Long-term Lower Back Pain Relief

Are you suffering from Chronic Lower back Pain? You may be able to find long-term relief in weeks using a course of Alexander Technique lessons —even if you think you’ve already tried everything.

Two Chronic Lower Back Pain Sufferers Describe The Relief They Experienced:

 

Call For More Information: 021 4311 977


Andrew Monaghan is a STAT qualified teacher of the Alexander Technique, an educational process that a BMJ (British Medical Journal) study concluded was highly effective at relieving back pain. This incredible process can help you relieve back pain — often permanently. Andrew is also trained in a specialised version of Alexander Technique called LearningMethods, which helps to make learning and application easier and more effective.

A recent large-scale controlled medical trial run by the British Medical Journal concluded that the Alexander Technique offered unparalleled long-term relief for Chronic Lower Back Pain Sufferers — despite having no success with many other established treatments and approaches…

…and when researches conducted a follow-up study one year later, patients who received Alexander Technique lessons remained free from back pain.

(Full study here: BMJ 2008;337:a884)

Why this approach is so effective

With conventional therapies, the focus is almost entirely on treating symptoms of back pain. This is fine when it’s something like an injury. But chronic back pain is often caused by how people use their body as they go about their lives.

So even when chronic back pain sufferers get relief from approaches like physio, chiropractic, osteopathic, etc. They go back into their lives with the same habits that caused the pain to begin with.

So, while various treatments can and do offer relief, the pain often returns as they leave the treatment and continue doing the same things that cause the pain in the first place. This is why so many people find their pain keeps coming back, again and again.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

What makes the Alexander Technique different is that the sessions don’t just get rid of lower back pain, but focus on finding the cause of the pain. By finding and removing the cause, there is no longer a reason for pain to occur.

Through a course of lessons, you learn to improve poor posture and change bad habits that can lead to back pain and strain. Andrew Monaghan has been a student and teacher of the Alexander Technique for over ten years.
A course of lessons will vary in length depending on a person’s current state, needs and goals. More on this below.

During a course of one-hour lessons, you will get specific, personalised guidance so that you can:

  • Find out exactly what causes your back pain, and stop it
  • Relieve back pain by releasing the excess muscle tension that causes it
  • Improve posture so you can sit and stand upright — pain-free
  • Identify and change habits and misunderstandings that lead to pain and strain
  • Improve how you move in activities, such as sitting, standing and walking
  • Return to the things you love without pain or strain
  • Learn Practical Tips and techniques that will benefit you for life

What Causes (most) Back Pain?

Up to 97% of all chronic back pain cases are diagnosed as “non-specific” or “mechanical” in nature. These types of back pain are often the result of excess muscle tension often caused or exacerbated by unnatural body mechanics or “poor posture”.

In other words, for most of us, our back pain is not caused by old age. It’s not caused by genetics. And it’s not a serious underlying issue.

Most back pain is the result of moving poorly and “carrying ourselves” with unnatural, harmful muscle tension.

It’s not that we have a ‘bad back’ that hurts us — it’s that we hurt our back.

Since 1-2% of all back pain cases can be of a medical nature, you should always see your doctor. They will be able to rule out any serious underlying issues that could be causing your pain. If your pain is not serious, your doctor will usually prescribe physiotherapy or medication such as painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Your doctor may even refer you for surgery if this has continued for a long time, but this does not necessarily mean your back pain is serious.

How moving badly can cause chronic back pain

When we move badly, we are out of balance. This forces our muscles to tense and strain to keep us from falling over.

When we move, sit, bend, stand or walk poorly. These tensions and strains can lead to chronic pain, and the forces can cause herniated and bulging discs, among other issues.

Most people have no idea that they are out of balance. Their body sends pain signals, but they just think, “this is what it feels like to be standing/sitting /walking”.  They don’t know the signals tell them it’s harmful. They just think its “the feeling of effort it takes to do this activity”.

While most people are acutely aware of their chronic back pain, most sufferers don’t know what is causing it. Most people make assumptions about the cause of their pain.

We say, “I think it’s genetic,” or “It’s just wear and tear from old age.” Few people consider the possibility that it’s something they are doing that could cause their pain. Many even fear that the doctor’s conclusions were wrong and something sinister could be happening that nobody has spotted. After all, how could something so painful, frustrating and deeply upsetting be harmless?

