Why Does My Back Hurt?
To begin, we'll give you some new information about pain. It's been studied quite a bit, and there's a lot of mystery surrounding it, in addition to a lot of misinformation. We want you to be able to understand why you are hurting, and we want you to have hope that there could be relief in your future.
WHAT IS PAIN?
Pain is a distressing experience associated with actual or perceived tissue damage with sensory, emotional, cognitive, and social components.
Credit is due to Greg Lehman for the information contained in this chapter.
A very important point of the above comment is that damage can be actual or perceived. You can have lots of pain with lots of damage, little pain with lots of damage, and lots of pain with little damage. The reality is that pain is not just about damage.
There are many components of pain; emotions, sensations, beliefs, and societal views are all implicated in persistent pain. All areas of our lives can affect our painful experience. This means that there is usually not just one straw that breaks the camel's back, but many.
Fortunately, this also means that we don't have to find the exact straw, we just need to try to remove as many as we can so the camel can handle the load.
There are nerve fibers called nociceptors in our body. They pick up signals about potential danger and send it to the brain via the nerves and the spinal cord. Mind you, the danger is only potential until it reaches the brain. The body doesn't know if there is any damage yet, just that there is something that should be addressed. Sometimes the signal doesn't make it to the brain because the spinal cord recognizes the signal as something harmless that has been experienced before and it stops there. If the signal makes it to the brain, the brain makes a decision about whether or not this is something that has to be addressed RIGHT NOW!
Here is a great video by a neuroscientist named Lorimer Moseley, explaining this process in a TEDTalk.
The brain considers many factors in the pain response
- Past experience
- Stress, sleep, and lifestyle
- Anxiety, depression, or fear
- Anger or a sense of injustice
Occasionally, our body can become sensitive to these processes
When pain and fear and anxiety and stress are intermingled, the body goes through a stress response, making everything stay excited with adrenaline. The nociceptors change, becoming sensitive to adrenaline and remaining sensitized long after the injury and threat are gone. This is how pain can go from acute to chronic, and this is often how it persists no matter how often you stretch and massage it.