If you’re struggling with back pain, you might not really care about the cause – something happened, and now you’re in pain. All you want is to be out of pain so why does the cause even matter?
Why Pain Matters
Pain, as unpleasant as it might be – is hugely important to the human body – it serves two purposes, firstly it lets us know that a problem is occurring, it’s pain that causes you to move your hand away from a hot stove or quickly get out of bathwater which is too hot! Secondly, it prevents us from continuing to perform an action that is causing damage – if you injure your knee whilst running, you’ll probably find that pain makes it impossible to keep running, instead, you have to limp (or hop..) home(….and then straight to the chiropractor!)
These key functions, incidentally, are why you should never ignore or try to “push through” pain – you are either ignoring a problem that probably won’t get better on its own, or you’re actively doing damage to your body.
When Pain strikes
When we experience pain we react to it – mostly we try to do something immediately to stop the pain, and then (hopefully) something to address the cause of the problem. Reacting quickly to initial pain is important – it gets you out of a dangerous situation and stops further damage, but, if you can have the clarity of mind to do so the best thing to do next is stop and take stock. If at all possible, write down (perhaps on your phone) what you were doing when the pain occurred, and, critically, what you were doing just before the pain occurred. Similarly, it’s important to try to note what kind of pain you’re experiencing – is it slow and gradually increasing, was it very sharp and now becoming duller? Pain hijacks the brain and can impact our memory, so writing something down can be highly beneficial. Why? – Because knowing what kind of pain you have and are having can help identify the root cause much more quickly.
Identify the source of pain
Identifying the source of your pain is critical to developing the right plan of care – the most difficult clients we see at the clinic are those who have ignored and tried to “push through” pain that has been building up for weeks or months. By this point, it’s often impossible for people to remember when they first noticed the pain and if there was anything they may have done to cause it. It’s also often difficult for people to gauge where the pain is worst and whether the pain has moved or changed while it’s been going on. From the point of view of a chiropractor, this makes diagnosis harder and slower – we essentially need to approach the whole body as a possible cause since it’s not always the case that the most painful area is really the root cause. In most cases, well examine the whole spine, the surrounding muscles and take X-rays to be sure.
By contrast, if you can pinpoint the kind of pain you are having, when it started and any changes which may have occurred, this may be enough to allow a skilled chiropractor to form a very good idea of what your likely issue may be without even touching your spine. Of course, we’ll still perform a thorough examination to be sure – but it’s often very much easier (and faster) to help someone who can give us this information than someone who can’t. Keep in mind that to you, your pain is unique, but chiropractors deal with spinal pain all day so information that seems fairly useless to you can mean a lot to us!
For just a couple of examples, a couple of the most common pain generators in the spine are muscle strains and herniated discs.
Muscle strains don’t tend to occur because of a single traumatic occurrence. Instead, they usually happen due to repetitive physical stress and overuse – muscle strains often lead to pain that slowly builds and has usually been present for some time. If, for example, you also tell us that your work a demanding physical job – or you have to sit in an uncomfortable position all day at work, we’re already a long way toward understanding what the cause of your pain might well be – it’s likely that you have damage or strain in the muscle itself, and this may well be exacerbated by a common issue such as spinal misalignment.
Herniated Discs by contrast cause pain for a totally different reason. A herniated disc occurs when the inside (the nucleus) of the disc pushes through the outside (the annulus fibrosus) of the disc wall. The pain you feel from a herniated disc generally comes from the disc irritating or compressing a nearby spinal nerve – usually, it’s nothing at all to do with muscles. Knowing this can allow us to quickly start to examine the discs and home in on the problem area right away.
Need help dealing with pain?
Dealing with back pain can be scary and pain can be distracting in the moment – but if at all possible, try to note down these key bits of information as they really can make a difference in making your issue easier to diagnose and treat. Don’t worry though – even if you’re been suffering from pain so long you can’t even remember when it started, Complete Chiropractic has a full suite of diagnostic techniques we can use to figure out the cause of the problem!