Why So Many Chronic Back Pain Sufferers Fail To Get Long-Term Relief

While the medical approach is vital for back pain caused by pathologies such as a tumour or stenosis, a growing body of medical research recommends against treating most chronic back pain as a medical condition. While “non-specific” and “mechanical” back pain can be extremely painful and negatively affects a person’s quality of life, it is harmless to your physical health and may be effectively reduced using Alexander Technique.

“Most chronic back pain sufferers believe their pain is a medical condition, rather than a symptom of their activity.”

Treatments sometimes provide some relief, but more often than not they are ineffective since the underlying cause just puts them out again.
As a result, people give up. They feel they have tried everything medicine can offer, and so if that has failed, it must be a problem with their body. Maybe it’s genetic and something they must learn to live with.
Due to repeated failures with treatment, lower back pain suffers frequently feel exasperated and depressed. It is not uncommon or people to admit feeling suicidal as a result of chronic pain.
They feel that they have tried everything and nothing is working, and so they return to their doctor as they begin to suspect that if all the things they’re told to do aren’t working, there must be something wrong. But more often than not, the doctor says that they only have signs of “normal wear and tear”, and the issue is not medical. This can leave sufferers feeling even more frustrated and hopeless. They feel there is no hope and they are distrustful of trying anything new. It is usually at this point that people come for a course of Alexander Technique lessons with Andrew.

 

What is the Alexander Technique like? Is it like Massage or Physio?

The Alexander Technique uses a very different approach that is likely very different to anything you have tried before. It is intensely practical, and everything you learn in a course will be useful towards relieving pain, reducing strain and improving how you feel and how you move. Although it may have parallels in some areas, it is unlikely to be directly comparable to anything you are thinking of. It was once referred to as, “Common sense applied to life”.

“When Nothing is Working You Have to Stop and Try Something Different.”

During lessons, you learn about how you function and how to function better. As an example for the sake of comparison, if you had a sore shoulder and went to a therapist, they would likely work to treat the tense shoulder using various approaches such as massage, manipulation, needling, etc.

In an Alexander Technique lesson, you would learn to identify why the shoulder is tense and learn to release it by yourself —your muscles are controlled by your brain. It makes more sense to tackle the tension from there; if the brain continues sending signals for the muscles to tense, treatment is going to have a limited long-term benefit. During the lesson, you might also learn why it might be tensing up in the first place. For example, say you discover that in your everyday life you use too much force to hold the steering wheel in the car and this over time led to chronic shoulder pain. By changing this particular habit, you tackle the cause of the shoulder pain. And it stands to reason that if you stop doing the thing causing the shoulder pain, the benefits are going to be long term and benefits will remain permanent unless you revert to that old habit or hurt your shoulder in some other way.

During the lesson, you might also learn why it might be tensing up in the first place. For example, say you discover that in your everyday life you use too much force to hold the steering wheel in the car and this over time led to chronic shoulder pain. By changing this particular habit, you tackle the cause of the shoulder pain. And it stands to reason that if you stop doing the thing causing the shoulder pain, the benefits are going to be long term and benefits will remain permanent unless you revert to that old habit or hurt your shoulder in some other way.
Each change you make will create an improvement, each improvement building on the next until they find yourself with greatly reduced pain and operating in your life in a way that is overall easier. Through this work, back pain sufferers can finally figure out the exact cause their pain and change the behaviour so that the pain is no longer an issue.

 

How many lessons will I need and how much does it cost?

How long it takes depends on how ingrained your habits are. Every person is different, but generally speaking the longer you have had chronic pain, the more sessions and time it will take to change. See examples below for a clearer picture.

 

Case Study Examples

1. David Duffy had persistent chronic back pain for two years.

When he started, he rated his pain at about 4/10. He tried various treatments and self-care approaches, including physio, chiropractic, osteopathy, massage, Yoga and Pilates. They offered improvements, but nothing lasted. He had also spent many thousands on equipment such as chairs.

David had a complete removal of all symptoms after eight sessions. He still had no symptoms and no back pain when we did a recent follow-up (three months later).
2. Maura Kenny has had chronic back pain for over 18 years.

