In this article, I will give you some guidelines and hopefully a different perspective with which to view pain, including neck and lower back pain.
My patients often ask me when they can expect their lower back pain to go away. My response is always a bit vague because I don’t view pain as the enemy.
What is the purpose of pain?
Pain is a gift that alerts us to when something is wrong. If you were driving your car down the road and your engine was beginning to malfunction and overheat, would you rather:
- Not know about it until the engine bursts into flames and overheats, or
- Have a warning light illuminated within moments of the engine varying from its temperature tolerance?
Obviously the sooner we are aware of something going wrong, the more quickly and easily we can correct it. Wouldn’t you agree that it is faster, easier, and less expensive to replace a leaky radiator hose than to replace the motor?
Pain is not real. What I mean is that pain is not something that is tangible but rather a series of neuronal synapses that produce an uncomfortable sensation. Nerves have a tendency to work (or fire) down the path of least resistance. This is one reason that the longer someone has pain, the more challenging it can be to not feel the pain, even after the cause of the pain has been removed. This is seen in the extreme example of phantom pain that an amputee may experience. An amputee may continue to feel pain in the limb that has been removed!
What do we do about pain?
Many of us have been misled when it comes to the correct way to deal with pain. We have been taught, mostly by commercials, that pain is bad, and when we feel it, we should take pills to get it to go away. Unfortunately, the consequence of doing this results in bigger and often permanent problems that may not be evident for years.
When is it time to see a chiropractor for pain?
This question is a bit of a loaded one. It is like asking, when is it time to see a dentist for a toothache? It is more important to get a complete structural and functional assessment by a qualified chiropractor than it is to get a dental checkup. We can live a full productive life without teeth but can’t get in and out of bed with a bad back! Besides, you only get one spine, and you can’t replace it.
Having pain from time to time is part of being human. You may consider seeing a chiropractor when you have any of the following:
- Pain that is sharp and/or radiates
- Pain that is getting worse
- Pain, even mild, that comes and goes in the same location. The fact that it returns over and over could mean that there are underlying biomechanical issues that need to be addressed.
What is the best way to re-engage in activities after an injury?
- Discontinue pain pills. You want to use pain as a guide to what activities are non-aggravating.
- Be okay with some discomfort as you return to activities.
- Start small when you are coming back from an injury. A good rule of thumb is: if you think that you will hurt yourself doing the activity, then you probably will. Fear creates tension, which increases pain and likelihood of injury. Push your comfort level slowly over time.