In my opinion, low back pain is treated pretty poorly in the UK. If you’ve had back pain the likelihood is that you’ve been to see a GP, who hasn’t given you any useful advice. Then, you’ve probably taken matters into your own hands and booked in to see a physio/ osteopath. You might have been given a vague diagnosis from one of these specialists that makes sense to you, but then you might have gone to someone else who says something completely different. You’re left in a state of frustration, confusion, powerlessness, and fear.
Next, you’ve probably turned to Google (oh the joys – and the sheer terrors) to try to self diagnose. Depending on where you look you might end up reading other people’s accounts of years of back pain. Maybe you tried exercises videos which might have helped but might not have. You leave Google feeling just as confused as before.
The truth is, we know more now about back pain than ever before. Yet very little of what we know gets communicated to the people who are actually suffering from back pain. Having experienced back pain myself for a number of years, I know how frustrating and confusing it can be. But it doesn’t have to be this way. [Read more on some of the causes of back pain here.]
Back pain can, very rarely, point towards something more sinister going on – we’re talking less than 1% of all cases. You would have to be incredibly unlucky to fall into this category. If you’re worried about whether this might be you, let me reassure you. If you have been to any health specialist about your back pain and they HAVEN’T referred you on for further tests, you do not fall into this category.
The majority of low back pain cases (95%) are ‘non-specific’. This means that doctors aren’t sure why you have pain. This can sound scary (you might think “what must be wrong with me if even a doctor can’t tell, it must be bad?”).
But I want to tell you three big secrets about back pain that GPs and physios don’t tell you, that will help you get better….
Secret number 1: it’s highly likely that you will get better!
When it comes to low back pain, the overall outlook is good. It’s highly likely that you’ll get better. I’ll repeat this again: it’s highly likely that you’ll get better.
If you were unlucky enough to see a GP who seemed concerned about your back pain you were probably left worried about what is wrong with you. If you happened to read about cases of chronic back pain on Google you are also much more likely to assume that you also won’t get better. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people with back pain improve.
Your mind is incredibly powerful and can affect your experience of pain. If you think that your pain is a signal of something seriously wrong – either consciously or subconsciously – your pain is likely to be worse. It is incredibly important to keep reminding yourself that pain doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you and that you will get better.
Secret number 2: it doesn’t really matter what’s happening in your back
Now, this is not to say that there isn’t something going on in your back that is causing you pain. Maybe you have strained a muscle. Maybe you have injured a disc. Maybe your fascia is stiff or maybe the alignment of your spine or pelvis isn’t quite right.
However, whatever physical issue is happening in your back, in a way, it doesn’t really matter….
You probably still don’t believe me. How can it not matter what’s happening in my back if it’s causing me pain? Surely we need to know what’s happening in order to be able to fix it? Well, most bodily injuries fully heal themselves in 6 weeks. If you have injured a disc, it would be fully physically healed in 6 weeks.
Still confused? Hopefully secret number 2 makes more sense when you know secret number 3…
Secret number 3: get moving to get over pain
No matter what physical issue is ‘causing’ your back pain, in 99% of cases the prognosis will be the same: get moving. Whether you have something going on with a disc, a vertebrae that has moved slightly out of place, a torn muscle, stiff fascia, a tweaked ligament, or even a whole combination of these things, you’re going to be given the same medical advice – move to heal your back.
For a brief period in my career I really wished I’d trained as a physio or an osteopath. I was teaching Pilates and occasionally I’d think, ‘god I wish I knew what was going on inside that person’s physical structures’. [Read my blog here on why I trained to become a Pilates teacher.]
Then I did a course on back pain. I realised that even if I was a physio, I’d still be telling people to take up some kind of movement practice anyway!
I’m not entirely sure why GPs, physios and osteopaths keep the above 3 things secret when seeing someone with low back pain (maybe GPs aren’t trained on how to deal with back pain and to try to get people to implement lifestyle changes) but I think it’s a tragedy that people aren’t told these things, as it would probably make the process of getting over lower back pain much easier.
How can you use these three secrets to help yourself?
- Remember that even if it takes a bit of time, you will get better
- Keep in mind that everything will be ok with your back. If you’ve seen a medical professional and they HAVEN’T referred you on for further tests, your back is good enough to start a movement programme
- If you start moving more, you are likely to see significant reductions in your back pain
I wish that someone had made these three facts clearer to me when I had back pain. I hope they help lessen any anxiety you might have around pain and help get you motivated to get moving!