Low Back Pain & The Brain

Low Back Pain is the leading cause of disability in the world.It is the cause of over 100 million lost workdays per year.It is the second most common reason to visit your doctor. Can low back pain be just ‘in your head’? No, but your brain can influence your back pain. Your thoughts can drive your back pain up or down.

Lorimer Moseley is a dominant voice in the world of pain. He discusses the influence of brain processes-thoughts, attitudes, and concerns-on the perception of pain in the body. All sensations of pain pass through the brain before we perceive the actual sensation of pain. This translates to the understanding that if we obsess over our pain, our brain will greatly inflate our perceptions of pain.

Another link between low back pain and the brain are the psychosocial factors that come into play. In an experiment conducted by Professor William S.Marras, PhD,CPE at The Ohio State University, he assessed loading stress in the low back with a lift, under both stress-free and stressful conditions. Stress-free lifting was a lift supervised by a graduate student under quiet, verbally encouraging circumstance. Stressful lifting was created by interrupting the lift to yell at the graduate student during the lift. When the loading stress on the low back was compared first lift to second, there was an increase in strain to the back when individuals lifted under stressful conditions. Practical application of this concept means that if you lift heavy loads under a perceived stress, you are more likely to hurt your back.

Key takeaways:

  1. Keep your brain quiet: spending too much time over analyzing your pain will not help to make you feel better. Trying to figure out exactly what is wrong with your back will not help you to recover from back pain, but it will definitely lead to more focus on your pain which we learn is detrimental from Lorimer Moseley’s research. In fact, 80%-90% of low back pain is undiagnosed, so you are in good company!
  2. Keep your brain calm: Letting stress get to you, or build up in your brain, will make it more likely for you to injure your back while lifting. Try to ‘find your Zen’ and not worry about stressors when doing manual lifting.

How can you be proactive in preventing pain?

One can always minimize risk associated with lifting by learning proper lifting techniques. Bending and lifting can place great strain on the back; it pays to take the time to learn proper mechanics. Knowing the right way to lift will certainly help reduce the stain to the back. Lifting with poor mechanics and then adding mental stress is not a healthy combination.

How can Physical Therapy help?

PT can help with pain reduction in several different ways: manual therapy, modalities, exercises, education, and body mechanics training. PT’s can explain the brain loop of pain, and understanding the loop helps to prevent the brain patterns from getting out of control and inflating your perception of pain. Feeling in control of your pain usually helps. Taking steps to mitigate your pain, and starting to feel better, generally reduces the mental stress around back pain. Reducing pain with Physical Therapy will help on all fronts.

Contact us if you have any questions on how we can help you take control of your back pain


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