Before treatment, Maura rated her pain and discomfort at around 7/10 – 8/10. It had been particularly bad for the last eight years with no treatment helping. She tried everything medical except surgery.

Before lessons, she had tried treatments such as physio, chiropractic, osteopathy, craniosacral therapy, orthotics, as well as self-care activities like walking and swimming. She felt low, frustrated and highly suspicious of any new treatments after repeated failures.

To date (March ’17), Maura has had 18 sessions. She currently rates her pain and discomfort at about 2/10 and is very satisfied with her results so far. We are still in the process of isolating and changing habits that are causing her pain.
For example, she recently discovered that she had been leaning backwards while standing and walking. This was not something she had been aware of previously but causes excess muscle tension and pain.

 

How can I find out how many sessions I need?

During your first consultation session, Andrew will show you how the approach works and give you useful tips, insights and strategies you can apply in your life right away. At this point, he will also give you an estimate of the number of sessions you will likely require to get lasting change.
Of course, one can only estimate. Everyone is different, and some people may gain big improvements sooner, others may take longer. A typical course typically falls within the following groups:

6 sessions, 6 weeks.
12 sessions, 12 weeks.
18 sessions, 18 weeks.

Book Your Trial Consultation

Andrew offers a Risk-Free Trial Consultation at the clinic. This is for those who are interested in trying it out but are unsure whether it can help them.  The Trial Consultation gives you an opportunity to experience this approach before making any kind of commitment. This is a chance to see how the process works so you can decide whether it’s right for you to go ahead with a full course.
During the Trial Consultation, you will experience a sample of the benefits you will get from a full course. Also, Andrew will be learning about you, your history and your ideal outcomes. At the end of the Trial Consultation, Andrew will ask if you’d like to take a full course of lessons. The course he will recommend will depend on how you are physically, how much pain you feel, and for how long the pain has persisted. There’s no pressure to answer either way.  At the end of the trial,

The fee for the Consultation is €120.00. This fee is deducted if you decide to sign up for a course of lessons. If you decide that a full course is not for you, you simply pay the €120 fee for the consultation in reception. Whichever way you decide, Andrew will provide you with a follow-up email with specific instructions on how you can continue to apply what you have learned in your daily life.

It can feel like a risk to place trust in yet another approach or practitioner. Especially if you have already thrown many thousands into furniture, equipment and therapies all of which you have been told are good for back pain, yet don’t provide much lasting benefit.

If this approach makes sense to you, you can sign up for the recommended course. Andrew will help you arrange a weekly meeting time. When you sign up for the full course, the €120 consultation fee is deducted.

The total cost of a full course depends on you and where you’re at. The typical number of sessions varies depending on your situation, your current physical state, your aptitude for applying the work, how much pain you are in. Andrew will help you assess this and will recommend a course that typically falls within the following groups:

6 sessions, 6 weeks.
12 sessions, 12 weeks.
18 sessions, 18 weeks.

These sessions are usually weekly. In some cases, a more frequent schedule may be recommended.

To Book Your Trial Consultation With Andrew, Call: 021 4311 977

Diagram of how osteoarthritis develops

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting around 12% of Irish people. It mostly affects cartilage of the joints and the most common areas affected are the hips, knees, hands and spine. Read more here.

Until recently, researchers and physicians believed that all osteoarthritis pain was caused by wear and tear to the cartilage and bone. But many recent studies cast doubt on this old idea. Researches now believe that a small number of factors combine to cause osteoarthritis pain.

These include how we move, holding excess tension  in our body. For example, there is much evidence that excess muscular tension in the legs can cause osteoarthritis knee pain.

Another factor is how we react to pain. When we expect pain, we tighten up in anticipation of hurting ourselves, and this change in our behaviour causes our pain levels to increase.

Osteoarthritis: How I can help

I help relieve osteoarthritis pain by addressing all of the above contributing factors. To do this I use Alexander Technique. In a recent clinical study, Alexander Technique lessons offered very significant pain relief from knee pain caused by osteoarthritis.

In the trial, subjects who suffered from knee osteoarthritis were given  Alexander Technique lessons. After completing their lessons, not only did they relieve 56% of their pain on average, they also showed significantly reduced “co-contraction” in their legs while walking.  In other words, their walking became easier.
The subjects also reported a reduction of other aches and pains in their bodies, like back and neck pain. And to top it off, when researchers conducted a follow-up exam 15 months later, these subjects continued to benefit.

