If you’ve ever suffered from back pain (and there are likely very few among us who can say they haven’t!), you know how difficult and debilitating it can be. Chronic pain can interfere with our ability to focus, accomplish everyday tasks and enjoy life. This much is obvious. But there’s a lot you may not know about what’s causing your back pain and what you can do to address it. For instance:
1. Your spine is a superhighway for information going to your brain, and response coming from your brain. Sensors throughout the body alert the brain to adverse pressure, temperatures and inflammation.
Pain is highly subjective. Stress levels and the anticipation of pain affect your overall perception of pain. We can also become familiar with pain and either learn to ignore it, or look for it when it’s not immediately obvious — somehow reassured by its nagging presence.
2. Pain is not always an indicator of the problem. Poor posture and dysfunctional or repetitive movement stress the body. Even slight misalignment of the spine has been shown to affect the general status of our health.
When the brain is alerted to an insult or injury, a flexion response (curling or rounding of the spine, as in the fetal position) or extension response (arching of the spine, as in the fight-or-flight response) is initiated. Muscles go into spasm or contract to limit movement. The brain receives pain feedback from the increased pressure caused by contracted muscles. We naturally want to stretch out the perceived tightness, even when it causes more pain to do so.
3. Poor posture while sitting is a major contributor to spinal compression. Jobs that require static posture for prolonged periods, regardless of how comfortable you feel, are not good for your back. Neck pain, headaches, shoulder discomfort and low back pain can result.
But have you ever considered how your posture while relaxing might also be contributing to your pain? After a long day at work, we come home, slump on the sofa and watch TV, play games on the computer or check our emails. We are fatigued so we think we’re relaxing, while we are actually just affirming the poor posture we have endured all day. You can probably detect a self-perpetuating pattern here — a cycle of poor posture, fatigue and pain.
But there is hope: A 2013 integrative treatment study, which included yoga and mindfulness, discovered positive results for people suffering from chronic pain and the depression that often accompanies it. After following 252 patients for six months, researchers at UC San Francisco found a significant reduction in pain and depression, as well as improvements in mood, quality of life and work productivity, in those who had taken part.
“The biggest surprise was that our integrative approach to pain had a positive impact on so many other aspects of the patients’ lives,” said lead author Donald I. Abrams, integrative oncologist at UCSF. “Integrative medicine doesn’t just view pain as an isolated somatic symptom, but assesses it in relation to the whole person — body, mind and spirit.”
At Yoga Nook, we believe awareness is the first step. Becoming aware of how you use your body and defining its needs are key to resolving your pain. Next Tuesday, we’ll delve deeper into what’s causing our Poor Posture Pandemic (or PPP, as I like to call it). We’ll also look at how AIM (Awareness, Integration and Movement) helps us develop more functional ways of moving, sitting and being.
Image credit: Emily on Flickr (CC)