In this article we tackle one of the most commonly held back pain myths that can delay or even prevent rehabilitation and recovery: “Pain means the damage is still there or getting worse” – MYTH!
When the body is injured, pain signals allow an amazing repair process to take place to heal the structure. This repair process takes a maximum of 3-6 months and usually as the tissues heal the pain lessens and then disappears. However sometimes pain can continue to be felt in these areas even though the tissues have healed. This type of pain is known as chronic, long term or persistent pain. Although it is often difficult to find the cause of persistent pain, we know that it is due to how the brain processes information from the body and environment.
Every part of your body has nerves in and around it. The nerves in your lower back connect to the spinal cord, so that messages can be sent from your tissues to the brain. The nerves will tell your brain if any part of your body is under threat. The brain interprets these messages and initiates any action needed to keep you safe and well. All this happens very fast and automatically without you being aware of it!
In some people the warning signals do not settle down even though the tissues have healed and the pain continues. We are not sure why this happens but we know that these signals can be increased by a variety of things. Do any of these statements fit your own situation?
- Not getting an acceptable diagnosis for the cause of your pain
- Fear of movement and exercise
- Anxiety about the impact on your income and family
- Doubts or concerns following X-ray or MRI results
- Negative experiences with healthcare professionals
When you have had pain for a while the nerves around your back can become over sensitive. This means that it will take much less general activity to set off messages that indicate a threat is present. The brain gets these messages and interprets them as meaning that damage is occurring even though it isn’t and the result – Pain! You naturally think that something serious is causing your pain!
Are your nerves over sensitive?
Do any of these statements fit your own situation?
- Pressure on your skin or around the painful area is very sensitive
- You are generally doing a lot less activities than before the pain
- When doctors test you, all movements are painful
- Cold temperatures set off your pain easily
- Just thinking about certain movements or tasks set off your pain
- Stressful situations make your pain worse
Your mind can play tricks on you! In one study, people were shown red rods contacting the skin. Red is associated with heat and danger, these rods produced more pain than blue coloured rods which are associated with cold, non-damaging sensations even though in the experiment both coloured rods were the same temperature!
The parts of the brain that process pain also connect with the parts that relate to your beliefs and understanding about your pain, other sensations, everyday stresses, worries about the future, treatments and more. For example if you believe that a certain activity will increase your back pain just having that belief may activate your pain map.
But it is not all bad news! Once you know that nerves can become over sensitive and that a lot of pain is due to this, you can learn how to turn down the sensitivity and make the pain easier.