I've been thinking about back pain quite a bit recently. This is because I've been having my own back pain and pain can consume all aspects of your life.
Back pain is very common. Chances are you, or someone you know have had some degree of back pain. The causes are multiple and can be complex. Sometimes you may think you know exactly what caused your pain - a fall, a sudden movement or an existing condition like arthritis.
Often the cause is a myriad of things which together cause your pain. Unexplained pain can be difficult to live with as most people like to know the 'why' of the pain. What caused it? I think the idea is if you know the cause then perhaps you can know how to heal it. Unfortunately this isn't always the case but I am a strong believer in examining ones own lifestyle with a view to improving health. Although you may never live completely pain free, paying attention to changes in lifestyle and learning your personal triggers may help to give you some control over your pain.
Chronic and Acute pain
Pain is often referred to as either acute or chronic. Acute being more specific and shorter lived. The cause of chronic pain can be harder to explain and although the strength of the pain may be less than acute pain, it is likely to last longer.
"Acute pain is provoked by a specific disease or injury, serves a useful biologic purpose, is associated with skeletal muscle spasm and sympathetic nervous system activation, and is self-limited. Chronic pain, in contrast, may be considered a disease state. It is pain that outlasts the normal time of healing, if associated with a disease or injury. Chronic pain may arise from psychological states, serves no biologic purpose, and has no recognisable end-point."
K P Grichnik
It may seem unintuitive to pay attention to your pain. Pain may be something that you want to ignore and pretend it doesn't affect you. You may feel that thinking about the pain and paying it attention will 'feed' the pain and it's significance to you will grow.
I would argue that a healthier way to look at your pain is head on. Examine it in detail and take note of what triggers it, and what can ease it.
The simple act of bringing your attention to the pain and the physical site of the pain can send the message to your brain that this is an area that needs something. This can be especially effective if your pain is chronic as it can help to refocus your brain on healing.
If you take medication or pain killers, pay attention to the effects of taking them. How long until you feel anything? What are the positive effects and are there any negative effects? Before you take any medication give your pain an intensity rating out of 10. How has this rating changed after taking the medication?
Pain can be all consuming
Another reason I believe it is beneficial to acknowledge the pain is that pain can be all consuming. My best example of this is rom when I had my recent back pain. This wasn't an intense, agonising pain but a constant ache which was made worse by certain movement. I could forget about the pain as I went about my day to day life but it was constant and it's negative influence crept into every aspect of my life. I slowed or stopped my regular exercise activities so I no longer ran or practiced yoga every day. I ate more comfort food late at night and I was sleeping less soundly than I normally do.
One day I noticed that I was in a bad mood, everything was annoying me with little or no reason. When I looked for the cause of this I realised that it was directly caused by my pain. Not the physical instant pain that happens in a moment but all these other aspects of my life had been affected by this pain and this builds up and causes my bad mood.
Once I connected the dots I started to pay better attention to my body, my pain and my current lifestyle choices. Once I realised what I was doing I was able to start making some small changes to improve my situation. My pain was still there but my overall health definitely improved.
Maybe you are currently pain free? Great, appreciate your pain free body! If you are currently able to go for a run or take a pilates class then do it! Use this time wisely to maintain your health. This can be physical actions - starting a new exercise regime is a good example. But there are other aspects of your life that may need tending and it is generally easier to look after your physical and mental health whilst you are at your healthiest.
Consider your lifestyle for a bit. How is your diet? How about your caffeine and alcohol consumption - do you feel you could cut down on either? Are you able to exercise regularly? Do you give yourself time to relax and do something you really enjoy?
Whether you are currently experiencing back pain or are looking for preventative care my absolute top tip for back health is yin yoga.
In Yin yoga poses are held for a long period of time, generally for three to five minutes, to target and release the connective tissues. Yin yoga is wonderfully meditative, inviting the mind to focus on the pose and the body's reaction. As the pose is held over a few minutes you have time to notice the change in your tissues as you ease into the pose. As you hold a pose you may feel a shaking or even pain and the idea is to sit with this. Nothing is permanent and this pain isn't forever. Allow it to be in your body, experience it and notice the change afterwards.
Massage for back pain
Massage can be used as both pain relief and preventative care for back pain. By giving your body a massage you are giving it time and space to start it's own healing journey.
Massage will help to release tight muscles and fascia and can improve blood and lymph circulation. This can help your body to physically feel better and more relaxed.
You can also benefit from giving yourself the mental head space to allow for whatever it is you are currently experiencing.
You may just need some time to see how you could slightly change some of your actions in order to help your body to heal. You may need time to see how negative emotional issues are paying their toll on your body and causing you physical pain.
Remember that pain is there for a reason - it is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. It won't just go away if ignored. It may never really go away, but there are ways that you can manage your pain and take control back over your body and your life.