Chronic back pain is at epidemic proportions that costs $100 billion annually in the US alone. That’s billion with a capital B folks! One of my favorite general public articles on the topic was in News Week and was titled “The Great Back Debate.”
In many respects, it was a most ground breaking article. Why? Because it was major “mainstream” publication that attempted to examine truly non-traditional causes of back pain. It made a serous attempt to look at non-physical causes of back pain and non-invasive treatments. Causes that would have been relegated to “non-scientific” status just a few years before that, were being taken seriously by a normally conservative publication. I consider it a must read article for anyone with chronic back pain.
In particular, the article explored the psychological basis for back pain, and did so commendably. Since that article, several reviews on the topic have come out, and continued to support the general conclusions from the News Week article. Some key comments in the article for example:
“The answer, Carragee and others believe, has as much to do with the mind as it does with the body. In the HIZ study, the best predictor of pain was not how bad the defect looked but the patient’s psychological distress. Depression and anxiety have long been linked to pain; a recent Canadian study found that people who suffer from severe depression are four times more likely to develop intense or disabling neck or low-back pain. At the Integrative Care Center of New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery, physiatrist Gregory Lutz says he routinely sees men who have two things in common: rip-roaring sciatica and an upcoming wedding date. The problem in their back, possibly a degenerated or herniated disc, probably already existed, says Lutz, but was intensified by the ole premarriage jitters.”
Various alternative and traditional treatments are covered with a solid overview of them all, including the work of Dr. Sarno, who has concluded essentially all back problems have their root in deep emotional phenomena. I personally know a few spine and pain specialists who are big fans of Dr. Sarno’s work, even if they would hesitate to admit that in public.
A few years after the News Week Article came out, the Washington Post had an article examining the psychological relationship to back pain in more depth. There is a growing acceptance that Psychological factors/treatments can affect pain, in this case lower back pain. The issue at this point is not “if” psychology plays a roll is chronic pain syndromes, but by how much, is where the debate rests at this point. A conservative “old school” doc might say it plays a minor roll, where as people like Dr. Sarno mentioned above feel it’s actually the primary cause of back pain.
Regardless, people with back pain often look strictly for physical causes and cures and ignore the psychological aspects, which is a big mistake in my view. It’s now very clear there’s solid support for treating such pain syndromes with both physical and psychological based therapies. As the article in the Washington Post mentions in the article Psychological Treatments Ease Low Back Pain:
“U.S. researchers examined the findings of 22 studies of patients with low back pain conducted between 1982 and 2003 and concluded that psychological treatments not only improve health-related quality of life and lower the risk of depression, they also reduce patients’ experience of pain.”
If you have chronic back pain, I highly recommend you read both articles, and consider non-physical causes of that pain…