There are few things more frustrating than experiencing back or neck pain, only to have somebody who knows nothing about your medical condition — or who has ever even had that pain themselves — tell you that it’s all in your head.
If there’s one thing you know, it’s that your pain is very, very real. Yet as wrong as the opinions of those around you may be, a study conducted by researchers in Belgium has found that your head can help you relieve the agony you’re experiencing.
According to a recently published study, by learning the mechanisms of how pain works, you may be better able to manage it, or even help yourself to relieve it.
Everybody experiences pain differently. One person can experience a sprain or a burn and barely blink, while another finds the experience excruciating. Knowing that this variance in sensitivity exists, the scientists decided to explore whether the differential could be bridged. They recruited a group of ten dozen patients, all of whom suffered from chronic lower back pain or neck pain and divided them into two groups of 60.
One of the groups was provided with physical therapy and standard exercises as treatment and the other group was put through what was described as a “neuroscience education therapy” program.
The educational program provided an intensive overview of the body’s nervous system and a granular explanation of the way that our bodies and brains experience pain. They spent extensive amounts of time on the way that neurons and synapses communicate with one another, and the role of the nerve fibers in carrying pain signals from the spinal cord to the brain.
The group was also provided a series of self-care instructions, including how to improve their workplace ergonomics, stretches for alleviating pain, and the role of fitness in health and pain relief.
Following each group completing their own educational course, all 120 were asked to participate in a series of progressively more challenging exercises and movements which were understood to move them into more and more painful positions and situations.
All of them were given the same instructions about persevering despite discomfort, and to think about what they were doing rather than on what they were feeling.
The overall educational and treatment process went on for 90 days, after which the patients were checked in on twice – once at six months and once at the one-year anniversary.
Remarkably, what was discovered was that the group that was given the medical education about the neurological pathways of pain were able to achieve greater levels of function while at the same time experiencing an elevated ability to tolerate the pain that they were experiencing.
Their self-reported experience of pain was half that of the group that had only been provided with exercises and physical therapy, even after a full year had passed.
“These positive effects can be attributed to the content of the experimental treatment as participants learn to put pain into the right perspective, to move regularly, and to be physically active. Consequently, participants probably feel empowered, whereas, previously, they viewed pain as a life-controlling factor,” researchers found.
There’s great power in understanding that pain is not something to fear, and that paying too much attention to it can make it even more powerful. That being said, the goal is always to eliminate pain. Contact our office to learn more about how our lower back pain specialty practice can provide you with real relief.