We’ve all heard people talk about how “their back went out”. Something like, I slipped on a wet floor and my back went out, or I bent down to pick up a sock and my back went out. Or maybe there was an event, such as an automobile accident, athletic event, or maybe it started at work. In many – most, actually – cases, the pain just started with no specific triggering event.
It seems intuitive to attribute the pain to the event that occurred at its start. However, with back pain it’s usually more of a “last straw”, in that there were things that you were doing on a regular basis that actually led to the “triggering event”. Primary contributing factors include inadequate movement, imbalanced postural mechanics, and stress; there are also several secondary factors.
When it comes to back pain, two things typically happen: you can recover within 3 days to 2 weeks (this acute type is the most common), or you can continue to experience pain, which is referred to as chronic back pain. People who develop chronic back pain have been found to have several things in common. Studies report that people with chronic back pain were frequently experiencing a great deal of stress at the time of the triggering event. They also tend to respond to stress by significantly contract their back muscles, as a part of their “fight or flight” response. They also tend to be in work and/or life situations in which they do not feel a sense of control over their environment; for example, they don’t feel like they can go to their boss to resolve problems that arise at work.
It is important to understand that, in most situations, chronic back pain is more about what was going on prior to the triggering event than the event itself. It is also important to revisit that time in your life and explore: what was going on at that time, was this a positive time or a stressful one, were you taking care of yourself or putting your needs last? What was your overall health like?
With this understanding, it is also helpful to explore something referred to as the ‘Cycle of Pain’. This describes the perceptions, beliefs and physiological responses that follow the triggering event and leads into a cycle that perpetuates, rather than relieves, the pain.
Finally, the factors that led to the initial event, known as the contributing factors, must be addressed. For example, if you sit most of the day, you may need to incorporate more movement into your daily life. If you, like so many people, have persistent stressors in your life, you will need to address both the stressors themselves and your physiological response to stress. If you sit, stand, and move with imbalanced postural mechanics, you will need to learn how to perform your daily activities with balanced postures.
A limitation of most approaches to chronic back pain is that they treat the result of, rather than the cause of, the pain. To achieve complete, long-lasting relief, a root-cause and comprehensive approach is required. Understanding the cause of the pain, reversing the cycle of pain, and addressing the contributing factors is a comprehensive, root cause approach that works for long-term effectiveness.
Copyright © 2016 Mary A. Williams, Corporate Health Alliance. All rights reserved.