The full study is available here.

How does it work?

The Alexander Technique is a method for neuromuscular re-education. It teaches you how to improve posture, reduce excess muscle tension and improve coordination. Lessons teach you to help identify, understand, and prevent poor habits. This helps you to reduce pain and tension in your body, move better and feel better.

To find out if I can help you, or to book a consultation, please contact Andrew on 087-9387302. Or email andrew@amonaghan.net

Sciatica Treatment

Sciatica treatment usually involves pain killers or epidural injections. The focus is on relieving the pain to let the body sort itself out. And sciatica sufferers know all about pain. It’s excruciating. It can keep you awake at night. Or keep you down on the floor all day, afraid to move for fear of pain, #incapable of even the most basic of tasks.

Sciatica sufferers, and I was once one myself, know all about pain. Many sufferers have done a fair deal of investigation into the anatomy of the sciatic nerve. They know that when it’s compressed by muscles or disks, it can cause pain. 

But after you have been to see a doctor to rule out serious underlying issues, the most important question you can ask, the question that will help you get relief from the pain and never get it again, is this:

Why does the sciatic nerve get compressed in the first place?

Answering this question with, “a bulging disk”, which is the most common cause for sciatica, only raises another question: Why would the disk bulge?  Before I answer that, let’s just quickly go over the anatomy again.

Why sciatica treatment often fails to address the cause

At its thickest point, the sciatic nerve is the thickest nerve in your body. It can be as thick as your baby finger. In addition to this, it has multiple connections, each of which can easily get compressed or pinched by the surrounding bone, disks and tissue. 

The sciatic nerve has many vulnerable points from the L4 vertebrae right down to the coccyx, where it’s exposed between the vertebrae in the column as shown here:

Image depicts where the sciatic nerve can be compressed

 

Our spine, including the vertebral disks, is a living, moveable, organic thing. It can lengthen, it can compress, and it can flex, all depending on what we’re doing. When we move unnaturally, we add tensions, strains and compression to our body. This alone is enough to cause pain; make a tight fist for five minutes and see how that feels — it hurts just as much when we tighten our lower back muscles. But while tension can hurt us in and of itself, it can do more than that to our structure.

Treating sciatica by releasing tension

Clenched muscles compress our spine. Muscle tension can squeeze the nerve. Or, more commonly, put so much force on the disks that they bulge, which then presses on the sciatic nerve.

The nerve also passes between two vertebrae in at least two locations, so if there’s excess tension in the body, those vertebrae are squeezed closer together by muscle tension, increasing the chance of the nerve being pinched between muscle and bone.

There are many ways in which tension can cause sciatica.

Bulging disks don’t usually just come out of nowhere. Poor habits, such as moving unnaturally or with excess effort, can put massive forces on localised areas. When we move unnaturally and out of balance, it adds forces to your body and creates muscle tension, and this excess force is what herniates disks, which then press the nerves causing pain.

Sciatica treatments often focus on treating the symptoms of sciatica, i.e. the pain, without addressing the underlying cause — our movement habits.

Sciatica treatment that addresses the underlying cause.

When you’re considering the cause of sciatica, it’s not merely a pinched nerve. That’s usually just an effect…  I address the way that you move, identifying how postural tension and poor movement habits can indirectly pinch the nerve.

poor movement habits can cause sciatica

People often recommend core strength exercises as a possible treatment for sciatica, but if anything this will just add more tension on the muscles of your system and likely exasperate the issue by further compressing the spine. It just doesn’t make sense…

The other common cause of sciatica is poor movement habits. It’s common in western cultures for people to “bend from the waist”. However, there is no real joint in the waist. Many people bend in the spine instead of their hip joints.  Our robust, flexible spine can put up with abuse for years — but it is not a joint. When we bend from our spine instead of our joints, muscles tense and the disks can bulge, eventually leading to sciatica.

Book a session for sciatica

It’s possible to release tension in your body by learning to move more naturally. I am a teacher of the Alexander Technique and I use this, along with ‘LearningMethods’, to teach people how to ‘let go’ fully of any unnatural muscle holding patterns or imbalances, to relieve pain. 

