can’t do can either help or hinder.
Combining the variables of movement, the mind and our social life we can now address back pain! Best practice takes people as they are, there is no best exercise for back pain as we are all individuals. We all move slightly different, have different restrictions in our body, have different experiences and enjoy different hobbies.
To address back pain, understand the person, find limitations in rtheir movement, their beliefs and what they are avoiding in their everyday life. Once found, we need to work on desensitizing these movements, showing them how resilient their body truly is and allow them to continue doing the things the love most.
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