The reality of it is, there is no denying the fact that there is a psychological aspect to pain. NO, I’m not talking about mind over matter. I personally believe that if my leg gets cut off no matter if I tell myself it hurts or not that sucker is going to hurt! So simply telling me, “oh just think positive thoughts! If all we did was smile and give out hugs then all our pain would go away”….I just can’t get down with that. I have felt pain and when it comes to back pain it sucks! I need more then just someone telling me to think happy thoughts. I need real evidence and an understanding of how this psychological aspect works.

There are lots of theories on this topic and really, the only conclusion they have come up with is that

“psychological and emotional factors cause some type of physical change resulting in the back pain.”

The mental connection most people have with their pain creates a negative cycle. As sufferers we constantly take ourselves through this cycle multiple times. When it comes to this cycle, there are 4 typical stages that are visited.

  1. Due to the pain we become limited as to what we can do whether it is things we enjoy doing or things we have to do. Keep in mind that this tends to be an unnecessary limitation. Yes, we tend to do this to ourselves.
  2. In most cases these activities come to a halt out of fear of making things worse, reliving the pain or further injury. In our heads we think “The less we do the better off we are”.
  3. This fear we have developed is made even worse after a diagnosis or having friends and family give us their “opinion”. They tell you to “take it is” or “don’t push yourself” or even “stay off your feet”. They think what they are doing is helping but it’s making things worse. On top of that the damage your “specialist” pointed out may have nothing to do with the pain you are actually having. So once he drops that bomb on you it can really go south. 
  4. Now we have limited ourselves to only specific activities which leads to what is known as de-conditioning. Our muscles get weak and what used to support our spine is no longer able to. This cycle eventually leads to even more pain. 

All we have to do is repeat this cycle and our pain gets worse. I know first hand what it’s like to live this kind of life. I still struggle with it today. There are times where my pain will return and I’m down for the count for the next couple of days and it’s so easy to start having these thoughts in your head. What helps me is that fact that I have come a LONG way from where I used to be.

One of my favorite books on this topic is by Dr. Rick Sarno. He is the author of Healing Back Pain: The Mind Body Connection. I won’t even begin to explain how he does it in the book but his theory is not based on the actual mechanical issues of the spine but rather the feelings, personalities and subconscious issues like rage and anger. He says good candidates for what he calls TMS are people who tend to have a type A personality. Not that type B’s can’t have it too but type A’s are usually extremely competitive, self motivated, driven to succeed, greater sense of responsibility, being their own severest critic, perfectionists and compulsive.

“Dr. Sarno’s theory of TMS describes a mechanism whereby emotional tension is pushed out of awareness by the mind into the unconscious. This unconscious tension causes changes in the body’s nervous system. These changes include constriction in blood vessels and reduction of blood flow to the various soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves in the back. This causes a decrease in oxygen to the area as well as a buildup of biochemical waste products in the muscles. In turn, this results in muscle tension, spasm and back pain experienced by the patient.”

Seems simple right? Well unfortunately, you really have to have a “come to Jesus” type of moment to understand. Jesus being self awareness. In my bio for this site I talk about the season of my life that was super stressful and how much pain I was in on a daily bases. I did what I could to change my situation and the pain decreased. I was able to pin point different things in my life that were really causing my stress and all I did before I knew it was hurting me was bury it deep inside.

How to Diagnose Stress Related Back Pain.

The most important advice I could EVER give you is to always seek professional medical advice 1st. I would never suggest self diagnosis as a fact. Before going out on my own and trying new things I went to every specialist I could to get second and third opinion. Due to the dynamic aspects of back pain you really never know what is causing it until you have a thorough medical history analysis done. You want to be able to rule out any and all major structural damage before you start chalking it up as just not playing enough Golf.

In some cases where stress is being looked at as a lead culprit it’s common to see the pain originate from a specific event such as a strain or minor injury. From there the inner stress magnifies the pain and the cycle begins. The majority of information that I read says the most common variable in those suffering from TMS is that their back pain symptoms tend to “float around”. It will start in the lower back then move to the left middle portion of the back then over to the right lower. Not in that specific order but you get the idea.

The point is, you can’t rule out psychological aspects to pain. I know as humans we want to be able to link the pain to a specific source but our bodies are so complex that every system that is working within it is affected by the system to the right and left. Everything is connected!

Later in the week I will touch briefly on Dr. Sarno’s approach to treating TMS. If you can’t wait that long you can always pick up his book from Amazon: Healing Back Pain: The Mind Body Connection

Thanks for reading guys!

William


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