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Chronic back pain - Is it physiological or psychological?

How do we know if chronic back pain is physiological or psychological?
Chronic back pain is usually complex, and finding relief, or a cure, may require a combination of treatment options. Even with medical advancements and technologies, it may be difficult to identify, isolate, and successfully treat the cause of the problem. Therefore, it's nearly impossible to truly know how much of the pain is physiological, and how much of the pain is psychological. In most cases, it's a combination of a physical problem, and more importantly, how the brain decided to deal with the problem. In dealing with chronic back pain, it's important to develop a treatment plan that treats both the physiological and psychological aspects of the problem.

People with long-lasting back and neck problems sometimes develop an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, where the neurotransmitters lock into using specific signals paths, affecting how signals are interpreted, and causing pain and discomfort regardless of which area of the body is sending the pain signals to the brain. While the majority of these cases resolve on their own, some develop reoccurring, chronic, debilitating back pain and discomfort that is very difficult to treat. This type of disorder often requires a multidimensional, or multipronged approach to effectively deal with the physiological and psychological aspects of the problem. The approach can include using both passive and active physical therapy treatment, and a pain management treatment process that uses a wide variety of techniques to address pain and painful disorders.

Regardless if the back pain problem is purely physical or psychosomatic, involving both mind and body, the pain and discomfort is very real. The term psychosomatic disorder is mainly used to mean a physical disease or problem that is thought to be caused, or made worse, by mental factors. Our physiology interprets and reacts to our thoughts as real. If we truly believe it, our thoughts actually create physical changes in our body. For instance, most of us have been in situations where we worry, feel afraid, or anxious anticipating will happen in a situation. In response to our thoughts, our physiological may develop a fast heart rate, fast breathing, feel nauseous and sick, shaky, sweaty, dry mouth, headaches, and chest pains. These physical symptoms are due to an increase of brain activity, where it sends out messages to various parts of the body including hormones to release chemicals such as adrenaline into the bloodstream when we get anxious. This type of physical reaction is often called a fight or flight syndrome.

If you are suffering from chronic back pain, one of your objectives should be to remove any deep-seated negative thoughts concerning your back. Yes you have a back problem, but how severe and debilitating is the pain and discomfort? Really? It is up to you to investigate and determine the physical problem. It is also up to you to figure out if any emotional issues are stopping you from minimizing and containing the back problem so you can live a normal life.

Below are a few tips to help isolate the physiological and psychological aspects of chronic back pain.

We cannot control our brain-mind, but we can learn to consciously manipulate it. We can learn to develop self-talk techniques that will help minimize our negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts. This process will help isolate the physiology problem as well as any psychosomatic issues that may be negatively affecting the recovery process.

Keep a diary documenting daily activities. Record when the pain subsides and when it increases. Track which food negatively affects you and which ones don't. Document how you feel after a night of sleep. Reviewing the documentation will help you identify what's helping and what's not.

  • Learn to relax and to reduce stress as much as possible.

  • Practice deep breathing and meditation.

  • Practice Qi Gong/Chi Kung physical, mental, and breathing exercises.

  • Try biofeedback to decrease pain severity and reduce stress.

  • Find ways to distract yourself from pain and see if the pain subsides. Document any findings in your diary.

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O'Brien Chiropractic

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