Many people suffer back pain without having hurt their backs. Simple manoeuvres like bending over to tie shoelaces have often been blamed, but many people bend over every day to tie their shoelaces and don’t develop chronic back pain.
So what’s going on?
All pain is felt in the brain. The brain receives many signals and processes them. Sometimes we think that what we are experiencing is damage to our tissues and muscles, but what the brain is processing is stress and emotions. Back pain has been shown to be associated with depression and low mood.
But my pain is real!
For some people, this knowledge comes as a relief as they realise there is a good possibility that emotional management skills can help them manage and even lessen their pain. Other people, however, feel this approach means their pain isn’t taken seriously.
That isn’t the case. The pain is absolutely real but can be from an overly sensitive nervous system, rather than tissue damage.
The NICE guidance suggests doctors should not be prescribing pain relieving medication to patients in the long term, as it can cause more harm than good. Instead, antidepressants or talking therapies such as acceptance and commitement therapy are recommended.
But what if my scan isn’t normal?
This is an interesting question and many people have abnormal scans and don’t have any pain. This includes abnormalities such as bulging discs and degeneration. So what you want to know us, what would a “normal” scan look like in someone my age? Unfortunately, abnormal scans cause more anxiety in patients and don’t necessarily add a lot of value. Sometimes, they are needed if there are red flags, but in many cases, they aren’t needed.
What is acceptance and commitement therapy?
This is a type of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), that helps you to “accept” the things you can’t change and consider what you value in life and still work towards living a meaningful life. It doesn’t aim to get rid of the pain, but evidence suggests that this approach does lessen the pain, which is viewed as a side effect, rather than the intention of this therapy, and that’s a nice side effect!
What’s a trauma-informed approach to pain?
The ACE study revealed that childhood trauma increases the risk of certain conditions, including chronic pain as an adult. Sometimes we don’t realise how trauma is stored in the body, but it can present as pain. By working through trauma via a compassionate approach, memories can be processed to enable the patient to live a productive life and may even resolve their pain. Trauma approaches can be used alongside acceptance and commitement therapy.
What about lifestyle changes?
It’s also important to sleep well and do gentle exercises like walking, yoga and Qi Qong. Mindfulness can help, by focusing on your breathing and walking mindfully. Hydration and a diet that is free of processed foods can help reduce inflammation in the body.
Vitamins like vitamin D and magnesium can also be helpful and are best taken under the supervision of a practitioner, as monitoring for example a blood test for vitamin D is needed to monitor your levels and ensure optimal doses.
Can homeopathy help with back pain?
Homeopathy uses a traditional mind-body natural approach to healing and well-being. By analysing the physical and mental symptoms, a remedy can be prescribed alongside the above treatments to stimulate the body’s healing processes.
I have helped patients and clients resolve their back pain using the above approaches. In most cases, there has been trauma in childhood that has been bottled away, resurfacing years later as chronic back pain. Often there was trauma in their home growing up. By working through the issues, journalling, reflection and compassion, clients can “accept” the events and focus on gratitude and living a productive and meaningful life, as well as rebuilding relationships they dearly value.