Low Back Pain. Is it in your head?

Years of low back pain as a result of resisting?

As I flew through the clouds over the Pacific Ocean reflecting on my Hawaiian vacation I dove into a new Psychology book that, to my surprise, focused largely on the body-mind connection. I wanted to share an excerpt that struck home for me. Having experienced years of low back pain, I have always wondered WHY? What is the root cause? How have I been dealing with this for so long, receiving many types of bodywork and professional opinions, stretching it out, strengthening my core, and the list goes on..... and still not experienced any long-term relief? As I started to discover more about the body-mind connection, I started to open up to the fact that part of it could be in my head. What effect were my thoughts, and therefore my attitude and outlook, having on the health of my spine? And why is it localizing in my lumbar and sacral region? What is my body trying to tell me?

Here’s a case study about Mira and her journey towards relief for her long-standing issues with low back pain. The author correlates it directly to Resistance.

“Mira is a 49 year-old yoga enthusiast with successful business career. She is not the kind of person you’d expect to have back pain, except that she pursues all her activities with uncommon zeal. During a particularly strenuous yoga session, Mira felt a twinge while doing a forward bend. She then felt her sciatic nerve tingle right down to her calves. Almost any position except standing straight up or lying flat gave her back pain. An MRI diagnosed her with a herniated disk, a painful condition where the bones of the spine squeeze the disk out against a nerve.

Mira stopped doing yoga and say a Physio who taught her to lift objects in such a way that her back stayed straight and didn’t give her any pain. But over time, her back hurt more and more. She was also deeply unhappy that she couldn’t exercise vigorously, her primary way of relieving work stress. She envisioned a lifetime without mountain climbing, cycling or yoga. Mira also blamed herself for causing her disk to herniated in the first place. The combination of worry, self-criticism, mounting tension from inactivity, and increasing back pain convinced Mira to turn to surgery.

Prior to her operation, Mira did some research and learned that the long-term success of back surgery for herniated disks was no better than having no surgery at all. She also read Ronald Siegel’s book Back Sense, which explains that for most sufferers the most valuable treatment for a herniated disk is to reduce anxiety about the pain and resume normal activities as soon as possible. That means lifting objects in roughly the same manner as always so that the back muscles don’t atrophy from inactivity. Mira found out that persistent muscle tension, not structural abnormalities, causes most chronic back pain. And muscle tension increases both when the muscles are not used and when we worry. On top of this, worry amplifies pain signals, further adding to our experience of pain.

Mira took these messages to heart. She got massage therapy for her sore muscles, used a heating pad every evening, and began exercising in moderation. Her anxiety decreased as her pain subsided, and her back pain diminished by 50% in less than 2 weeks.

Most people who suffer from chronic back pain will say that Mira was just lucky, an exception. Actually, she’s the rule. Ironically, the prevalence of chronic back pain is the lowest in developing countries, where people do more backbreaking work than in industrialized countries. An injury is usually the trigger for a back problem, but injury isn’t what sustained Mira’s back pain. Her RESISTANCE to the pain, especially fearing that she wouldn’t be able to continue her vigorous lifestyle, pulled Mira deeper and deeper down into her health crisis. Acceptance of the physical pain, and working with it, returned Mira to her normal life.”

Source: The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion – Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions. By Christopher K. Germer, PhD.