 

To find out if I can help you, or to book a consultation, please contact Andrew on 087-9387302. Or email andrew@amonaghan.net

 

Note: You should always seek medical advice if you feel back pain to rule out serious underlying issues. Up to 1-2% of sciatica cases can be caused by serious underlying issues which require medical attention. However,  if your doctor has ruled out any serious underlying cause of the back pain, it’s highly likely that the cause is muscular tension or poor movement habits.

Image depicts where the sciatic nerve can be compressed

The Sciatic Nerve

The sciatic nerve is vital to the functioning of your legs. The nerve is like the information highway for your sense of feeling and movement, connecting the nerve-endings of your leg’s skin and muscles to your brain.  

It is the longest, thickest nerve of your body. At its thickest point, it is about the width of your little finger. The nerve emerges from your lumbar area and sacrum and runs right down the leg. 

This is an excellent video showing how the nerve exits the spinal column and sacral area:

 

What causes sciatic nerve pain?

We experience sciatica when the sciatic nerve is compressed or inflamed. This is usually due to poor postural habits or excess muscular tension in our body. The pain starts where the nerve gets pinched; most often near the nerve’s base, around the pelvis and lumbar area. Here, the nerve can get sandwiched between muscle, bone or discs (between L4 right down to S5). 

The strong buttock muscles can also compress the nerve. A postural muscle called the ‘piriformis’ can squeeze the nerve when overly tensed. When this happens, the symptom may be called ‘Piriformis Syndrome‘. 

What causes pain in the sciatic nerve?

It’s a mistake to believe the nerve itself causes your pain. While the pain does, of course, come from the nerve, the nerve doesn’t cause pain because it’s ‘bad’ or in need of ‘treatment’.
We experience nerve pain when a nerve is compressed (or in very rare cases damaged).  In other words, the pain we get is just a symptom.  When we accept this, the next logical question is what is causing the compression.

Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture of you as a functional whole, we start to see that, excluding external factors, there are only three main ways to compress the nerve. Either muscular tension or some other tissue such as bone or disk.

In the majority of cases, the pressure is almost always down to how a person is moving or functioning in their daily life. A bulging disk may be pressing on the nerve, but again this leads us to ask — why would a disc bulge? This brings us back to muscle tension and unnatural body mechanics.

How I help people overcome pain in the sciatic nerve

By learning how to move more naturally, the way you did when you were a child, you can alleviate the imbalances, pressures and strains that generate excessive muscle tension. When you move in balance, your muscles and spine naturally decompress. Decompression means there’s more space around your sciatic nerve — it is no longer pinched, and the pain goes away.

In other words, unnatural movements can cause sciatic nerve pain, and re-learning how to move naturally is the solution.

For more information, or to book a consultation, please contact Andrew on 087-9387302. Or email andrew@amonaghan.net

Identifying the symptoms of sciatica

Sciatica Symptoms

How To Identify Sciatica’s Symptoms

Sciatica symptoms can be excruciating. During a flare-up, the feelings
can leave you isolated, out of work and crippled for up to 2 weeks at a time.

When people first experience sciatica, the symptoms can be weak and hard to identify. So here’s a quick run-down so you can identify the pain and can decide what’s the best course of action.

The most common sciatica symptoms include:

  • A radiating pain around the lower back.
  • The pain can also radiate down the back of the leg (it’s usually only felt on one side)
  • The pain can radiate down to the knee, as well as down the shin into the foot.
  • Symptoms can also include daring, shooting pain, pins and needles, a sense of numbness and in extreme cases, may cause a loss of bowel control.

What to do if you’re getting these symptoms

For the majority of sciatica and lower back pain sufferers, up to 99% of all cases are debilitating painful, but safe and harmless. I can help with these majority of cases. They are most often the result of poor movement habits that compress the spine or surrounding tissues,  forcing compression of the nerve or bulges a disk near the nerve, which then presses against the nerve and causes sciatic nerve pain.

However, for a small number of cases, about 1%, the cause of sciatica can have more serious underlying issues. For this reason, you should consult a medical professional to rule out more serious issues before seeking alternative sciatica treatment.

However, if you are diagnosed with something like a bulging disk or ‘non-specific mechanical back pain’ which is compressing your nerve, you are usually better off with treatment such as Alexander Technique. If this is the result of your scan, it is not something to be worried about (You can read more about why you shouldn’t worry about non-specific back pain).

