Recently I read an article from PubMed, which is an online medical study resource provided by the national institute of health. This particular study was comparing individuals with back pain to those without; correlating it to depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts. While it seemed pretty dramatic and almost alarming to suggest someone with back pain would be prone to suicide, it did bring to mind the length to which an unresolved problem can affect us.
2018 Comprehensive Psychology - Multiple types of somatic pain increase suicide attempts and depression
Not everyone who has back pain is going to be so emotionally affected, but to recognize that some are, suggests that we all may be affected to some degree.
There are 3 main factors influencing a health problem such as back pain. If any of them are ignored, it may account for why a symptom such as back pain goes unresolved beyond a normal recovery time period. These are physical factors, chemical factors, and emotional factors.
Let's set some foundation first.
It is normal for your back to hurt following an injury. It is not normal for it to hurt 6 weeks later, or at least to make no progress.
This study does not address the chicken or the egg problem. Your spine is connected to your emotions, this is why someone may feel depressed after a whiplash injury. But someone who is experience stress and anxiety, may in fact experience back pain as a result. Like an emotional trigger that tries to shut you down and remove you from the stressor. The results of this study, may in fact suggest that people who are anxious, stressed, and prone to suicide thoughts may be creating back pain rather than the reverse.
A spine that does not function properly due to sedentary lifestyles, such as sitting at a desk, will often present with muscle pain. This is often not noticed until it is challenged during a physical activity. The physical activity then is blamed for the pain, instead of the state the back was in when entering the activity.
The truth is, in most cases back pain can be resolved. But when we fail, it is typically because we don't actually address what caused it.
Here are some tips you might find helpful if you experience back pain.
Start by stretching your back gently. Here is a link to a document that shows the most common stretches we use in our office and how to make them work. The advantage to starting here, is it is easy, low tech, can be done at home, and helps many people feel better. But you do need to be consistent to see the results. A qualified provider could help you decide which activities are the best for you in your specific situation.
Inflammation is often part of the problem and is the chemical component.
Your diet can play a huge role. For example, do you drink carbonated soft drinks? Did you know this may be contributing to your back pain,due to their acidity. Or how about this: did you start consuming more caffeine in the sodas that you drink? Resulting in higher doses of caffeine per serving? Did you know if you are, you may be self-medicating. Caffeine lowers pain being caused by your poor diet. You may say, "Cool.. I will just drink more caffeine". But, this is short sighted and is setting you up for a real crash later, once the caffeine starts to lose its benefit. Better to fix the actual problem. You may need an anti-inflammatory diet. There are also many supplements that can help. A good functional medicine doctor can save you tons of time and expense by finding out what you need, before you go and experiment on yourself with every claim made on the internet.
There is short-sighted medical care and there is restorative medical care.
They may seem similar, but they are not. Short sighted medical care includes taking pain killers hoping something will change, but not actually doing anything to make that change. Restorative medical care, may include breaking up muscle scar tissue with trigger point injections. It may also include directly lowering pain and inflammation temporarily with more natural injectables, so that you can comfortably participate in corrective therapies, like rehab and chiropractic.
Correcting the physical imbalances, if they exist, is extremely helpful.
While home exercises are important, having a professional "give you a tune-up" can resolve your back pain. This is especially helpful when mixed with the options already presented. It also can dramatically reduce the time it takes to get better and stay better. Here is just one study, showing the benefits of including functional correction of the spine (chiropractic), with rehab and medical care.
When you are emotionally stressed and anxious, your back pain will be worse.
This is because your body will tense the spine in response to your feelings. The patterns are interesting. Stress that you are handling will 'tend' to tense the neck and upper back. Stress that you emotionally feel you have little control over 'tends' to tense the lower spine. Some people find benefits with essential oils, a good listener, light physical activities, or sometimes just being aware of the patterns helps.
In the end, back pain is not a simple one cause problem. It is why what works for your friend, may not work for you. It may also be helpful to find a provider that understands this. Or better yet, a team of different professionals that work together to make sure you recover faster and with less expense. I hope these tips help you identify your triggers. Nobody is living inside your body but you. Your intuition is our most valuable tool in helping you recover. We take your input seriously. Our doctors at Evergreen Physical Medicine are ready to fill in the gaps, if you are ready to get rid of your back pain. If during your evaluation we find a problem we cannot correct, you will be given options and referred to the best person for your situation.
Dr. Matthew Hales, Director of Clinical Services Evergreen Physical Medicine