You’ve got back pain. You are having a flare up and its miserable. Its been grumbling on and off for months but you’ve been getting on with it. Now it’s stopping you in your tracks.
You want it fixed. You need it fixed, so you can get on with your life. There are lots of people out there offering to cure your back, but you’ve probably tried a few of these already.
Your GP is offering is the “take an anti-inflammatory and keep moving” approach. The physio gave you some exercises, but you are not sure they helped. Maybe you had scans and have been told about degenerative changes in your back. But no-one told you how to deal with the pain.
All this could give you the impression that there is nothing that can be done. If the “fixers” can’t fix you, then that’s it then, this pain is here for life.
You think: “I just want a new back!” It’s tempting to want to separate off the body part that is bothering you, and blame it for causing your pain.
You are your back
A lot of the language used to describe our bodies implies that our body is somehow separate from us – the metaphor of the body as a machine, carrying “us” around in our brains is common.
But… the brain is connected to the body by a huge network of nerves, sending information to and from the brain via the spinal cord. All these nerves and brain cells are supported by other cells, that influence this flow of information. The nervous system is always “talking” to other systems affecting things such as your hormones (e.g. fight and flight hormones) or your immunity, or your level of inflammation. It’s more like an ecosystem, where each part influences the other. See how interlinked everything is in this diagram (and I had to stop drawing links and adding systems before it became completely unintelligible!)
So, if you feel pain in your back, it’s inevitable that the rest of your body and mind is involved: it is one system. This isn’t to dismiss any injury or inflammation or other issue that’s in the back itself, but if all we do is look at the back on its own then we are missing all the amazing complexity of what is going on when you experience pain. We can’t treat ourselves like machines with body parts that can be just fixed or replaced without considering the whole system.
You can find the solution to your pain.
You are unique so what helps your unique complex system is going to be different to the next person, but as humans there are a few givens:
Our bodies and nervous systems like to move – it helps blood flow, lubrication of joints, oxygenation of tissues. We need to have movement as part of our lives, preferably with some fun too.
Short term stress is normal, even desirable, and part of life – but we aren’t designed for chronic stress. We need to keep stress in our lives at a level we can manage and have ways of coping with stress and relaxing.
We are social creatures – we like talking to our loved ones, we like a laugh, we like a hug and to be touched.
Think about what makes you feel better when you are having pain flare up
Seeing a good friend, a favourite film, a hot bath, a relaxing walk? You might not think that is actually treating your back, but if your back is you, then helping you is helping your back.
There are many ways of helping yourself in this way. The reason Alexander technique aids this process is its affect on your awareness.
- It can improve you body awareness. This helps you make the most of the therapeutic effect of movement, but also changes the quality of attention you give your body. Fear of movement or unconsciously restricting movement is common with pain. Alexander technique moves your focus away from the pain and towards what you can do, helping you move with less effort and restriction.
- Awareness of your habits: helping you change them to more helpful ones. This might be habits in your response to pain e.g tightening up, which is very understandable but not useful to getting you better. Or it might be habits in tasks e.g. you struggle to take breaks and pace yourself, which leads to flare ups.
- Noticing the intertwining of body and mind: how your thoughts and emotions affect your body, and how noticing what’s going on in your body can alert you to what causes you stress and pain.
- Awareness of when you are pushing too hard mentally and physically, so that you can avoid flare ups of stress and pain.
All useful knowledge about yourself if you are going to get YOU better.
I like to think of it as a motorway to self-awareness, where you have all this information about you, your body and reactions that you can then use to look after yourself. There are lots of routes to get this self-awareness, but they are often B roads: they help your body, but not your habits of how you use it; or they look at your mind, but forget that your mind is embedded in this ecosystem of a body.
Alexander Technique has been shown to help back and neck pain in trials, but it is also very compatible with the approach taken by pain experts. These are treatments that don’t just look at the ‘problem’ body part, but work with the whole person. See more here
Chronic pain is so common, you would think that the most evidence-based care would be normal practice. Sadly, it isn’t. I spent a long time looking for a solution to debilitating chronic pain, and went down a lot of false (and often expensive) paths. I hope I can show you a short cut to all that.
It’s not that your back needs to be fixed: you need to find your route out of pain. The path is there, you just might need a guide.
Please get in touch for a no-pressure chat about your needs and circumstances: 07584 908083