By Meredith Woolsey, Exercise Physiologist.
What a Pain In The…
So as I am sitting here writing this article, I find myself adjusting in my seat. Wriggling, stretching, bending, sighing, shuffling, twisting and tweaking my body to try and ward off that dreaded frustration that so many of us have to deal with … back pain.
I know I am not alone. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that about 1.8 million Australians have a back problem right this second and between 70-90% of the population will experience some form of low back pain at some point during their lives. That is a lot of chair-wriggling.
Now obviously there are many different types of back pain, a sliding scale of the amount of pain we experience and a seemingly never-ending list of reasons why we are hurting. These range from the simple I’ve been sitting too long to write this article general stiffness and soreness which would be resolved by a nice walk outside and a stretch, to the My vertebrae are disintegrating and my nerves are being crushed shooting and stabbing pains that my 101 year old Nana experiences and nothing can be done about.
There are also different options in between – bulging discs, overworked or overstretched muscles, narrowing of the spaces nerves run through, muscle strains or tears, arthritis, scoliosis, cancer and osteoporosis. These can be caused by poor posture, chronic overuse, motor vehicle accidents, kids jumping on you, workplace incidents, trauma or just plain inactivity to name a few.
So if nothing else, the one thing you should take away from this is that back pain, and pain in general, is totally individual and should be treated as such.
The other really difficult aspect to pain, particularly chronic pain, is that it is invisible. Without any physical scars or visible deformity, often no one except the person experiencing the pain is aware of what is happening under the surface. This can be very isolating, debilitating and create feelings of helplessness and frustration for both the person in pain and their loved ones.
As an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) I see people in pain every day. Some people are new to pain and have never experienced it before while others have been dealing with it on an ongoing basis for longer than I have been alive. It sucks. No one likes being in pain. All we want is for someone to fix us and make it go away. But is that really what we need?
Pain … is good.
At the root of its function pain is a very useful and even a vital survival tool. Pain is what stops you from keeping your hand on the hotplate and burning yourself. It lets you know when something is wrong inside your body and you should go to the doctor. It tells you to stop what you are doing when you are straining your muscles, twisting your knee, dislocating your shoulder or breaking your bones so that you do not cause further damage. Pain protects you. It is just when this protection mechanism gets … well … over-protective that we have a problem.
When we experience pain for a long time our brains adjust how they process the signals of sensation. We make our responses so much stronger that we become super sensitive to everything, regardless of whether it is actually damaging us. This is why just touching someone with chronic pain can send them climbing up the walls.
We can also start feeling pain where there is no physical stimulus – no disease, injury or anything pathologically amiss with us to cause the pain. This is why people get told there is nothing wrong with their back, knee, shoulder etc. and it’s all in their head … but they are still experiencing debilitating, crushing and constant pain. In a way it is all their heads – with the brain becoming hypersensitive, over compensating and eventually re-wiring itself to expect and to process pain at all times of the day or night without any external stimulus. It is not that these people are crazy, simply that their brain has taken matters into its own hands.
So what can we do? Well it depends on the individual. For some people treatment of the disease or injury takes a simple course and they only experience pain whilst there is damage. A Physiotherapist is a good starting point when you experience initial back pain.
Some have ongoing chronic disease, injury or pathology that results in long-term pain so by providing consistent treatment for the underlying issue we can abate the symptoms of pain and discomfort. For others only the pain is left.
Pain Management is preparing the body for the life you want while dealing with your pain through a variety of means. Strengthening and stretching muscles to promote good posture and prevent further re-injury, maintaining mobility and function through the body to prevent deconditioning, re-wiring your brain to understand that not all movement is dangerous or should cause pain and learning to pace one’s self so that you are the one controlling the pain and not the other way around are just a few of the ways an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP), through individually prescribed movement and exercise, can help you to help yourself.
Unfortunately there is no magic bullet. Remember – the aim is to manage your pain and be able to live your life and do the things you want. Getting to a 0/10 for pain is not realistic or achievable for anyone but taking control of your condition, learning to pace yourself and enjoying life certainly is. After all … no one is completely pain-free all the time. Now, time for that walk and stretch …
Meredith Woolsey is our local Exercise Physiologist, she can assist you with a personalised Pain Management Plan or contact Courtney at our clinic to discuss your pain.
Meredith Woolsey is an accredited Exercise Physiologist and founder of the Move to Live clinic in Noarlunga South. She is is passionate about helping people discover the joys of movement. She believes whole-heartedly in the benefits of exercise and physical activity, and is excited to be able to help her clients achieve their goals.
Contact Meredith T. 0419 945 436 E. firstname.lastname@example.org