Morning comes and upon waking you wonder, perhaps today is the day my back pain will be gone?
As you get up you are awakened with the stark reality that you’re still in pain.
Some days it’s bearable, some days it’s down right frustrating, not to mention limiting.
You’re not alone.
As many as 8 out of 10 people in the western world will experience back pain at some point in their lives.
Think you need to become best friends with a chiropractor?
Actually, solving lifestyle related back pain in most cases may be a lot easier than you’d expect. Doing less ‘exercise’ and becoming aware of the elements that affect your spine, so it can move with less resistance could be all you need to do to live pain free.
The symptom or the source
I remember the days I suffered back pain and going to every therapist you can imagine.
Each time I went through a similar process. I Shared my history, how long my back had been hurting for, where the pain was, etc.
Then they did some form of elaborate assessment, and gave me their diagnosis.
To sum it up I was told my back was f%*#ed! Quite a few times too.
Then the treatment began.
My muscles were stretched, massaged and my spine was cracked.
Hey presto! I experienced some relief after the treatment.
Then… all I had to do was some fiddly exercises with a bit of latex (that felt like it was made of some sort of contraceptive device), and keep coming back every couple of weeks for an undisclosed period of time.
While the relief was great after the session. The pain kept coming back!
So naturally I asked myself, are we just addressing the symptom instead of discovering the source of the pain?
Physical exercise is only part of the pain equation
You name the physical exercise I probably did it. I was told to strengthen my core, my glutes, and stretch my back, stabilise this and that, and then I’d have a balanced body and be pain free.
Physical exercise X sets and reps = pain free. Not quite!
Well it didn’t exactly work out that simply.
I realised that addressing pain with only physical exercises is just a part of mending the cause of pain.
While physical exercise is very important part of pain relief; it’s most successful when it’s integrated with the bigger picture of creating a pain free body. I’ve confirmed this time and time again while working with my students.
Your body is deeply connected to your mind, emotions and can also be heavily influenced by your environment.
For this reason it’s important not to put all your eggs in the basket of a single approach.
It wasn’t their fault
After identifying the source of my back pain I realised it wasn’t the physical therapists’ fault that my pain didn’t go away.
It was my own. I was relying on others to find the answers to the pain that only I could find.
Over the years I’ve learned pain is a multi-dimensional topic and I was looking at only one dimension. The physical side of back pain.
To truly address the source we have to dive a little deeper.
If you’ve tried a range of just physical approaches and still you experience that pain in your back, it may be helpful to consider the approach below.
Elementary dear Watson
To successfully relieve back pain, you need to get a monocle and put your Sherlock Holmes hat on.
Accept that there’s often more than what meets the eye when it comes to addressing the source of your pain. If you really want to get to the source of what’s ultimately causing your back pain, consider looking beyond just the things that you can touch, see and feel.
Imagine you’re observing yourself as if you were another person. It’s a great way discover the bigger picture of what’s going on in your body, and become more aware of the source of your pain.
Once you’ve done that use the following framework to uncover the culprit(s) of what’s going on with your spine. It often just takes a slight shift in perspective to transform from pain to pleasure.
1. Discover patterns of mind
Where we direct our mind and thoughts manifest in our reality.
When it comes to managing pain, you can notice in your daily life how certain thoughts change the experience of pain in your body.
Do you view the pain as a negative experience? I know I did, but it wasn’t until I saw it as a teacher with the intention to help me; that new and more positive experiences of the pain began to emerge.
Your internal dialogue is always running underneath the surface.
The more you become aware of patterns in your thoughts, the more conscious control you have over how they affect your pain. It’s like in martial arts, ‘it’s most difficult to defend from an opponent you can not see.’
2. Become aware of physical habits
Beyond just doing physical exercises, one technique taught here at Movement Monk is to become aware of how you’re using your body in the mundane and small, daily activities in life.
Not just when you’re training in the gym, or on the Yoga mat.
Strong physical awareness in daily life is vital to learning how your body is responding to the pain.
You may be noticing a bit of a trend with awareness.
Noticing the bigger picture of how you’re moving and positioning your body throughout the day can give valuable insights of what’s influencing your pain and discomfort.
Practice paying attention to the simple things like when you’re standing. Become aware if your weight is evenly distributed across your feet. Is your weight balanced from left to right foot, from heels to toes, from outside of the feet to the inside.
Then notice how small corrections at your feet affect your whole body.
Next pay attention to your emotional response to the pain.
3. Do the loc-emotion
Emotions deserve their own category as they can originate both from the mind and the body, and can be a source of pain and discomfort in your body that doesn’t get talked about often.
Emotions can be stored deep within our cells. Some positive, some negative, some neutral.
Negative emotions left unresolved can plague us for our entire lives at every level of our existence from the physical, energetic, mental and spiritual.
Pain can trigger certain emotions, and vice versa. They create what I call a closed loop.
Here’s a couple of common closed loop emotional scenarios:
- You feel the pain in your body,
- It’s perceived by your mind and activates one or many emotions,
- The pain can then intensify, or reduce as result of how you perceive this emotion.
- An event in your life triggers one or many emotions,
- This is then perceived by your mind,
- The perception of the emotional experience in your mind can then lead to a physical pain response in your body.
It doesn’t really matter what comes first, it’s just important to know that even though your mind, body and emotions are separate systems, there’s no way to truly separate them. They’re designed to work as one.
All of these systems are driven on autopilot by your un-conscious mind, which is why it’s so important to refine your mindfulness and awareness skills. This practice can help you to notice patterns and re-wire them to be more in your favour over time.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), at a basic level the 5 yin organs in our body can store the following emotions:
- Heart: impatience
- Liver: anger
- Spleen: worry
- Lungs: sadness
- Kidneys: fear
Specific types of emotions can build up in these organs and can correspond with pain at different locations around your spine.
Do any of these emotions enter your body on a regular basis? Do you notice that they are corresponding with where you’re feeling pain in your spine? You may have located the source.
4. Investigate the environments
Think about the people you spend most of your time with. Now, think about the places you spend most of your time in.
You may have heard the saying, you become the result of the 5 people you spend the most time with. This also rings true to the places you spend your time in.
You can try a little experiment to see if your environment is causing you pain.
Simply ask the 5 people you spend your most time with if they are experiencing pain in their body. If there’s a common trend of pain, you may have found a potential contributor to yours.
Perhaps you can all set a goal, to become pain free together.
You can do the same experiment for your environment. All you need to do is notice how the places you spend your most time imprint on your body.
You can locate a source of your pain if you just become aware of whats going on in the environment around you. And then ask yourself, how might this be affecting me?
Get to the source with awareness
Getting to the source of your back pain is about honing your awareness skills. Use the 4 element framework above, and you’ll have a powerful tool to allow that pain to move on so you discover a life beyond limitation.
Let’s get practical
In the next article in this series we’ll be going through some restorative movement strategies to help you develop your awareness skills, connect your mind and body to work together and say good bye to that pain boulder you’re carrying around.
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How about you? What pain source above resonates most with you?
Let’s talk about it in the comments.
Editors note: If you found this article useful, make sure to read this article on developing a balanced body that allows you to live with more ease: 5 Powerful Principles to Re-Balance Your Body (and Mind).
*Girl With Magnifier Image courtesy of [marcolm] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net