If you have non-threatening symptoms, a good doctor will likely advise you against drugs or surgery. The research shows that painkillers do not work for sciatica. And surgery does not provide long-term relief.  

In other words, you are much better off tackling the root cause of sciatica, which is usually down to how you move and operate in your daily life.

How I can help

I work by helping you identify and correct unnatural movement habits (how you bend, how you sit, how you sleep, how you stand, etc.).

To further discuss your own case or to book a consultation, please contact Andrew on 087-9387302. Or email andrew@amonaghan.net

How to deal with sciatic nerve pain

Sciatic Nerve Pain

What causes sciatic nerve pain and how can you treat it?

Do you suffer from sciatic nerve pain? Sciatica comes with many symptoms; whether get throbbing lower back pain, shooting pains down your legs when you’re sitting or standing, burning or tingling sensations. Some people feel a sense of loss of strength or a feeling of numbness.  You can read more about sciatica’s symptoms here:  http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/guide/sciatica-symptoms

The most important thing to take in is that sciatic nerve pain may have symptoms that go from your lower back all the way down to your feet, but the cause of these symptoms is happening indirectly. Let me explain.

 

How I can help you to relieve sciatica — permanently

The important thing to realise about sciatica, as well as any other kind of nerve pain, is that in the vast majority of cases, as many as 97%, the pain is merely a symptom. The pain happens because the nerve gets compressed as a result of muscular forces or a mechanical issue.

In other words, the pain may be coming from a nerve, but the nerve itself is not the problem. The pain is generated indirectly by whatever is compressing or impinging upon the nerve.

In most cases, unnecessary, excessive muscle tension, as well as poor body habits, cause sciatica symptoms. For example sitting or standing with excessive muscle tension due to imbalances.

I work to help you identify strains, as well as abnormal movements which can cause this compression of the nerve. For example, a common issue is the around the L3-L4 vertebrae, also L1-L2 or L4-L5. These are vertebrae that are commonly compressed when people are bending unnaturally or adding excessive, unnatural muscular forces into this area of their back. I can help you to release this tension, so that the muscles release, the spine lengthens and this all decompresses the area around the nerve.

For more information, or to book a consultation, please contact Andrew on 087-9387302. Or email andrew@amonaghan.net

Research Suggests Chronic Back Pain Can Be Caused By Our Beliefs

Important: The information in this article is intended as advice only. It is not a replacement for any treatment or medication recommended by your GP. In rare cases, back pain can have serious underlying causes which require medical treatment. Please always consult your doctor to rule this out.

Doctors have used MRI scans for back pain since its development in the 70’s. But did you know that incidences of chronic back pain have increased since the use of MRI Scans? I want to share some intriguing research which shows that this is no coincidence, and can point you on the right path for overcoming chronic back pain.

Let me explain.

Roughly 1% of back pain incidents have serious underlying issues. X-Ray and MRI scans are essential for diagnosing and treating these. More often than not, these scans find no serious problems and no apparent cause for the pain, whether herniated or bulging disks, impinged nerves, etc. Of course, this is a good thing. Doctors refer to this kind of back pain as “non-specific”. Non-specific pain means there’s nothing visible in the scans to indicate a cause for the pain. That’s not to say there isn’t a cause; it’s just that the MRI and X-Ray scans can’t detect it, so doctors can’t give a diagnosis.

Here’s the problem. Doctor will often point out signs of “wear and tear” or “abnormalities” in the patient’s spine, even if these issues aren’t the cause of the pain. Because of this, patients are led to believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that the cause of their pain is structural.

An important study, which took place in 2013, concluded that chronic back pain is the result of cultural beliefs.

Back pain researchers in Australia noted that aboriginal communities are notably free from chronic back pain. They interviewed community members to understand their behaviours and attitudes. While people in these communities did get back pain, it rarely became chronic. They said things like, “Oh, I had a sprained back muscle, but I just took it easy till it got better”. And almost invariably, within a few days or weeks the pain disappeared by itself. These individuals rarely considered it a medical issue.

