Maybe the back isn’t the problem. Back pain. These two words can cripple a life. A life previously full of energy and potential. There is no set time-scale. In some instances, back pain can end just as soon as it began but in others it becomes part of life, and sometimes never fully goes away. When this happens it is known as ‘chronic back pain’. Chronic back pain can go on for years.
There are lots of ‘labels’ associated with back These labels are often accompanied by a negative belief that there is no hope or solution. Conditions such as bad posture, slipped discs, herniated discs, prolapsed discs, vertebrae pushing on nerves, compression, scoliosis and many more and perceived to be irreparable.
Sometimes we identify the back pain as hereditary:
“my Mum always back problems, now so do I” and in doing so, write off any chance of recovery.
We live in an age of advanced technology and remarkable knowledge yet are we actually any wiser when it comes to treating back pain?
Conventional modern medicine tells us how to kill pain and there are hundreds of over the counter and prescription medications available to us, all promising to get rid of our discomfort. Online we can simply type in our symptoms and Doctor Google gives us a million pages to scour.
Tried everything? What happens when “everything” doesn’t work?
Well, here’s a fresh look at that spine of yours.
No matter where in the body, we use pain as a way of locating the source of the problem. Our attention is focused on where we feel the throbbing or stabbing. But perhaps that isn’t true. Maybe we should be looking elsewhere….
It’s like the classic murder mystery novel. At the start there’s an obvious culprit, but despite all the nasty things we’ve been lead to believe about them they soon turn out to be innocent. As the story develops there are twists and turns in the plot. Accusations are thrown around, suspects arrested and freed. At one point it seems highly likely that the murderer will never be found. But then, right at the end, when you’ve almost given up hope, the real culprit is revealed, and naturally it was someone totally unexpected.
Though a bit wacky, this is a great analogy for understanding pain and how to treat it.
I’m not alone in believing pain is a terrible indicator of where the actual problem lies. So how can we think smarter and ask better questions when treating back pain? After all, if we ask better questions, we will surely get better answers.
So I invite you, for just a minute, to forget all the ‘names’, ‘conditions’ & ‘labels’ you have been given in connection to your back pain. For that minute, forget all the baffling test results and scary black and white MRI scans and consider this:
What if your pain is just a symptom?
What if your pain is just telling you there is a problem. Not actually where it lies?
What if, when dealing with pain, we look at the parts of the body that are not hurting instead?
Now this may seem a crazy idea, but hear me out…
Our body is a system. When treating pain we need to consider the whole system, not just individual body parts.
The spine doesn’t function on its own. Just like your left leg is not alone when you walk. It’s always influenced by the right leg and vice versa. A problem for one leg is just as much a problem for the other leg. Neither are independent.
No bone is independent. You know the song…..they are connected to one another. And when one moves…..
So when we seek help for back pain, we should be assessing the whole connected system. From every single bone and joint in your foot, all the way up to the top of your head. There is movement in all of these bones, but what is the quality of the movement?
I invite you to stand up in bare feet and close your eyes. Stay for a minute or so. Observe how your body feels:
Where is the weight in your feet?
Does the pressure feel equal left and right?
Does one foot feel heavier than the other?
Maybe you can feel the pressure in your heels more? Or perhaps it’s heavier in the heel of one foot and the forefoot of the other?
So what on earth has this got to do with your back pain?
Well to understand your back pain, we must start with your feet. The two things grounding you to the planet we live on. Bipedal movement….walking on these two feet… is a human characteristic that we all share and with every step our bodies tell their story. There is nowhere to hide when it comes to having your gait analysed by an expert, no matter how hard you try. Gait analysis – having your walk assessed – can highlight any biomechanical abnormalities that may be present. This helps to identify the real source of the pain.
What do you have lurking in your body history – from the moment you were born to the skeleton that carries you today? What knocks and falls have you encountered? What have you broken or twisted? What surgeries have you had?
You may think that these historical events play little or no role in your back pain, but when we are considering the body as a single system, every little detail counts.
For example, imagine you had badly sprained your ankle in the past. Your body is no longer able to rely on that ankle to fulfil it’s role in ‘Operation Movement’ so instead it enlists other parts of the body to help it compensate. As a result of the damaged ankle’s restricted input, the ankle, lower leg and upper leg are no longer able to rotate at the right speed with the pelvis when you walk. So the upper body tries to rotate more to make up for the lost movement below. The spine has to orchestrate this. If I were a spine, I would definitely be annoyed by having to do more work just because the ankle is on a permanent vacation.
Without this kind of assessment you will never find that unexpected culprit.
Even if you have tried “everything” and seen “everyone”, I believe there is always a solution. By adopting a new perspective – a different way of looking at and treating the body – fresh observations can be made. And by understanding the impact of these observations on your body and the way it moves, it is possible to begin the process of resolving that back pain.
Never give up searching for a solution.
Try something different.
Seek out the forward thinking therapist wherever you are. I found mine 4 years ago and it literally changed my life.
For inspiration, listen to this podcast from my mentor and friend, Gary Ward: https://drchatterjee.com/garyward/