Moving beyond back pain

What you need to know about back pain

Whether mild, severe or chronic, back pain affects almost everyone. According to Statistics Canada, four out of five adults will experience an episode of back pain at some point in their life. But this doesn’t mean you’re destined to live out your life in pain. How you decide to deal with back pain is paramount to your ability to relieve, reduce and recover from it.

Here are three golden rules for adjusting your attitude and approach to back pain so you can manage it effectively and get back to pain-free living:

1) Find your champions

The best thing you can do when it comes to finding professional help for your back pain is to have an open mind about different treatment and reconditioning modalities. Now more than ever there’s an array of allopathic and complementary treatments that you can access—from Pilates to Physiotherapy and Fascial Stretch Therapy to Osteopathy. People react differently to various forms of treatment, so look around, try out different approaches and find the right combination of professionals. These individuals will be your “champions”—the ones who really “get” you, support you and provide you with the care you need to manage your pain.

It’s critical that your champions are prepared to assist you in an integrated way—manually, actively and emotionally—to improve your chance of healing. Be wary of those who claim an infallible cure for your pain and encourage you to rely solely on them for your healing. Instead, look for professionals who pay attention to when something stops working for you and who are willing to suggest different solutions. The reality is that there are no tried and true protocols that work for everyone. The sooner you can accept this and find qualified champions to coach you through your healing journey the better. That way you’ll get on the right path sooner and experience less frustration along the way towards better health and wellbeing.

2) Revise your relationship with pain

Pain is a godsend. It’s your body’s way of communicating crucial information to your brain in order to survive. Unless you’ve sustained a traumatic injury, discomfort normally sets in before pain. This is an early warning sign that something needs your attention. The lesson: don’t ignore the early warning signs, embrace them (or at least learn to respect them)! A common misconception about back pain is that it comes out of nowhere. The truth is that, unless your back injury was caused by a sudden trauma or accident, the underlying issue was likely there for some time.

Underestimating or ignoring discomfort until it gets to the point of undeniable or unbearable pain is all too common. It isn’t easy to accept that what feels like “sudden” back pain has actually been creeping up on you over a long time. The sooner you can acknowledge this, the quicker you can tune in to how your back feels and systematically address such contributing factors as postural issues, harmful habits or decades of repetitive strain. Learning to respect discomfort and pain as your body’s warning signs can help you to recover faster and prevent future occurrences.

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It’s common to accept chronic back pain as part of your reality. But chronic pain can have far reaching effects. It can be so insidious you don’t even realize the negative impact it has on your life. Dig into your mental relationship to pain. What comes up? Fear? Grief over the body you used to have? Work with your team of champions to develop a new relationship with pain—one that goes beyond trying to control it or deny it. This is when you can make real progress.

3) Develop realistic expectations

But what does progress look like? One of the first instincts people after an injury or when pain sets in is to get back to where they were before: they focus on what’s behind rather than what’s ahead. Like it or not, the reality is that when you’re living and dealing with back pain you’re dealing with a “new normal.” Shifting your perspective from longing for your past good health and all the things you thought you could do without consequence (think running, gymnastics or skiing) to accepting your present reality is easier said than done. But the sooner you can learn to accept where you’re at, pay attention to your body’s signals and learn to take action one day at time, the better off you’ll be long term.

Unfortunately, healing is not a linear process. It often moves back and forth. An exercise that feels like a “magic bullet” at the outset may not deliver the same results after a while, and you may even find that your pain rears its ugly head again. For sure this can be disheartening, but don’t despair.  It’s not the end of the road. This is why you need to have real champions you can turn to for advice and support support you as you work together to devise the next phase of your plan to regain pain-free mobility.

With the help of a team of professionals to support you on all levels, a healthy relationship to pain and expectations that match the realities of your situation, you can manage your back pain and your overall physical health and well-being.

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