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Persistent back pain is one of the most costly health problems and one of the most poorly understood. The old approach ‘fix the back’, ‘strengthen your core’ or ‘get a new office chair with lumbar support’ gives short term relief but doesn’t address the true cause of persistent pain. By treating the symptom and not the underlying cause you’re missing the point. In many cases it is possible to resolve persistent back pain instead of simply managing it.
The key to solving the problem is to understand it.
The very first step in your journey out of persistent back pain is to understand that it’s not so much a back problem as it is a pain problem. Pain acts like our body’s alarm system that alerts us to something potentially dangerous happening. Persistent or recurrent pain is like the alarm being continually triggered in the nervous system. Pain is not all in your head and it’s not all in your body either, it’s an altered ‘state’ of the nervous system as a whole.
One of the tricky concepts on this journey of discovery about pain is that whilst all pain is real – ‘your pain is what you say it is’ pain is also a perception that is open to interpretation. Your pain is not the same as my pain or anyone else’s. Your pain is your brain’s interpretation of what’s going on.
Think about a rainbow. It’s an example of a visual perception. Is it real? You can see it but it’s not a physical thing. It requires sun and rain and when the conditions change it disappears. Pain is a sensory perception, you feel it but it’s not a physical thing. A key skill in relieving persistent back pain is to disassociate it from a physical structure. Changing the belief from ‘my disc is worn out’ or ‘it’s bone on bone’ to understanding pain is a ‘state’ of the nervous system. Our ultimate aim with pain relief is to change the conditions in the nervous system so that pain disappears like the rainbow does and the alarm is not continually triggered.
Pain relief is as much about looking after the physical health of the nervous system as it is about changing the way you perceive it. Here are my top 5 tips on how you can nurture your nervous system for pain relief:
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