80% of people have back pain at some time in their lives and many have chronic pain for years. Muscle and joint pain as well as nerve pain are so common and yet many people have trouble living pain free. People visit their primary doctors, orthopedists, neurologists, chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists to name just a few. After consulting with thousands of patients and speaking with every kind of health provider you can imagine as well as reading countless information about this problem I have come to a conclusion. Most people are confused and have little understanding of the problem so they suffer or are unable to be helped.
My goal in writing this paper is to finally clear up this complex issue and give hope and action steps so you too can be pain free and enjoy life to its fullest.
Understanding each cause of back pain is much too complex to explain in detail here but knowing the basics about pain and specifically low back and neck pain will be invaluable by themselves for the average person.
The three causes of back pain which I will explain are; Physical stress, Chemical stress and Emotional stress. Each one has many factors and they each contribute to some degree in every case. This is where patients of mine are usually amazed that they have been unaware of how these 3 factors were affecting their health so much. I will go into more detail in a moment but for now I will explain by using an analogy.
Suppose you have a glass and you put drops of water in it from an eye dropper, and the drops represent the 3 different forms of stress in our lives. Sometimes you squirt a few drops at once, representing a larger stress. Along the way you can pour some water out each day and then the next day you start again. Eventually the glass fills and it may spill over. This is when symptoms start to occur. The next few pieces of information are vital to understand and can make a profound impact on how you look at your health. Your nervous system which is made up of your brain, spinal cord and all of your nerves controls every function of your body including your pain sensations. Here’s the tricky part. Scientists now estimate that only 10% of your nervous system has pain sensitive fibers. This means that 90% of your body can be developing serious problems and we are unable to feel it happening. Like an iceberg, most of it is under the surface and we don’t see it until its right in front of us. I have sadly listened countless times while patients try to take care of their problems on the surface with symptom based care while under the surface lies an iceberg of problems waiting to sink their ship. I will go over the 3 causes briefly and then go back to explain in more detail so you can understand what may have happened and also so you can avoid the pitfalls in the future.
Physical stress is usually the easiest for people to relate to. It’s made up of micro (small) and macro (big) occurrences. This includes falls, accidents, sports, repetitive motions, poor ergonomics and overall de-conditioning due to lack of exercise. Any one of these can directly injure muscle nerve or bone but often it is a slow process like a cavity in your mouth. An injury will immobilize a joint and this will irritate a nerve and then the nerve will send impulses that will make the muscle contract repeatedly. It is also important to realize that once the joint is no longer moving correctly it will put pressure on the disc and a degenerative process will begin.
Sometimes this is the main cause and I am always amazed that people will attempt a chemical answer to a physical question. Every case contains some of each cause but many times there is a leading cause and figuring this out is paramount to each patient’s success in conquering back pain.
Chemical stress is a more challenging to understand unless you have a degree in biochemistry. This is easy to understand if it is a large chemical stress. There are chemicals that actually shut down the nerve system and can cause death. The majority of this cause of back pain is micro and insidious. Common factors are chemicals in our foods, water supply, medications, pesticides by the tons, pollution and even nutrient deficiencies from our highly processed foods.
One example that illustrates the point is caffeine. Although some caffeine comes from natural sources and is most likely not as harmful, many forms of caffeine over stimulate the brain. This makes your nerves send messages to your muscle and they contract or tighten. When we do this repeatedly our muscle do not get enough time to rest and they build up toxins as if you were constantly working out your muscle. This also locks your joints into place and does not allow them to move through their normal range of motion. When this happens in the spine it even impacts the spinal cord and back to the brain itself. I am not suggesting that you can never have a cup of coffee or your favorite chocolate but it explains how chemicals play a major role in many of our pain issues. There are much more pernicious chemicals that we are being bombarded with on a daily basis.
Emotional stress is finally getting its own recognition as a leading cause of health conditions. This is not new but the focus on mental health has clearly taking a turn and more research if not plain old common sense is connecting the mental health of a person and their overall health. Emotional stress is a part of life that your body and mind are equipped to process and deal with appropriately. Unfortunately when it is continuous and we do not have down time emotionally we tighten our muscles the same way we do when we have chemical stimulants or when we have physically hurt ourselves. Since our nervous system is how we have emotions then it makes more sense that when we overload the system the nerves will send out impulses and create contraction and possibly pain.
Think of it like the fuse box in your basement. If the electricity surges too much then fuses will blow. Your body does the same thing. Your electrical wires, know as nerves send messages to your body and then creates muscle contractions and a this locks spinal joints into a position and create a condition called the vertebral subluxation complex. Now you have a cycle that is difficult to break by yourself.
All of these tie in together and can be very complex. In order to have fantastic results and be pain free now and in the future all of these must be addressed. All too often patients will come to me after a health provider has attempted to focus one of the three and the patient gets mediocre results if at all.
The first action step is to seek out a holistic health professional that will be an expert in all three of these areas. As a chiropractor with a nutrition and fitness background I am well versed in all three.
Your second action step is to learn about how your body works so that you can begin to take charge of your health. A great place to start is reading my website and sign up for your free newsletter on the right hand side of the page.
The third step is to feel free to contact me by e-mail with specific questions about your scenario, I would be happy to help you in any way that I can. Remember to look through the website and please send the link to your loved ones.
Dr. Edward Beck
Advanced Chiropractic Center