When patients use the Internet to learn about back pain, they can find a common myth repeated – that back pain can resolve on its own within 2-8 weeks. But as I explain to my patients, you’re not “healed” just because you don’t feel pain. When it comes to the most common injuries affecting the back, pain is usually the last thing to show up, and the first thing to go away.
These are the top three reasons why back pain sticks around…
1. Our muscles and brains are linked.
Our nervous system changes when we are injured, say in our back. In some cases, our brains stop “seeing” the area that was injured, and research has shown that your brain stops telling your back muscles to work in the damaged area. This means that your back muscles become weaker and unable to support your spine regardless of whether you feel pain or not. Consequently, the link between your brain and the muscle and joints in the injury is altered following an injury, without treatment.
One of the common myths surrounding back pain is that you need to rest for it to get better. Lack of activity is a key reason for the breakdown in the body’s ability to control and withstand the stresses imposed on it. Using our muscles and joints to support our posture is fundamental to preventing injuries from occurring in the first place.
Evidence has shown that poor endurance in our back muscles is a risk factor for developing low back pain – and this is an important thing that I get my patients to do, start ‘homework’ exercises to build up back strength so that their injury does not come back.
3. Just because it doesn’t hurt.
If we scratch our skin or cut it, we have a constant reminder of that damage through the formation of a scar. However the minute back pain goes away it is easily forgotten – there is scar tissue but we cant see it. The scar tissue replaces the muscle fibres in your back that have been injured – but this scar tissue forms in ‘clumps’ and sticks to the muscle tissue which makes the muscle weaker. So injuries will happen in that area again and more easily. But if healing muscle fibres or joints are gently moved and stretched it encourages the scar tissue to grow stronger and prevent further injuries.
One way to think of it is when you put spaghetti into a pot of boiling water and then leave it without stirring, it all clumps together like a knotted up ball of string. If you add motion, like stirring the pot, you help to separate the spaghetti and keep it from sticking together. Your body is the same way: Motion is Lotion!