Low-back pain sucks!
Its insidious persistence annoys you. The way it saps your vitality is disheartening. You just want to get back to your normal, pain-free life.
It frustrates your doctor, who can offer only pain medications and educated guesses as to when it might pass.
The very nature of low-back pain can lock your body into a painful vicious cycle that leaves you feeling locked-up and miserable. (I’ve written about this in a post about my own experience with low-back pain.)
Here’s how to break that cycle.
Breaking the Cycle with the Self-Healing Mind Trick
Here are four practices you can cultivate to self-heal your back pain:
- calm, detached curiosity about your pain
- mindful inquiry into what the heck is going on
- pain-free movement to maintain/restore range of motion, and
- body-awareness practices to reconnect with your body
These practices are the foundation of what I call the “Self-Healing Mind Trick for Low-Back Pain.”
1. Calm, Detached Curiosity
When your back is out and the simplest movements set off excruciating pain, it can be difficult to stay calmly curious about your situation. Difficult, but not impossible.
Try to take one little baby step away from your pain for a moment. Then look back at it and regard it as objectively as possible. Try to identify the details of the pain, where it is exactly, what sets it off, what calms it down.
This can be a moment-by-moment observation, hour-by-hour, or day-by-day. Whatever the time span, stay cool, calm, and collected as you curiously observe what aggravates your pain and what eases it.
If you have chronic, ongoing low-back pain, keeping a pain journal can help. Journaling can both help you identify patterns that cause or prevent further pain. And it lets you give your doctor a detailed account of your pain pattern over time, which can help guide their treatment plan.
Another benefit of keeping a pain journal is that it can make you more mindful of your situation, which brings us to the next point.
2. Mindful Inquiry
Detached curiosity is a good start, but non-judgmental acceptance of your situation can take you to the next stage of self-healing.
At any one point in time, you just have to accept that your pain is there. It’s not malevolent pain that’s out to get you. You’re not a bad person for experiencing it. It’s just pain. Paradoxically, over time, this calm acceptance can help ease your pain.
To grossly over-simplify the complex psycho-neurological stuff that’s happening as you practice mindfulness: The more you worry, the more you hurt. Being consciously mindful of your situation helps you worry less, reducing your pain, or maybe just your perception of your pain. Either way, you feel better, and your opportunities increase to break the pain cycle.
3. Pain-Free Movement
At first, it makes sense to stop moving when your back goes out. You need a moment to collect yourself and to assess what’s going on.
As soon as possible, though, you should get moving again, but only if you can do so without creating more pain.
The pain-spasm-pain cycle I describe in this post works at a number of levels, from tiny individual muscle fibers all the way up to the big muscle groups that propel you through the world. Finding ways to get moving keeps your blood and lymph flowing, nourishing your achey muscles and removing the waste products associated with healing. I suspect there’s also a psychological benefit as you reassert control over your situation.
My favorite healing movement is walking. It’s our most natural form form of movement. And it naturally and gently engages many of the muscles associated with low-back pain. If you can walk without exacerbating your back pain, do as much of it as you can.
Light exercise can also help. The list below includes some of the most-often-recommended exercises to address low-back pain. You can try these exercises during a bout of of low-back pain, but only if they don’t aggravate it. Better yet, do these exercises regularly as a preventive measure when you’re not in pain.
The links below take you to YouTube videos that show each exercise. Start with the least intense version of these exercises and gradually increase the amount of effort you exert. If you feel any pain, stop the exercise right away.
- quadruped (or “bird dog”)
- cat stretch
- back extensions
- pelvic tilt
- torso rotation
- lateral leg raise
4. Body Awarness
Staying curious, being as mindful as possible, and doing pain-free movement are all good first steps toward cultivating body awareness.
But to really reconnect with your body, you’ll want to specifically activate the systems that report to you how your body is situated in the world.
The main systems that do this are your sense of touch, your vestibular system, and your proprioception system.
Your skin is your body’s largest organ, the place that physically connects you with the rest of the world. So it is no surprise that your sense of touch figures prominently in body awareness. It’s easy to activate this system: hug a friend, get a massage, or cuddle up with your pet. Every time you are touched or touch someone or something, you can enhance your sense of body awareness.
The best way to activate your vestibular system, which is largely concerned with balance, is to disrupt it. Simply standing with a narrow stance, standing on one leg, or standing with your eyes closed can make you more aware of your physical position in the world. So can walking on sand or hiking on uneven terrain. Anything you can do to discombobulate your balance, and then regain it, stimulates your vestibular system.
Sometimes called the “sixth sense,” your proprioception system consists of receptors in your muscles and joints that report to your nervous system how your body is situated in space. It’s hard to directly affect or access this system, but you can begin to get a sense of if with almost any kind of intentional, deliberate movement: dance, tai chi, and yoga are all good starting points.
My Wish for You
I truly wish I could bottle this self-healing trick and give it to you right now. It has brought me – and many of my massage clients – much relief.
This approach is not a quick fix, so you may need to give it a few weeks to see results. But it works as well, or better, than other self-care programs.
And you can claim the results as your own. I’m grateful for all of the good care I’ve received from doctors, physical therapists, acupuncturists, and other practitioners over the years, but I find a unique satisfaction in the health and wellness that I create for myself.
I hope you can find that satisfaction, too.
If you try this self-healing approach, please let me know how it goes.