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Back Pain: Is It Mind Over Matter?

John Bankston John Bankston January 21, 2021
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen
Additions/comments by Neurologist Steve Schadendorf, MD

Hardly anyone is immune to back pain. Most of us will experience it at some point in our lives –– usually more than once. Lift something heavy, stretch awkwardly, even sleep funny, and the “reward” is several days of shooting, even immobilizing pain. Is there a solution? Turns out our attitude has as much to do with our recovery as the pain itself.

 

The Pain in Your Back

 

The lumbar region of your back features five vertebrae collaborating to support the weight of your upper body. Most of us eventually pay the price for walking upright as time and gravity grind away at our vertebrae’s shock absorbers––the intervertebral discs. These circular spongy pads cushion your bones while ligaments keep the vertebrae in place and tendons attach your muscles to the spinal column. You’ll know right away when something goes wrong thanks to 31 pairs of nerves rooted to the spinal cord.

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Chronic Back Pain

Chronic Back Pain

Lower back pain is the second most common disability in the U.S. with around 149 million days of work lost every year due to the condition. Total costs both for medical care and in lost productivity exceed $100 billion per year. It’s a problem that afflicts people around the globe. In fact, lower back pain is the number one cause of years lost to disability across the world.

 

When back pain lasts for over three months, it is considered chronic. Sometimes this can be treated, but often medical interventions are unsuccessful. Most of us suffer from what is known as acute back pain. This usually lasts a few days and goes away on its own. Unfortunately, 20% of the time, acute low back pain develops into a more chronic condition. That’s why developing a positive self-care regimen is crucial.

 

Acute lower back pain usually happens because something disrupts how your spine, muscles, or other components of the lumbar region work together. You might have sprained a ligament or torn a tendon. Regardless of the trauma, two people with identical injuries experience the pain in vastly different ways. People prone to anxiety or depression often find their condition worsened by lower back pain. Further, while some with back pain will do simple stretches or even light walking, others crawl into bed and don’t emerge for days. New research has uncovered a link between attitude and recovery time. If you find yourself in a downward spiral of pain and anxiety, there are some helpful techniques.

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Acute Back Pain

Acute Back Pain

Better Mind, Better Back

 

Mindfulness is a trendy buzzword, but it has been practiced for hundreds of years.This link to “headspace,” or what’s going on in your mind is crucial to your recovery. Focusing on the present rather than barreling into the future is a proven way to reduce anxiety. Although back pain isn’t always the result of stress, the two are often linked. A technique called “mindfulness-based stress reduction” teaches patients to ignore negative mental chatter and focus on their breathing. This technique has benefited those suffering from both chronic and acute lower back pain. People with generalized anxiety disorders also report positive results.

 

Many mindfulness practitioners also do yoga, a system of poses that can help stretch tight backs––and a tight back is often an injured back. Studies suggest that yoga and mindfulness in combination can reduce anxiety as well. Strengthening your core including your abdominals is beneficial. Since obesity is linked to back and knee issues, losing weight can do a world of good. Finally, the next time your back pains you, try to alter your attitude. Because it turns out when it comes to back pain, the less you mind, the less it matters.

Doctor Profile

John Bankston

Author

John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.

Doctor Profile

Steve Schadendorf, MD

Founding Medical Partner

Dr. Schadendorf is a board certified neurologist who specializes in vascular neurology at Bass Medical Group. Dr. Schadendorf is a Founding Medical Partner and Medical Director of the Neuromedicine Channel at Doctorpedia.

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