When it comes to back pain there is lot of fear. And understandably so – we can’t see our backs; when your back ‘goes’ it really hurts and the spine surrounds our most vital and precious part – the spinal cord.
Discs very often are blamed for more painful and prolonged incidences of back pain and the dreaded ‘slipped disc’ seems to be what people fear most. I believe, however, the disc is quite unfairly maligned and I’d like to set the record straight a bit.
Firstly discs are not at all disc-like. (Although books illustrate them as such). They are made of cartilage (like your ear), surrounded by several layers of very strong ligaments and are firmly integrated into the vertebrae above and below them. There is no possibility of them ‘slipping’ anywhere.
Often discs will bulge, sometimes quite a lot but this does not necessarily mean it will be painful. In fact several studies have shown that a large percentage of people with NO low back pain have quite significant disc bulges into the spinal canal. These structures degenerate with age, often leading to bulging, but this is normal and in itself does not cause pain.
There is a good nerve supply to the structures around the discs and this is partly why a sore back can be so painful. This pain sensation does not necessarily indicate that there is significant physical damage*. The pain you feel is a result of the brain processing all available information to it at the time. Including any stress affecting your life and your fears about the pain. Thinking and picturing that you have a slipped disc will almost certainly increase your pain.
Injury can occur to discs but the most common injury is a twist – just like a sprained ankle. It takes time to heal, as do all ligaments, because they have a poor blood supply. But just like any injury it will heal.
So, if you have back pain what do you do?
Firstly, be reassured that you don’t have a slipped disc, and if there is an injury it will heal. The body and especially the joints love movement so don’t be afraid to engage in regular exercise to keep blood pumping and joints well-lubricated. This can be anything from gentle walking to a high impact gym workout. Whatever you feel is achievable. If the pain continues get in touch – I will help you on your road to recovery. This may be hands–on but I also suggest techniques for you to use outside of the session to help you reduce your stress and take control of the pain.
The main message of this post is ‘Don’t panic!!’ The body will heal, but it needs time and space and perhaps a little help on the way.
*This is the case for most other muscle and joint pain too, not just the back.
Butler D and Moseley L 2013 2nd edition ‘Explain Pain’