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How Pain Behaves

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

Understanding how pain behaves is an important way to take back control! If you learn how to "listen" to your pain, read it's signals, and understand when your symptoms are getting worse or better, you can change your habits and behaviors to guide you away from chronic back pain.

The analogy I like to use is this: Imagine your pain as a baby... when the baby is becoming unhappy, at first it will start to whimper (this is when you should pay attention and change what you're doing). If you ignore the baby, it's cries will become louder and louder. This is your pain intensifying. The sooner you respond to the baby's whimpers, by changing position (for example, lying down if you've been sitting), moving if you've been stationary, or resting if you've been moving) the better chance you have of getting on top of your pain and decreasing the irritation.

When pain first begins, it often starts in a localized region - meaning a small area of your back. This is the original "problem spot". However, as inflammation increases, in other words, as your "problem spot" gets irritated, the painful area increases in size.

So, PAIN LESSON #1: Smaller pain area = less irritation

Larger pain area = more irritation

For example, if you are standing and you first notice your symptoms in a smaller area in your "problem spot" (area of your low back that is usually where your pain is), but after standing for a few minutes you begin to notice that a larger area of your back is feeling increased symptoms, time to sit down or lie down.

Or in another example, if you notice that, instead of just feeling your back, you are now feeling discomfort in your buttock or leg, again time to sit or lie down.

PAIN LESSON #2: The sooner you "respond" to increasing symptoms the better!

When you are in a position, such as sitting or standing, or doing an activity, like walking, doing the dishes, etc, at some point, IF YOU PAY ATTENTION, you symptoms will begin to increase.

It may start as just an "increased awareness" in your low back or buttock or leg. If you continue to push through by ignoring the increasing symptoms (NOTICE I'M NOT SAYING THE WORD "PAIN" YET), this will increase the irritation in your back with increasing pain.

The key to decreasing your pain permanently is to respond to increasing symptoms AS SOON AS YOU NOTICE THEM INCREASING.

Most people tend to ignore their symptoms and think "It's not THAT bad", or "I have to finish doing this first".

The problem with this approach is that their back pain continues to get irritated, feeding into their chronic pain.

Instead, if you can repeatedly keep checking in with your "problem spot" as you are in a position or doing an activity (THIS IS MINDFULNESS), and you BEGIN to notice a slight increase in your symptoms, it is time to respond.

So how do I respond, you may ask? Here is a chart to help:

The key is in letting your symptoms decide when you need to adjust, NOT your mind. If you respect the "crying baby" and listen when it STARTS to whimper, you will be able to decrease your back pain over time.

Now, I can hear you screaming already, "Then I won't be able to get anything done!!"

In the beginning, when your back is the most irritated (most pain, chronic), your "window" of pain-free activity will be small. But if you are patient and listen to the "baby" in the beginning, and adjust your activities as soon as your symptoms begin to increase, you will find that over time, your "window" will get bigger and bigger... meaning you will be able to do more and more before your back symptoms increase with activity or prolonged positions.

So how do you know you are on the right track?

PAIN LESSON #3: You are on the right track if your pain is 1) less overall, 2) more intermittent (comes and goes) and is no longer constant

Often, in the beginning, your pain is just there all the time. It's a hopeless spot to be in because it feels like you have no control over your symptoms! But with patience, and with applying the principles I teach you in this blog, over time you will notice that you only feel your symptoms when you do certain movements or are in certain positions... but here is the exciting part... you will know how to quickly change what you are doing with your body and will see that your symptoms GO AWAY. Kind of like a light switch turning off. And what a sense of control THAT is!!

Future posts will teach you how to move and position differently to decrease your pain, as well as exercises to gently strengthen your "core" and stretch your hips. If you would like to receive these posts to your email inbox, please sign up by providing your email on the home page.


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