Is Low Back Pain Caused by Our Emotions?
We’ve all used expressions similar to something or someone being “a pain in the neck” (or lower), but did we stop to consider that pains in our body, especially low back pain, may actually be brought on by a situation or relationship? More and more health care providers are starting to see that low back pain could be a result of psychological or emotional origins. This would include stress or relationship upheaval, rather than physical causes.
This is not true in all cases, and unexplained back pain should be assessed by your primary healthcare provider. Back pain could actually be a symptom of a more serious problem, such as a kidney stone, aortic aneurysm, appendicitis, gynecological issue, or other conditions.
The number one cause of job disability is back pain. In the USA alone, nearly one hundred billion (yes, billion with a b) dollars is spent on back pain each year. It is also often a gateway into opioid use, which causes chemical dependencies and an alarmingly high rate of deaths.
Back Pain Doctors Recognize the Mind/Body Link
People may not want to think that their very real physical pain has an emotional or psychological causes, but more and more medical studies are bearing this out.
The late Dr. John Sarno, “America’s most famous back pain doctor” (according to an article at www.vox.com), believed and taught that we unconsciously cause our own pain. He explained that pain is our brain’s response to stress, anger or fear that we are suppressing. By not addressing such emotions, our brains cope by redirecting the emotional impulses to restrict blood flow to certain parts of our body. This will result in pain. The pain serves as a distraction from the emotions that we consciously or subconsciously suppress.
Dr. Sarno firmly believed most people could overcome their pain if they were willing to acknowledge its psychological roots. To recover, he encouraged his clients to maintain their normal physical activity, and stop treatment for the pain. He also advised them to talk back to their brain, telling it they were no longer willing to feel the physical pain of repressed emotions. Patients should also stop repressing their emotions, stop thinking of themselves as having a physical injury, and accept that they had the mental power to overcome the pain.
Dr. Mel Pohl, with the University of Nevada School of Medicine, also believes emotions are a primary cause of pain. He claims that emotions trigger as much as 80 percent of all pain, including low back pain.
New Medical Guidelines for Treating Low Back Pain
This view has become so prevalent that the American College of Physicians recently issued updated treatment guidelines for low back pain. In order to avoid the use of opioids or other potentially addictive drugs, they now recommend the use of non-pharmacologic treatment. This includes superficial heat, massage, acupuncture, or spinal manipulation, and exercise or mindfulness-based stress reduction such as tai chi or yoga.
While massage therapists are not counselors or psychologists, if they have clients with recurring back pain of no specific origin, and medical causes have been ruled out, they should recommend that their client consider ways to reduce any emotional factors that could be contributing to the pain.
# # #
Institute of Somatic Therapy offers online continuing education courses for massage therapists. Visit us at www.massagecredits.com for all of your CE needs.
# # #