Back pain is unique because two people can have the same physical source of discomfort, such as a herniated disc, and still report very different symptoms. Part of the reason for this variance is the way the brain interprets pain. Other contributing factors include the level of stress and anxiety a person is experiencing. Numerous studies suggest certain ways of thinking can lead to a heightened sense of pain. Fortunately, there are positive ways you can use the power of your brain to relieve or better manage your back pain.
1. Learn to Relax
Relaxing doesn’t mean staying in bed for weeks at a time or vegging out in front of the TV. Relaxation that’s healthy and likely to ease back pain involves achieving a mental sense of calmness. There are many techniques that can enhance concentration, relax tense spine-supporting muscles, and shift mental focus. Options include:
- Mindful meditation – Done in a quiet space, this technique involves increasing awareness of what you are experiencing through your senses
- Deep or diaphragmatic breathing – Slow, controlled breathing techniques that promote overall relaxation
- Body scanning – A guided meditation practice done to increase awareness of the different regions of the body that can be performed lying down or sitting
- Biofeedback – A technique that includes measurements of activities such as blood flow, brain activity, and muscle tension to promote relaxation based on a knowledge of which techniques are effective for you
2. Minimize Worries
Whether it’s work or daily family issues, there are many things you’re likely to worry about at any given moment. However, when your worries revolve around your back pain, it could become a constant source of stress. If your concerns include irrational fears that cause you to not be active or avoid going about your daily routines, you’ll only be making your back pain worse. Decreasing your worries may involve:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Psychological counseling to develop a better understanding of your fears
- The use of therapy pets to shift your focus
- Dialectical behavior therapy (accepting uncomfortable thoughts)
3. Express Your Feelings and Emotions
Suppressing emotions related to your back pain or other daily stresses doesn’t make those feelings go away. Instead, it creates added stress, anxiety, and tension, which can make back pain worse. Instead, find an outlet for your emotions by:
- Discussing your feelings with a trusted friend or family member
- Keeping a journal where you can write down your thoughts
- Taking moments for yourself where you reflect on what you are feeling and thinking
4. Learn to Laugh and See the Humorous Side of Life
The simple act of laughing at a funny movie, video, joke, or situation can do more than take your mind off your pain. Laughing can also trigger the release of endorphins, which are the body’s “feel-good” hormones that produce effects similar to what’s experienced with some pain-relieving medications.
5. Manage Psychological Trauma
Studies have linked instances of previous psychological trauma to chronic pain and illness. A common example is the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) typically associated with military personnel who have returned home. This same concept can apply to people with chronic back pain. If you’ve experienced serious trauma in your life, possible treatments include:
- Cognitive processing therapy – “Talk therapy” where you discuss your feelings about the traumatic event
- Prolonged exposure therapy – You face the things you’ve been avoiding that remind you of your earlier trauma
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing – Learning to think about something positive while recalling your traumatic experience
- Stress inoculation training – You don’t go into detail about what happened, but you do learn how to manage the stress involved with memories of it
While any of these suggestions may help you manage back pain in a more productive way, it’s equally important to receive an accurate diagnosis of the likely cause of your discomfort. Some patients with persistent back pain also find relief by making changes to their diet and participating in exercises tailored to their capabilities. A Santa Monica spine surgeon can offer more recommendations specific to your needs and goals.
If your chronic back pain has become too difficult to manage, schedule an appointment with a trusted back surgeon to find out if you might need minimally invasive back surgery. Santa Monica residents can call The Spine Institute at 310-828-7757 today and take the first steps toward living a pain-free life.