The researchers then investigated the Aboriginal community members with chronic back pain. They discovered these individuals tended to think in very similar ways to people in more westernised communities; They had negative beliefs about the health,  strength and ability of their spines.
These chronic pain sufferers said things like, “I first got a pain a few months ago. I have a relative who was hospitalised as a result of back pain, so I started to worry that it was something serious going on for me too. I went to the doctor, and he referred me for scans. The scans found no tumours or anything, but they did find I had a ruptured disk in another part of my back. The specialist said that it was wasn’t causing the pain. The specialist also said my spine had signs of wear and tear and other abnormalities.
When I heard all that, I started to worry even more — I was afraid my spine was going to get seriously damaged, and I’d need an operation. I also worried they might be mistaken  — something must be causing the pain. The pain got worse. Then I started to worry. I became afraid to walk, or bend, or reach, in case I caused a serious injury. And that’s when things became truly terrible”.

Researchers concluded that these patients pain increased in severity and became chronic because they believed their pain meant something was wrong with their spine and structure. This, coupled with an exaggerated fear of the pain, changed the way these individuals moved and behaved in their daily lives.

Fearing damage, they stopped doing the kinds of physical activities like running and bending — which research has shown is good for back pain. They would also tense up in what is known as “muscle guarding” patterns. We do this when we’re afraid we’re going to hurt ourselves; we tighten up and change our gait to ‘protect’ the painful area.

Their belief in a vulnerable spine meant they behaved differently, and it was this that caused chronic pain.

Chronic back pain patients, when asked about their image of their spine, often describe bones crumbling, disks bursting, and things disintegrating and rubbing together. Because they tend to believe their pain means terrible things are happening, their anxiety levels are often very high. And because they believe the pain means something terrible could happen, they are much more avoidant of activities and movements that might cause pain. This results in increased tension, strain and pain for these individuals.

It’s for this reason that the study concluded that chronic back pain is a product of these negative beliefs and is at least to some degree, “iatrogenic”, meaning that medical treatment causes chronic back pain.
Just as with Aboriginal cultures, in western cultures pre-1970, before the MRI scan became widespread, doctors diagnosed their patient’s back pain as “lumbago” or a muscle sprained. Patients rested and, more often than not, recovered quickly without issue.
But after the introduction of the MRI, the public learned new concepts like “abnormalities” and “disk degeneration”. Our society began to develop an unhealthy and untrue belief that back pain was due to weak and vulnerable spines getting damaged.

It’s a popular belief that spinal abnormalities are dangerous and cause back pain, but this belief is mostly untrue, except in rarer cases when there has been an impact injury, a bulging disk or other structural abnormalities physically impinging upon a nerve. But aside from these, most back pain — up to 70% of cases — is not structural.

The reason this belief has become prevalent is that doctors saw these ‘abnormalities’, told their patients, and people were led to believe they have a damaged, broken spine. Because they were afraid of hurting themselves, they started to get anxious and tense. And tension puts more pressure on already-sensitive tissues, causing more pain and confirming to the patient that there is indeed something bad happening.

But spinal “abnormalities” aren’t abnormal. Studies have shown that there’s no correlation between spinal abnormalities and pain. Abnormalities are incredibly common and ordinary. And despite popular thinking, abnormalities rarely link to pain.

In 1997, there was a study on healthy people without any pain. Out of 500 subjects, one in five healthy, pain-free people had “disk degeneration”. And almost ninety percent of healthy, pain-free people in their sixties had spinal abnormalities. Despite these high rates of abnormalities, none of the subjects experienced any pain. The researchers urged surgeons to “keep this in mind when interpreting MRI findings”. Clearly, something was not right.

If spinal abnormalities aren’t the cause of most chronic back pain, what can we do about it?

Spinal abnormalities are harmless for the vast majority of chronic back pain sufferers.  It’s an inevitable course of events, just as our skin wrinkles and our hair thins, our strong, robust spines get signs of deterioration. But these abnormalities are not a problem.

We must learn to trust our bodies. The first step is realising that chronic pain is almost always caused by other factors, such as poor posture, anxiety, fear of further injury, and other non-serious issues.
Pain can feel scary if you believe it’s serious. But if you trust that the pain is not serious and go about your life as normal (provided you have gone for a medical check-up to rule out serious underlying conditions), then you likely will likely see your chronic pain dissipate.

If you are living in Cork and would like more help on how to go about this, feel free to contact me to arrange a consultation.
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