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“You don't have to have the solution.  You've got to understand the problem”  

Slight Return by The Bluetones, 1996

Aah, Britpop..them was the days.  I’m sure we all think back to a certain time in our lives and see that as being the real golden era and the best time to be alive.  Nostalgia is a powerful feeling. Useless – but powerful nonetheless. 

Pain (another powerful feeling) has a terrible ability to draw us into losing sight of what’s really going on.  Persistent pain in particular can dominate a person’s life to the detriment of all else.  But what if we understood pain a little more? What would happen if we made friends a bit with pain? Would it help? (Sly nod to Mark Rylance right there).

Here’s how I reckon it helps.  As human beings, we have an over-riding urge to stay alive.  In order to help us do that we must have a fantastic in-built defence mechanism to protect us.  That defence mechanism needs to be like an alarm that goes off in any circumstance where there is a threat to our safety – whether (and here’s the twist) that threat is real or not.

Pain is an amazing warning system to help us stay alive.  It is a call for us to change something so that normal business is resumed.  Pain triggers the ‘Flight or Fight (or Freeze)’ response in us which releases adrenaline and cortisol to help us prepare to fend off threat.  It heightens our senses so that the nervous system is primed to find safety.  An elegant knock on effect is that after the flight or fight response passes, our parasympathetic systems kicks in and makes us lethargic, stiff and achy which slows us down to ready the body for healing.  The fight or flight response (or ‘Protect Mode’) lasts a few hours or a few days.  The come-down effect may last a week or two.

Only around 5% of back pain has a definite and specific cause to it (i.e. something structural in the spine has been damaged). So the other 95% can explained by the effect the alarm going off has on us.  If we don’t know how normal this physical response is then it’s no wonder pain freaks us all out and creates fear and anxiety (err, which releases adrenaline and cortisol and triggers the fight or flight response, which lands you back in Protect Mode, which then takes a while to go….you get the picture, and maybe see how back pain can quite quickly slide into being an ongoing problem?)

By understanding this relatively simple process we can experience painful episodes in the same way you may go through a heavy cold.  You look after yourself and do what you need to do to feel comfortable whilst waiting for it to pass because it always does.   

I’ll close with what I think is a decent analogy of all this.  Most of us have been in a situation where a fire alarm was set off in a building and triggered the fire drill.  Usually at 4 in the morning.  In certain places like hospitals or hotels this automatically sends a message to the nearest fire station and fire engines are soon on the scene.  Now I’ll bet most of you who have been through that were told that there wasn’t actually a fire – someone had burned the toast.  Sorry to have troubled you – all back inside now.  But…would you be happy to go back inside if no-one could tell you there was no fire?  I doubt it.  I reckon you’d like to hear the fire marshal tell you “Yes, it was inconvenient, but yes – you’re safe”

Just like you’d like to hear all health professionals telling you “Yes, you’re sore - but yes, you’re safe!”

Thanks for reading

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Clinig Corff Ystwyth,
Park Avenue,
Aberystwyth, Wales
SY23 1PB. 

01970 611190

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